This email is part of our regular COVID-19 newsletter series of updates and resources. To get on the list, sign up here.
Theaters and galleries are closed, concerts and performances postponed and never rescheduled, contracts canceled. Gathering in person together with an audience to create and share has become limited to performances in the park and on Open Streets. A new report by the NYC Comptroller shows that those in the arts have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic recession, with employment in arts, entertainment and recreation declining by nearly 64% between February and October.
Yet, at the same time, it is hard to imagine any of us getting through the last eight months (or for that matter the months ahead) without the work of artists, from the creators of the Netflix shows we watch, to the musicians playing in the park, or the writers whose words we read for comfort, inspiration, or entertainment on these long COVID nights.
The extended unemployment for freelancers and as well as traditional employees is set to expire at the end of the year. Congress is finally discussing a new stimulus package again, which can’t come soon enough and should include new stimulus checks. Locally, a helpful step is the bill that the NYC Council is voting on tomorrow to enable arts organizations to get permits for outdoor performances in Open Streets starting in March, which I’m proud to co-sponsor.
But even with more opportunities to perform and renewed pandemic unemployment assistance (and hopefully stimulus checks too), it’s going to take a lot more to help artists get back on their feet and to revive art and culture in NYC.
At the policy level, we actually have a good model for public investment in arts and culture that helped to keep people fed and housed while producing great works of art for generations to come. In the 1930s, the federal government through the Public Works of Art Project and Works Progress Administration employed thousands of artists and produced tens of thousands of original murals, paintings, sculptures, plays and documentary photography. We’re talking to and working with artists and activists with some great ideas for what such a program (or several) might look like for our times. We’re interested in your ideas, too, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As journalist David Brand wrote in an excellent piece on a new “New Deal” for the arts recently, a Green New Deal will include sustainable housing, renewable energy infrastructure, and efficient transit. Smart long-term investment in the sustainable infrastructure that our city needs for the future will bring jobs and economic stimulus now, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t have an aesthetic component too (murals, sculpture, design!) that gets people paid today and brightens our city for years to come.
And public investment in the arts shouldn’t just be limited to beautifying public space. Art and artists are powerful communicators — every movement for racial, economic, and gender justice has relied on art to help bring their message to the public. At a time when trust in government to tell the truth and communicate clearly is at a low, and the need for the public to heed health directives like wearing a mask and (keinhora) getting vaccinated is at an all-time high, government could turn to paying artists of all kinds to create graphics, produce films, and record songs to help build public confidence and cooperation towards public health goals.
At a personal level, we can all do our part to support local artists during this holiday season, whether by seeking out local craftsmakers for gift shopping, or contributing to relief funds for artists as part of annual giving, or just attending a virtual performance. Here’s a good list of ways to support local artists and arts institutions. If you have suggestions send our way and we can share in a future email.
New York is home to so many creative people with so much to offer our city and the world, we cannot afford to leave them on their own during this crisis. Art connects us to one another, teaches us how to empathize, gives us historical context, and reminds us that we are not alone. We need art and artists in order to hold onto and grow the solidarity, cooperation, and care for one another that we will need to emerge from this ongoing emergency with any hope of building a better future.
Updates and Resources
- Latest Virus Data: In NYC, there were 2,738 new cases reported yesterday with 196 people admitted to hospitals. We have lost 24,416 people in NYC from the virus, including sadly 29 in the last few days, and 342,755 total cases have been identified in the city since the start of the pandemic. The citywide 7-day rolling average of positive test rates is 4.81%.
- More Closures Likely Coming: As worried as we all are about the impact on small businesses, it seems clear that we are going to have to return to more drastic measures to keep our hospitals from getting overwhelmed. I’ve joined calls to close indoor dining, gyms, and other non-essential activities so that we can slow the spread of the virus. The Governor and Mayor have indicated that such closures are likely coming next week.
- Get Tested: You can now look up wait times online at Health and Hospitals sites. Find a site here. Help us spread the word about sites in Brooklyn.
- Free Masks and Hand Sanitizer: Our office has masks and sanitizer to distribute, email us at email@example.com to coordinate.
- Repurposing Bags: We are still collecting Fresh Direct and other reusable bags for use by emergency food providers. You can drop bags off at the following sites and times. Please fold them neatly before you drop them off.
- Park Slope: 256 13th St, M-F, 9 AM to 6 PM
- Carroll Gardens: 71 3rd Pl, M-F, 9 AM to 6 PM
- Cobble Hill: 359 Henry St, Mon-Wed, 9 AM to 6 PM
- Kensington: 3 Avenue C, Saturdays at 4 PM
- Support Local Businesses: The Fifth Avenue BID has digital gift cards to help you do holiday shopping that supports local small businesses. Learn more here.
- Youth Sports Returning: We’ve heard that the Parks Department will be reactivating most sports field permits this week with clearer guidance going forward: permits will be rescinded in red/orange zones, in yellow zones teams will be under heightened restrictions but permits will remain in place.