This week Governor Cuomo announced the NY Pops Up program, an ambitious but vague attempt to jump back into live performance events, headed by the likes of Hugh Jackman, Amy Schumer, Jon Batiste and Sarah Jessica Parker. While the scope of the project and the artists involved are admirable, the lack of specific plans and the highlighting of celebrity names makes me wary that this is really much ado about nothing. The basic idea is to do as many live events as possible across NY State from now through Labor Day, including the twenty-year-old Tribeca Film Festival. But the initial announcement admitted that many events may not be advertised in advance. What?
This all seems like a formula for taking credit for anything and everything that happens in the arts this year, without actually committing any new support for these efforts. No money is mentioned or committed to in these announcements, which seems to imply that every effort is up to the venues and artists themselves. Before expecting the flash and fireworks of this kind of effort, the governor and the state need to step up and actually fund new projects. Otherwise the state is really just asking the arts to suck it up and do more with less, as always.
In yesterday’s Times Union, I have an Op Ed about what the governor and the state can do to really help the arts. After all, we are New York – the home of the arts in this country – as demonstrated in the recent work of Southern Methodist University’s Cultural Vibrancy map. We must face the fact that this extraordinary moment of crisis is also one of opportunity. Millions of artists across the state are ready to work. With funding aimed directly at artists and artistic projects, we can inspire and sponsor a new renaissance of artistic and economic activity, which we know will benefit all of us. If we can make it here, we can make it anywhere.
Five ways New York can help revive the arts
David Andrew Snider
Feb. 8, 2021
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement of the New York Arts Revival and the Mellon Foundation’s Creatives Rebuild New York initiatives is heartening, but the vagueness of the program and the reliance on random celebrities does not bode well for the program’s effectiveness or authenticity.
It seems more like a headline grab for good news, in a time when the downward spiral for unemployed artists and unfunded arts organizations is only quickening. Here are five steps New York could take to really help the arts:
- Fund arts projects, organizations, and unemployed artists. Rather than promise a limited concert series and vague approaches to performances, create a real funding initiative — of more than $1 billion — to activate artists and arts projects across the state.
- Gather arts leaders and artists from across the state to share their COVID-related learning and ideas on how to reactivate.
- Pass legislation to further fund the arts (again, in the billions) via new taxes on industries already thriving in New York. Everyone has noticed that real estate and the stock market are doing just fine during this pandemic.
- Push the new Congress and Biden administration to launch a nationwide arts funding initiative, modeled on FDR’s Works Progress Administration, that puts money directly into the pockets of artists and communities and fuels creativity throughout the state. The New York State Council on the Arts has yet to announce any funding for 2021. Don’t give us Amy Schumer – give us jobs.
- Connect the for-profit arts more directly with the nonprofit arts. Encourage, via legislation, money to flow from the profit-making arts sector to the nonprofit sector. Amazon is currently streaming Heidi Schreck’s hit Broadway play “What the Constitution Means to Me” and Netflix is featuring “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” by August Wilson. Both of these corporate behemoths should be funding the nonprofit arts in New York and around the country.
These steps may seem radical. They might seem extreme. But extreme times call for extreme measures. Not for announcing a series of comedy concerts and pretending they will benefit the arts.
David Andrew Snider is executive/artistic director at Hubbard Hall Center for the Arts and Education in Cambridge and a lecturer at Skidmore College.
(Image: Hans Pennink/Reuters)