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Report shows pandemic’s ‘devastating’ impact on NYC arts, entertainment industry



(NEW YORK) — A new report demonstrates the “devastating” impact of the coronavirus pandemic on New York City’s arts and entertainment sector, as many venues, including Broadway theaters, have remained shuttered for nearly a year.

One year ago, nearly 87,000 people were employed in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector in New York City, according to the New York State Department of Labor’s Current Employment Statistics — not including freelancers or the self-employed.

By April, after the statewide stay-at-home order went into effect, that number fell to 34,100, and it has “barely budged” since then, said New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, whose office released the report.

Arts, entertainment and recreation employment in December was down 66% year-over-year — more than any other sector in the city’s economy, according to the report.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has had a profound and a very negative effect on this industry,” DiNapoli said during a Facebook livestream on Wednesday. “It’s forced venues to close, thousands into unemployment and pushed businesses to the brink of collapse.”

The numbers paint a “stark and devastating” portrait of an industry that was “more than thriving” until the pandemic, DiNapoli said. From 2009 to 2019, employment grew by 42% — faster than the 30% rate for the private sector overall, the report said.

Manhattan is the hub of the city’s arts and entertainment industry, home to a majority of its venues and jobs.

“Every job and business in this previously booming sector needs to come back,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said during Wednesday’s livestream. “It was lost. It needs to come back. Right now Times Square is vacant.”

Brewer is concerned that people in the industry have left the city for good due to the lack of work.

“We can’t lose their talent,” she said.

The report “puts the numbers behind the feeling that the arts and culture have been hit so hard, and that it is right now the least-recovered sector, despite much effort,” she added.

The comptroller pointed to a new federal relief package, which includes $15 billion nationally for shuttered arts organizations and designates over $284 billion to revive the Paycheck Protection Program of the CARES Act, as a potential industry salve.

While performing arts venues, including Broadway theaters, remain closed, some venues and cultural institutions have started to reopen in New York City with restrictions and mitigation measures in place.

Zoos and aquariums started welcoming guests back in July, followed by museums in August, with mask-wearing and social-distancing requirements, capacity limits and timed entries.

This week, Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center held their first sporting events with fans in almost a year, with capacity limited to 10%. Movie theaters in New York City can reopen starting March 5 at 25% capacity.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn’t announced a timeline yet for performing arts venues, though he said on Feb. 8 that the “overall effort is heading towards reopening with testing.”

“There are venues that we want to start to reopen with testing and capacity limitations,” Cuomo said at a press conference. “Theaters, arenas, why can’t you do it with Broadway? You can.”

The Broadway League, which represents theater owners and producers, had previously announced that Broadway performances will remain suspended through May 30 of this year.

To help promote arts and culture, the state recently launched a new performing arts program, NY PopsUp, which will feature over 300 free events statewide in 100 days.

Next month, New York City will start accepting applications for Open Culture NYC, a permitting program that would allow institutions to hold socially distanced performances on city streets. The city has also recently created Curtains Up NYC, a program to connect live performance venues to up to $10 million in federal grants.

As live venues have struggled to hold on for almost a year, some won’t be reopening. Among the latest closures, the Peoples Improv Theater, a nearly 20-year-old comedy venue, announced last week that it was shuttering its main space in Manhattan.

“It’s been over 11 months that we have been shut down and eventually we have to surrender to survive,” owner Ali Farahnakian said in a statement. “So we are in the process of surrendering the space. … Godspeed to a brighter future.”

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