When the pandemic hit and caused a shutdown in March 2020, it took the world by storm, especially in NYC. It began a public health crisis and as a result, anything that required people to gather together was put on pause. Isolation became the new reality and with social distancing as a requirement, many sectors faced unprecedented circumstances. The arts and entertainment sector had the biggest decline and impact on the economy since the pandemic began.
This devastating decrease comes after the progression within the industry in 2019. From 2009 to 2019, employment grew by 42 percent. Establishments grew by 28 percent, with a major rise seen in Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens. The total amount of wages increased by 78 percent across the city in this sector alone compared to the average of 64 percent for all sectors. The average amount of primary earnings for 128,400 residents was $63,100 in 2019. They were artists, musicians, actors and producers and about 31,000 of them were self-employed.
Despite the success from the decade prior, COVID-19 pushed the sector in the opposite direction. As of February 2020, there were approximately 87,000 employees within the arts and entertainment industry in NYC. That number drastically changed to 34,100 in April and further declined in December 2020 by 66 percent. In comparison to its progress in 2019, this is the largest decline of any of the sectors in NYC’s economy.
Currently, many establishments in performing arts aren’t allowed to reopen, turning to the virtual world in order to gain revenue. Those who reopened were forced to make budget cuts due to less income from limited capacity. Broadway Theatres may open in June 2021 and other establishments such as the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Ballet don’t expect to open until September 2021. These reopenings are dependent upon the number of vaccinations and venues evaluation of ventilation systems and compliance with guidelines.
While everything is still uncertain during these times, there are attempts at saving the industry. In December 2020 the New York City Council allowed the creation of the “Open Culture” program. The program allows organizations to hold free and ticketed outdoor cultural and arts events from March 2021 until October 31, 2021 or possibly through March 2022. Governor Cuomo recently announced the New York Arts Revival, an initiative designed to restart live performing arts events.
DiNapoli believes that there is much to be done in order to keep the lights on. He suggests extending unemployment benefits including for those who are independent contractors. As the weather becomes warmer, he thinks more outdoor spaces should be utilized through rapid testing, the rise of vaccinations and safety guidelines intact. DiNapoli sees progress being made if the City and State work together and communicate with these establishments about achievable milestones.