ALBANY — “We must bring arts and culture back to life,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said earlier this month.
Artists couldn’t agree more.
The governor spoke these words in his days-long State of the State Address, which outlined his plans for this year. While COVID-19 by far dominates the 2021 agenda as we navigate out of the nearly year-long crisis, Cuomo surprised many artists, including Albany Symphony conductor David Alan Miller, when he outlined a plan to revive New York’s dark arts scene.
“I was just so happy to hear him say that and was struck by how determined he was to bring our arts scene back,” Miller said. “[The governor] understands and respects the value of the arts in our state, and knows the need for arts in the areas outside of New York City too.”
Cuomo’s plan includes rapid-testing for pop-up concerts, where acts could perform in approved, large, outdoor settings and an allotted number of guests could socially distance and enjoy the show. Albany Symphony was among the names the governor mentioned off the top of his head; some of those names, like Amy Schumer and Chris Rock, are household names in American culture. The shows will begin on Feb. 4, Cuomo said.
Cuomo hit on the different aspects of the arts and culture scene that were hit especially hard by restrictions; it’s not uncommon to see once-prospering businesses dark for good as the bottom lines are no longer meetable.
“Cities are, by definition, centers of energy, entertainment, theater and cuisine,” Cuomo said in the address. “Without that activity and attraction, cities lose much of their appeal. What is a city without social, cultural and creative synergies? New York City is not New York without Broadway. … We cannot wait until summer to turn the lights back on.”
Upstate isn’t upstate without its thriving arts scene, either. As COVID-19 throttled public gatherings and forced the ceasing of most social events, musicians were some of the hardest hit. While some musicians and artists, including Miller’s Albany Symphony, relied on live streams and member dues to survive, others have been forced to hunker down, not knowing how to make the numbers match like they once did.
According to a study by the National Endowment for the Arts, 27 percent of musicians were out of work in September 2020, a number that is only rivaled by the 52 percent of actors and 55 percent of dancers who found themselves unemployed that month. Cuomo added the arts and entertainment industry is responsible for over 500,000 jobs and generates $120 billion in economic output.
Miller said despite the good news, he knows about as much as anyone else. While the Symphony will make it past the pandemic, he said the industry is reeling from the restrictions and independent artists are by far feeling the biggest chunk of the brunt.
“We are so hopeful by October that enough people will get vaccinated that we will be able to start bringing some stuff back,” Miller said. “We know the governor’s team is putting plans together to make these shows work and we hope by the fall, our society will be ready to convene again.”