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COVID-19 Impact on CNY Arts and Culture: Organizations Face Uncertain Future as Closure Drags On

CNY Arts facebook page

The extension of the state’s stay-at-home order into mid-May means at least another month without foot traffic and ticket revenue for Central New York’s already struggling arts, culture, and heritage institutions.  We’ve been bringing you stories all week from select venues and performers trying to stay engaged with fans and audiences since the forced closures began over a month ago. 

WAER News wraps up the series with a larger view of what the future may hold. 

Central New Yorkers might look for an escape or at least temporary reprieve from the constant news of COVID-19 by attending a concert, museum, theater, gallery, or nightclub.  Well, we all know by now that’s not an option.  And that’s concerning for Stephen Butler.  He’s executive director of CNY Arts, which promotes and supports the region’s vibrant arts community.

"It's a tremendous loss.  First off, I think psychically, people turn to the arts when they're in need.  It's harder  for us to address those needs right now.  But financially, of course, there's tremendous lost revenue from the closures."

Not to mention, he says, those who already paid production costs, rehearsal fees, artist contracts and the like for shows just about to mount and didn’t open.  We’ve heard this week how many organizations and artists have been reaching out through various social media channels to fill the gap, and Butler is impressed.

"Whether it's through a Facebook chat, like the Erie Canal Museum is doing where they put out an article about some aspect of the museum and then have a coffee clutch, if you will, where people discuss it.   Symphoria has a YouTube channel;  they're interviewing artists in their home and asking for requests." 

Credit Screenshot
OHA Curator of History Bob Searing shows Facebook viewers a classic photo of Salina Street downtown in 1959.

On Friday, Onondaga Historical Association curator of History Bob Searing took Facebook viewers on a virtual tour of the “Strolling Down Salina Street" exhibit at the shuttered museum.

But none of this brings in much, if any money, unless there’s a direct plea for donations or to purchase gift shop items.  Butler says patrons who aren’t spending their entertainment budget can consider donating to their favorite agency or artist, or consider donating the value of a ticket to a show or event that was cancelled.  CNY Arts is in the process of administering an arts and cultural survey to collect information on how the pandemic is impacting venues and individuals involved in the arts sector.  Butler says there is a concern about how long agencies can survive.

"Some organizations have more capacity.  They have access to reserve funds and lines of credit.  Some agencies have less of that capacity.  Some agencies have more capacity to immediately turn their attention to social media and live streaming; other agencies do not."

To help those who might be struggling a bit more, CNY Arts has established an Arts Impact fund, which will be used to assist artists and small arts agencies in the seven county region.  There are also numerous other resources for artist and agency relief. 

With COVID-19 taking a serious toll on so many parts of the economy, some might dismiss the arts as more secondary.  Butler is quick to point out that a recent Le Moyne College study found 47 organizations contributed nearly $49 million to the region’s economy, and supports 3,000 jobs. 

"People turn to the arts for healing, for joy, celebration, and just for entertainment.  You have to have art."

WAER News will be checking in with other arts, culture, and heritage institutions in the weeks ahead.  

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at