How Worried is the CNY Arts World that Patrons will Stay Away from Theaters, Galleries among Record COVID Cases?
Central New York theaters and other live performance venues are holding their breath about future shows, not knowing if audiences will feel comfortable attending with the sharp rise in COVID-19 infections. Auburn Public Theater put all programming on pause last week out of an abundance of caution, while Syracuse Stage closed its run of Matilda the Musical after breakthrough infections among vaccinated cast and crew members.
A survey by CNY Arts showed those willing to attend live performances in June dropped by late July when the delta variant emerged. The organization’s Executive Director Stephen Butler says now we’re contending with the very contagious and rapidly spreading omicron variant.
“Yes, we have another blip on the radar, an emergent variant. Eventually this will be all under control. But in the meantime, it is a struggle, not just for the performing arts, but for people going into galleries.”
He says vulnerability is the prime factor driving ticket sales.
“Frankly, people buying tickets mostly are people who are completely vaccinated. They are the most confident about being in these venues. But when there are breakout cases, affecting cast, crew and could possible reach the audience, then the arts organizations and venues have these tough decisions to make.”
That’s unlike last year and early this year, when the state forced theaters and galleries to close or operate at a limited capacity. Butler says the persisting pandemic and lighter foot traffic mean many venues are still struggling to operate. He says the federal shuttered venues program spearheaded by Senator Chuck Schumer likely saved many organizations from permanently closing their doors.
“We would get those calls, like, ‘if this doesn’t come through, we will have to close.’ It did really address those needs, even if it got them to break even for expenses they had to pay whether they were open or closed.”
He says the payroll protection program and other credits also retained jobs. CNY Arts established a COVID-19 arts impact fund in the summer of 2020 that ultimately raised more than one million dollars for agencies and artists. Butler says that money continues to be doled out to those who applied.
“If people could make a case that they were trying to keep people employed, that they were working to increase capacity for virtual streaming and developing a ticket price, for that work, and (for) individual artists.”
Butler says awards were even given to those who struggled to pay utility bills. He estimates the overall economic impact to the region’s arts community is just shy of 150 million dollars, and that studies show declines worldwide could be felt for up to two more years. But, Butler remains optimistic that an increased national awareness of the importance of the arts bodes well for the future.
CNY ARTS is still accepting donations for its covid impact fund at cnyarts.org.