COVID Recovery ∙ Jobs

A Performing Arts Revival: Bringing Back our Arts, Cultural and Entertainment Sectors

New York City’s culture and arts has been an integral part of our identity and experience. From the Harlem Jazz Renaissance, to rap music in the Bronx, to the days of Studio 54, and more recently, the early 2000’s rebirth of Rock and Roll sparked in the Lower East Side and Brooklyn, our arts, culture and entertainment is what makes New York City a place like no other. New York is where performers, artists, musicians, entertainers and culture have thrived. After all, NYC is known as the city that never sleeps, a place welcome to all, where tourists worldwide come to experience a special kind of magic.

Broadway shut down for the first time in our city’s history and with it went thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity. According to a recent survey by the NYS Department of Labor, the 2018-2019 season on Broadway was the highest grossing and widely attended. Broadway production grossed $1.83 billion in ticket sales, up 7.8% over 2017-2018 levels, total attendance at performances reached 14.8 million, more than the combined attendance of the 10 professional major league sports teams in NYC and New Jersey. Broadway theatres contributed over $12.6 billion on top of ticket sales to the New York City economy and supported more than 12,600 direct jobs and 74,500 indirect jobs. Yet a recent report by the New York State Comptroller, Tom DiNapoli revealed that NYC’s arts, entertainment and recreation sector plummeted by 66% from December 2019 to December 2020.

With many theatres slated to open in the fall of 2021, there is still much to be done in the immediate months preceding Broadway’s reopening. Andrew Yang will be a partner to the arts and culture sector from his first day in office.

We will salvage these jobs and ensure that the performing arts once again has a front row in NYC, here’s how:

  • Facilitate faster recovery by addressing quality of life issues and public safety to instill confidence to New Yorkers and tourists across the country, and around the world, that NYC is open for business, including investing in vaccine verification tools. 
  • Bring back tourists by launching the largest marketing campaign in NYC history with NYC & Co and industry stakeholders. 
  • Protect workers by establishing a portable benefits fund for freelancers and independent contractors; advocate for a “Save our Stages, Take 2” that is focused on getting cash to workers.
  • Orient city agencies to take a culture friendly approach toward venues, business and communities. Working to find common ground in communities and cultivate a NYC that supports artists throughout their careers. 

I) Facilitate a Faster Recovery

Public safety is key. 

Andrew Yang has heard the calls from performers and operators that a safe theatre district is a thriving theatre district. Understanding that much of the vibrancy of Midtown will come back once office spaces, theatres and restaurants reopen, Andrew Yang will be a partner in sustaining this vibrancy. That is why a Yang administration will deliver on increasing public safety, reducing quality of life complaints, effectively picking up the garbage, and addressing the street homelessness crisis. We cannot divorce our economic rebound from other social issues, such as housing scarcity, poverty and homelessness. Homelessness was already a pervasive crisis before the pandemic, but the number of homeless persons in Times Square alone increased by 223% between March and September of 2020. 

Coordinate city services to be tailored to neighborhoods' needs.

Too often city planning is done with only the daytime in mind. The creation of the Office of Nightlife was intended to reorient the city’s focus to consider planning for the nighttime and how to mend relations within communities. Andrew Yang will support community-driven plans to improve quality of life in neighborhoods. Examples of smart city planning that takes into account the needs of the night include reducing congestion and increasing garbage collection in entertainment zones.  This work has already begun with the city’s Lower East Side Quality of Life Improvement Plan.

Enable voluntary social distancing through the use of outdoor space under the city’s open streets program.

We will expand the open streets program outside of theatres so that theatres can voluntarily use their curb and outdoor space to sell food and beverages if they choose to, allowing more room for social distancing before and after shows and potentially during intermissions. More room at concession stands will not only improve safety of those who would otherwise be waiting on long-crowded lines in doors, but will also incentivize higher purchases of concession products with shorter wait times, thereby helping theatres generate additional revenue. A Yang administration will seek to work with the industry, labor unions and local stakeholders in the Times Square area to continue the Open Streets program on Broadway and in other commercial corridors, particularly in the warmer months.

Get the economy running faster with consolidation of vaccine verification tools. 

In order to reopen our civic and cultural life, our city will need to implement protocols that give individuals — tourists, theatregoers, actors, staff — confidence that they can return to establishments safely.  To that end, a Yang administration will facilitate the use of "vaccine passports," which will provide people with ways to prove their vaccination or COVID-19 test results in a privacy-protecting, verifiable, and voluntary manner. A Yang administration would also work with technology companies to ensure that individuals have complete control over their own data (when it is shared, and with whom), that data security is tantamount, and that vaccine passports work even for those without a smartphone. 

Other countries, such as Denmark and the United Kingdom, have announced plans for similar vaccine passports and the Biden administration has already begun working with private companies to develop standards for handling credentials. New York State has also launched a digital vaccine pass to restart live events. Likewise, many private companies such as Ticketmaster have already been experimenting with this technology and expect it to be used widely in the immediate months, but much more will need to continue to be done to streamline and consolidate these services, with particular emphasis on privacy rights. A Yang administration will partner with the Biden administration and work with other global cities to develop best-practices for privacy, inclusivity, and technical interoperability. Tech companies, airlines and other private companies are already jumping on this technology. Therefore we need a measured city-wide approach to make sure that data is not centralized, there are standards for interoperability between technology solutions, and all equity and privacy concerns are addressed. Furthermore, pre-pandemic theatres were already using technology such as GalaPro that operates through a smartphone app to provide audio transcription services for the hearing impaired so there is some precedent to use technology in the service of making Broadway more accessible and safe. 

Work in partnership with the private sector to buy blocks of theatre tickets: “Always New York” campaign.

In the months after 9/11 when Broadway shows were shut down for a few days and tourism dropped, the city bought 50,000 tickets at $50 each. 35,000 of said tickets were given to NYC & Company, the city’s tourism bureau, for a “Spend Your Regards to Broadway” campaign. The promotion gave two tickets to a Broadway show to anyone who spent $500 at city stores or bought other theatre tickets.” The majority of the tickets went to people who turned in receipts showing that they spent money in the local economy, to school districts for school trips and the remaining 15,000 tickets went to the Twin Towers Fund for firefighters, police officers, rescue workers and victims’ families.” 

With shows having been shuttered for over a year, by the time they reopen, the rebuilding process will be longer and more strenuous. That is why a Yang administration will seek to adapt this program for the 21st century. The administration will negotiate with shows to purchase blocks of hundreds of thousands of tickets at reduced prices to Broadway theatres, off Broadway and other cultural venues. It will commit to buying a portion of tickets with funding from the Mayor’s Fund and will seek commitments from the private sector to match these purchases (e.g., J.P. Morgan, Deloitte, PwC & EY etc). The companies could keep some portion of the tickets for themselves, while donating the majority of the other tickets to non-profit organizations around the city, starting with those that support essential workers and first responders. This plan would identify businesses within the theatre district across several categories (e.g. restaurants, local attractions) and register them for the campaign. 

Example of the possible Tiers:

Tier 1 = Premium Front Orchestra Seating for spending with local restaurants/businesses $1500 or more

Tier 2 = Premium Front Mezzanine Seating for spending with local restaurants/businesses $1000 or more

Tier 3 = Premium Rear Orchestra Seating for spending with local restaurants/businesses $750 or more

Tier 4 = Premium Rear Mezzanine Seating for spending with local restaurants/businesses $250 or more

Tier 5 = “The Lottery” for spending with local restaurants/businesses $100 or more the participants would be placed into a lottery that would randomly sample

This program would simultaneously be an effort to bring people back into theatre seats while also stimulating economic growth and activity for NYC businesses. Based on the success of this effort, a Yang administration would extend this program to include Off-Broadway. We would also seek to make this effort a permanent mechanism to drive the sustainability of Broadway/Off-Broadway activity by linking it to the city’s existing Broadway Week to increase the number of shows and tickets available. We will also seek to expand discounted ticket programs to help provide ongoing opportunities, for those who traditionally do not have access, to experience the magic of the theatre.

Encourage theatre’s to offer Personal Seat Licenses.

A personal seat license (PSL) is a paid license that entitles the holder to the right to buy season tickets for a certain seat. This practice is often used in sports arenas. Andrew Yang will work with theatre owners to apply this concept to live performance. Doing so would encourage reliable ticket sales and a portion of the proceeds could go toward charity and revitalizing NYC.

II) Bringing Back Tourists

New York City drew a record 66 million tourists in 2019 and was on pace for even more in 2020. And before the shutdown in March, the hospitality industry provided as many as 400,000 jobs and drew $46 billion in annual spending. Thousands of our restaurants, bars, theatres and hotels rely on these visitors. A Yang administration will commit to returning these travelers and sustaining our vital industries. 

Partner with the industry to mount Always New York, the largest marketing campaign in Broadway’s history. Broadway will come back, but to get ticket sales to pre-pandemic levels it will require sustained outreach to New York City residents, as well as regional, national and  international tourists. The Mayor’s office must play a leading role in bringing back these tourists with a NYC focused, Broadway centric marketing campaign. As described above, the Yang administration will purchase block tickets in partnership with private sector partners that will incentivize people to spend money in NYC in exchange for receiving the tickets. 

Beyond this, Nycgo provides a wealth of information on major attractions, restaurants, transportation and more, for locals and tourists alike. A Yang administration will commit to prioritizing these efforts to support culture in NYC, including using city assets to promote these resources and in the 311 App and MTA apps, where many tourists go to learn how to navigate our city. We will work with companies such as Google and Facebook to dedicate free ad space to assist in getting out the word. 

And in a direct outreach effort domestically and abroad, we will facilitate projects with NYC & Company, which participates in roadshows and sales missions abroad with Broadway stars. In 2019, NYC & Company received $20.9 million in NYC contract funds, which were used toward campaigns reaching 21 countries with 20 international partners. A Yang administration would dramatically increase this allocation to $100+ million for Yang’s first two years in office to ensure tourists choose NYC --and not other travel destinations-- to visit once the pandemic is over. NYC & Company membership includes theatre, restaurants and nightlife establishments, hotels, sports facilities and more - Broadway is one of New York’s best marketers. For example, in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the theatre community “gathered costume actors from every Broadway show in Times Square on September 28 to sing “New York, New York” for a commercial that ran in 20 countries.” This new marketing campaign for the 2021 return of Broadway will reach tourists domestically, regionally and all over the world. A Yang administration will also establish a taskforce of performers, workers, and industry stakeholders to design and implement the marketing campaign.

Convene stakeholders to help mobilize the billions of dollars of revenue received by streaming services to generate revenue for theatre and job opportunities for the industry.

In 2020, Netflix revenue was estimated at $25 billion in a category that’s roughly 3 times bigger than that. With the world home-bound in quarantine, Netflix posted positive cash flows for the first time since 2011, profiting greatly off of every day consumers. These massive companies have cornered the market in at-home streaming and most content generation is being lost to these monopolies. A Yang administration will establish a pilot program to support high-quality streaming of theatre productions, particularly, but not limited to, those on Broadway. While seeing a recorded performance on a screen cannot be compared with an in person performance, streaming would offer a new line of revenue that would safeguard against any future downturns, crises or revenue losses that live performances might face. Hamilton, a once-in-a-generation show, was successful in producing a film with Disney+ in which a staggering 37.1% of subscribers (22 million) watched the film over its first month, which was three times the number that watched the second widest-reaching title of that month, Netflix’s true-crime docuseries. Another example of this model is BroadwayHD, which would provide a good framework for the new platform

The magic of sitting in a theatre and experiencing a live performance is unparalleled and can never be replicated, but we can experiment with how to bring these spectacular performances to more viewers while opening up new revenue streams for productions to survive in the long run. 

In the last decade we’ve seen a huge growth of film and tv shot on location in NYC, Andrew will continue to encourage this trend. A Yang administration will work with industry leaders to expand this concept as a way to generate revenue and jobs for current productions, in the immediate reopening of Broadway while performance uptick will still be low, but demand for viewing the return of performances — even at home — will be high. This will be a direct job creator and source of income for performers in the films through ongoing residuals and royalties that could provide artists with a steady income between jobs and help them clear their health insurance threshold. We've also seen an increase in Broadway productions being turned into feature films, like Lin Manuel Miranda's In the Heights, which was shot on location in NYC, and hits theatres this June. A Yang administration will work with the industry to overcome any contractual challenges in making these projects happen and serve as a convenor for those who would like to explore this entirely voluntary option.

Stimulate tourism by extending a 3 month tax holiday to NYC hotels.

In 2019, hotels generated ~$10.5bn revenue for the New York City economy and ~$1.5bn in tax revenue. New York State collects 4% tax and NYC collects an additional 10% on hotel rooms through sales and occupancy taxes, generating about $1 billion in city revenue pre-pandemic. New York City hotel revenue is down roughly 80%. For the first three months of his administration, Andrew Yang will reduce the tax from 10% to 5% to give hotels a boost, foregoing an estimated $50-75 million in tax revenue. The savings hotels will incur from expected tax bill reductions could be passed onto consumers by expected reductions in cost of hotel rooms. This will generate additional incentives for tourists to come back to the city that hotels, theatre and other destinations can use in marketing, sending the message that NYC is an affordable, safe and attractive destination to visit for tourists’ first trip post-pandemic.

III) Equity for Workers and Communities

Equity must be at the center of our arts revival. 

Any “Broadway recovery” must be focused on its workers, not just its producers and venue operators. This means working collaboratively with everyone involved in theatre production behind the scenes and paying attention to off Broadway, off-off Broadway, local independent theatres and more.

Make NYC Affordable. 

Andrew Yang is committed to creating an affordable, welcoming city with opportunity for all. A Yang administration will create 25,000 units of affordable housing by 2025 through converting underutilized hotel rooms, will protect tenants through expanding the right to counsel and ramp up enforcement efforts on landlords who illegally take units out of rent stabilization and invest in comprehensive community-led development. Read more about Andrew Yang’s plans for permanent affordable housing

Support the diversity and inclusion efforts of those in the arts who are doing this work.

Groups in the arts, including unions and non profits have led the conversation in working to make Broadway more inclusive and equitable. Andrew Yang will partner with these groups to fill in any needs they have. For example, the city would offer racial bias and sexual harassment training to support the work theatrical unions are doing in this space and expand the reach of the union. The theatre community has been organically leading in this regard, such as through advocacy by the Black Theatre Coalition and a commitment by “Company” that when Broadway resumes, the musical “will hire 10 young black men and women for paid internships in every department of the 80-person production.” Andrew Yang will also support efforts to create a pipeline to job opportunities for women and people of color in industry leadership positions, such as producers, general managers, and artistic directors so as to better reflect the demographics of the city. And through spending some city resources on buying block tickets, which will be matched by the private sector, a Yang administration is committed to diversifying audiences and increasing access to those who typically do not partake in the magic of theatre, as well.

Advocate for Save our Stages, Take Two: relief for workers.

The Save our Stages Act, passed in Congress in December 2020 as part of the $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus package was a hard-fought and groundbreaking effort. The Act allocated $15 billion in Small Business Administration (SBA) grants to live venue operators, museum operators, motion picture theatre operators and talent representatives to cover expenses such as payroll costs, rent, mortgage payments and utilities. While this grant program is a major victory and will undoubtedly help venues stay in business so that after the pandemic, artists can return to places of work, it falls short of trickling down to the performers, designers, stagehands and others who had no recourse during the pandemic. That is why a Yang administration will advocate for a “Save our Stages, Take Two,” in which grant money will be allocated to the workers, including costume designers who were left out of Shuttered Venue Operator (SVO) grants, not just the venues. Workers in the arts have been struggling to survive through the pandemic and federal efforts to add onto Save our Stages must be worker-focused. Other cities have used federal funds through the CARES Act, for example, to support both venues and workers. Tulsa Oklahoma set up a grant program for venues that requires 50% of the funds go toward musicians and performers. Any new round of funding, whether through a new iteration of Save our Stages or the American Rescue Plan must make funds available to workers in the industry in addition to venue owners/ operators and the city should be committed to providing resources to support businesses who apply for these federal grants, including in multiple languages. 

Create a universal portable benefits fund. 

Administered by the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protections, the New Benefits Fund will support expanded worker protections and create a larger pool of workers to negotiate lower premiums for benefits that would support a growing class of independent workers. The fund will be applicable to employees, freelancers and independent contractors who are not covered by their employers. Actors, performers, and other industry workers, for example, could pull from the fund when they are in between shows or if they do not qualify for union coverage. The New Benefits Fund will acknowledge the reality that work has changed for thousands of New Yorkers and support the creation of flexible jobs by ensuring every worker in NYC has access to the protections they need to survive, especially in a post-pandemic city. Modeled after Philadelphia’s Domestic Worker Bill of Rights and New York State’s Black Car Fund, the New Benefits Fund will pool resources to aggregate benefits, such as: paid time off, workers compensation, healthcare subsidies, and more. Read more about Andrew Yang’s plan to support independent, freelance and gig economy workers. 

Support calls to restore funding for healthcare.

Healthcare is another major concern. Due to the pandemic, union health funds are nearing their last dollar. For example, the Actors’ Equity Fund, which receives 88% of its funding from employer contributions is projected to deplete  reserve levels down to $30 million, compared with $120 million before the pandemic hit, leaving thousands of actors, musicians and other creative professionals vulnerable to losing their healthcare coverage, if they haven’t already. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we must ensure all workers-- no matter their income, or work status-- have adequate access to healthcare coverage. For those who are lucky enough to be union workers, performing at union houses, they are eligible for health insurance. But even those lucky actors, often experience dry spells, in which they are out of work for some time and do not meet the 12-16 week eligibility threshold, and therefore lose healthcare coverage. While the federal Affordable Care Act provides some safety net, these plans can often be expensive, costing in some instances, over $400 a month in out of pocket expenses, which can be cost-prohibitive for struggling artists. Likewise, while the investments in COBRA in the federal relief package are helpful, Andrew Yang stands with labor unions in the industry who have called to restore funding in the state’s budget this year to a program that grants assistance equal to 50% of applicants’ COBRA or continuation health benefits and premiums. Beyond this year’s budget, Andrew Yang will stand with labor unions such as IATSE, Actors’ Equity Association and Local 802 to make sure workers are protected. 

Invest in the arts through educating our youth.

A Yang administration will also partner with the arts community and not for profit sector to continue vital arts education programs, such as the Hamilton Education Program organized by the Gilder Lehrman Institute and the producers of Hamilton to bring programming in American history to students in Title I schools and reduced ticket prices to see the performance. Among the many resources our public school students were deprived of throughout the pandemic, arts education was among the greatest losses. In the last school year, the Department of Education’s arts budget was $21.5 million and the DOE partnered with cultural organizations to bring 4,500 artists into classrooms across the city. But because of the pandemic, the city was forced to cut the DOE budget arts budget by 70 percent and students got almost no arts education during remote learning. Yet, long before COVID-19 our students, particularly those in low-income communities received inadequate arts education. A Yang administration will restore the funding that was cut in the budget for arts education and expand partnerships with the arts community and philanthropic organizations to bring more opportunities to our students. Arts education in schools will contribute to a holistic and well-rounded education for our students, supporting their mental and emotional health, and inspiring them to enter both creative and non-creative jobs. Andrew Yang worries deeply about artificial intelligence and automation displacing American jobs, but by giving students a glimpse into thoroughly human jobs that emphasize passion, thinking, empathy and inspiration, we will be contributing to a job force that cannot be automated away.  

A Yang administration will fight in Washington for financial fairness for the performing arts community. Professional actors and stage managers often spent up to 20-30% of their income on necessary expenses. Claiming the deductions they’re entitled to for these business costs was already an unwelcome administrative burden for many New Yorkers. Unfortunately, President Trump’s 2017 tax reform law eliminated tax write offs for work-related expenses many actors use, such as headshots and agent and manager commissions. Losing this write-off cost many performers thousands of dollars over the last two years, at a time when other costs — such as housing — were rising as well. As a country, we cannot risk losing talented young performers because the career’s financial burdens are too great; as a city, New York will suffer disproportionately if aspiring artists are forced away from their dreams. Andrew Yang is uniquely positioned to work with leaders in Washington to fix this problem. As a prominent Democratic voice who helped secure both Georgia senate seats, and with  the Democratic majority, Yang will leverage his relationships to not only restore miscellaneous itemized deductions on federal taxes, but to advocate for better tax treatment for artists at the federal level.

Support Small businesses.

Andrew Yang understands that many jobs make up the cultural and performing arts-ecosystem. From the actors, performers, musicians, stagehands, set and costume designers, makeup artists, and ushers to the hot dog stand owners, restaurateurs, souvenir shop owners and more, many of these jobs are run by small businesses. That is why Andrew Yang has a robust plan to reduce regulatory burdens on small businesses, establish low or no-interest loan programs through the People’s Bank and immediately renew all licenses and permits. Read more about his plan to support and grow small businesses and his plan to support live independent venues and cultural life in NYC. 

Conclusion 

Andrew Yang understands that our live entertainment venues, cultural spaces, and theatres are the heartbeat of our city. He is committed to a smart, fast and equitable revival that attracts tourists, creates good-paying jobs and centers equity at the heart of New York City’s iconic cultural rebirth.