With New York being the world’s epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in terms of the magnitude of the number of infected cases and deaths, the desperate call for funding and support for arts and culture almost seems incompatible to the urgency of the health and economic crisis. But let’s not forget the creative sector accounts for 13% of the city’s total economic output. In total, one out of every eight dollars of economic activity in the city can be traced directly or indirectly to the sector (Source: New York City Comptroller).
While politicians are debating the costs and benefits between saving lives versus re-opening the economy, many are quietly busy behind the scene to continue to develop the very essence of what has always defined New York – cultural influence. Their action may not be as heroic as the front-line medics, but not less significant; we human can all admit that in the event of a dark and tragic world with very little left, arts and culture is the only escape, with its magical ability to remind us of what our humanity is all about.
Many organizations, both large and small are facing setbacks due to the provisions put in place amid COVID-19. The Center for Urban Culture reports that NYC’s small to mid-sized creative organizations are foreseeing revenue losses of 17-50 percent or more of their projected annual budgets. Organizations like the Tenement Museum that rely on earned revenue are now being threatened from strict social-distancing laws. New York City’s creative sector directly employs over 293,000 people, paying $30.4 billion in wages. Black Spectrum Theater Company had to stop paying staff after March and BRIC, a leading arts and media institution has a part-time workforce that alone will lose over $170,000 in hourly wages.
Despite all of the losses the creative sector is facing, there are numerous brands and organizations that are being extremely proactive to make creative and innovative decisions to continue connecting the world through art and sharing their cultural influence. President of BRIC, Kristina Newman-Scott explains that “people need the arts now, more than ever...We have just completed our human-centered strategic planning process, which charts our path for the next four years. Amplifying our work in the digital space was identified as a goal, and this crisis has fast-tracked that effort."
Numerous industries have been able to make a smooth transition into complete digital functionality. Classes and programs are being conducted online while musicians have been able to showcase their talents via livestreams possibly gaining more exposure than they would performing at a local spot. “Our IT team has already put systems in place that will allow us to not only present artists via IG TV or Facebook Live etc. but to connect that content in real-time to our linear channels. This moment has forced us to reimagine BRIC's digital strategy in a way that will be relevant and sustainable for the artists, creators, and audiences that we serve” says Kristina.
Although BRIC is able to run its workshops and programs virtually, they are still facing the cancellation of their annual marquee event that has been bringing the community together for over 40 years. This event alone accounts for an incredible amount of annual revenue for BRIC. Innovative and forward thinking to combat these losses is something leadership facing similar struggles will need to accomplish. The Met Opera House for instance, put on a 4 hour “At-Home Gala” that was streamed live on its website bringing over 40 global artists to peoples’ homes. Kristina of BRIC explains “[COVID-19] will not prevent us from imagining how we can continue to connect artists from around the globe and around the block with people in Brooklyn and beyond. While we can never replace the power of people coming together physically, I think our audience members will be open to receiving and enjoying their cultural offerings through digital platforms.”
New York City provides inspiration and cultural influence to a wide global audience. Resilience floats around the city streets with passion and innovation leaving a lasting impact on all who visit. Great leadership in a time of crisis is welcoming the challenges that lay ahead, and fighting them with a human centered and proactive approach. “It is essential to remember that we are all human, and that it is ok to not be ok,” says Kristina, ‘I look forward to the simple pleasure of spending time with my friends and family together in public, and I look forward to welcoming my staff and the thousands of artists, creators, and audiences back into our building.”