Since early 2020, arts venues throughout Westchester and the country have remained closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most performing arts venues were forced to cancel shows, refund tickets and turn to new virtual platforms in order to survive. Yet, there is hope for struggling arts institutions: Congress recently passed the Save Our Stages Act as part of its COVID-19 Relief Bill.
The Act will allocate an estimated $15 billion toward grant programs for live venues, independent movie theaters and other cultural institutions, according to a recent joint statement by Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.
Though the grant details have not been finalized, Westchester venues, including the Jacob Burns Film Center (JBFC), The Picture House and Bedford Playhouse, have expressed gratitude on social media to state legislators for their efforts in supporting theaters in New York. JBFC stated in a Facebook post: “Thanks to Schumer’s efforts on our behalf, this pandemic is only an intermission—not the end—for independent exhibitors.”
Tarrytown Music Hall (TMH)’s Executive Director, Bjorn Olsson, believes the funding will be a “…godsend for independent venues, making it possible for many to reopen that would otherwise have gone under.” TMH, like many theaters, has been closed for more than ten months and remains without the ticket income it relies on for its theater and programming. A grant would allow the TMH to focus on creating a “safe, welcoming space” for audiences, artists, staff and volunteers to return to when venues are allowed to reopen.
According to Olsson, this relief package will also provide support to the infrastructure for the performing arts. For instance, the funding could prevent musicians from losing concert venues and theater groups from losing their homes. Beyond providing relief to the arts community, the Act would also stimulate local economies, especially for industries that depend on arts venues to attract customers, explains Olsson.
He adds, “If there is a silver lining to be found in this terrible ordeal for the arts community, I think it has shown so clearly that no livestream in the world can hold a candle to the magic of real people performing for real people in real-time. The magic of the performing arts.”
A version of this article first appeared in the February issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNewsis distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.