“ReStart the Arts in Westchester and Rockland Counties” is an effort being led by the Affiliate Committee of ArtsWestchester, whose members are leaders of arts organizations that serve as board members of the umbrella organization. Together with ArtsWestchester, they are asking state legislators for an allocation of $1 million. Laura deBuys, a committee member and The Picture House Regional Film Center CEO, stated that this funding would come at a critical time for the arts and culture business sector: “Our arts programs, which are vital economic stimulators, have been dormant for more than a year, operating virtually, and now require an enormous effort to restore, revive and reopen.“ If successful, funds would be distributed by ArtsWestchester to organizations through a call for proposals that focuses on each organization’s needs to restart the arts in their own communities and throughout Westchester and Rockland Counties.
“The arts in Westchester pre-COVID produced a $172 million economic impact, in which 5,200 jobs were actualized,” according to ArtsWestchester CEO Janet Langsam. “In fact, over the past 25 years, the economic impact of the arts in Westchester has grown by 189%, supporting tourism but also supporting many of the restaurants and hospitality entities in the County. An investment in the arts is an investment well made. Far from being a handout, the arts in Westchester return $25 million in taxes to state and local governments.”
New York State Assemblymember Thomas J. Abinanti explains: “The arts are the heart of our Westchester community. The pandemic has put Westchester arts on life support. We need to pump State money into Westchester arts so they continue to inspire and drive the economy of our community.”
It has also been widely reported that due to COVID, arts organizations are experiencing an estimated $15.2 billion negative economic impact nationally, and many have closed permanently. In Westchester alone, based on a recent survey completed by ArtsWestchester, 87% of arts groups surveyed reported that they were not faring well through the pandemic and two-thirds of local artists are unemployed. With the national creative worker unemployment rate estimated at 63%, cancelled fundraisers and cultural events, and shuttered theaters, the need has never been greater for targeted investment in the arts and culture sector.
Waddell Stillman, President and CEO of Historic Hudson Valley says: “In addition to the economic impact, the arts also have the power to educate and to heal. The pandemic has taken a toll on our residents’ mental health, particularly our children, seniors, and those living in isolated circumstances. Through the wealth of virtual programming created in the past year, cultural groups and teaching artists have kept populations engaged and provided an outlet during challenging times.”
Dave Steck, an affiliate representative and CEO of Yonkers-based YoFi Arts explains: “Right now, there is a critical need for assistance, specifically for the arts communities in Westchester and Rockland Counties, which represent one of the State’s most artistically vibrant areas outside of New York City. Westchester and Rockland’s economy cannot recover unless we restart the arts.” The committee acknowledges that federal PPP and Shuttered Venue funding will help address payroll, leases and utility costs but won’t revitalize the cultural sector programmatically. Says Genia Flammia, Board President of Youth Theater Interactions in Yonkers: “Organizations need to reconfigure and rebuild spaces, rewrite curricula, re-connect with audiences and artists, and develop new content and presentation models that respond both to social distancing and social justice.”
The ReStart the Arts grant program will help artists and art organizations get back on their feet and move forward. As they restart, their audiences will be revitalized as well, staff will be rehired, artists will get back to work and the quality of life in Westchester and Rockland will be on the road to recovery. As the arts return, so will the audiences, directing much-needed dollars to other local businesses and restaurants, thus reviving all aspects of our neighborhood economies.
New York State Senator Peter Harckham says: “I strongly support ArtsWestchester’s ReStart the Arts initiative and am fighting to see that it is funded. Investments in the arts have an enormous economic multiplying effect, creating jobs and lifting communities. This funding is vital to assisting in our pandemic recovery.”
Eligibility for ReStart the Arts would include more than 150 arts organizations and artists who are based in Westchester or Rockland County, were in operation prior to March 1, 2020, and who have received ArtsWestchester funding over the past five years. Applications will assess need, viability, sustainability and previous disaster funding received.
ArtsWestchester President Michael Minihan says, “The time is now to invest in a sector that pays dividends back to the economy. This critical investment will build local equity and economic strength in the Hudson Valley Region and enable us to better support the new needs of the cultural industry in Westchester and Rockland, positioning us for a better future. This opportunity could be a model for other regions. Right now, no other funder or agency has an opportunity that specifically targets this unique and important facet of recovery.”
For more information on how you can show your support for ReStart the Arts please click here.
A version of this article first appeared in the March issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.
For more than 50 years, ArtsWestchester has been the community’s connection to the arts. Founded in 1965, it is the largest, private, not-for-profit arts council in New York State. Its mission is to provide leadership, vision, and support, to ensure the availability, accessibility, and diversity of the arts. ArtsWestchester provides programs and services that enrich the lives of everyone in Westchester County. ArtsWestchester helps fund concerts, exhibitions and plays through grants; brings artists into schools and community centers; advocates for the arts; and builds audiences through diverse marketing initiatives. In 1998, ArtsWestchester purchased the nine-story neo-classical bank building at 31 Mamaroneck Avenue which has since been transformed into a multi-use resource for artists, cultural organizations, and the community. A two-story gallery is located on the first floor of ArtsWestchester’s historic building on Mamaroneck Avenue.