A group of area state lawmakers pledged last week to provide ArtsWestchester with $1 million in COVID-19 recovery funds to reinvigorate the arts as society steadily reopens from the pandemic.
Legislators said the decision to boost local artists and arts venues, including 12 independent or small theaters that show movies, concerts or live stage productions along with historical sites and museums, is not only wise culturally but a smart economic move as well.
“Who wouldn’t give their right arm to sit in a theater tomorrow, to hear a poet, to hear a musician, to go to an exhibit to see paintings and sculpture and clay work and pottery,” said state Sen. Peter Harckham (D-Lewisboro). “We need to nurture the soul and we also need to stimulate the economy, and funding the arts is a way to start that.”
Harckham was one of five members of Westchester’s state legislative delegation to converge at ArtsWestchester’s White Plains home last Friday to voice their support for the ReStart the Arts initiative in Westchester and Rockland counties.
Janet Langsam, CEO of ArtsWestchester, the largest private nonprofit arts council in the state that promotes programs and advocates for artists, said a pre-COVID-19 study revealed that the arts directly employs more than 5,000 people in Westchester and brings $172 million of economic activity to the county. That includes impacts on ancillary businesses.
While money is needed to help sanitize and upgrade various facilities, it’s also recognizing the artists, Langsam said. It has been estimated that there is a 63 percent creative worker unemployment rate nationally because of the pandemic.
Those dire statistics seem to be consistent locally. A survey completed last year by ArtsWestchester found that 87 percent of responding arts groups were not faring well through the pandemic and about two-thirds of local artists were unemployed.
“So this is an important step,” she said. “We call it the creative economy and the fact of the matter is because we have 5 percent of our population employed in the sub-creative businesses, whether it’s photography or interior design, graphic design, we call it the creative economy, and it is Westchester that is one of the best places for people who are in these fields.”
Waddell Stillman, president and CEO of Historic Hudson Valley who also serves on the ArtsWestchester board, said it will take significant resources to get venues up and running again once they reopen.
Federal Paycheck Protection Program and Shuttered Venue funding helps address payroll, leases and utility costs but won’t revitalize the cultural sector programmatically. There are venues that will have to significantly revise their programming to be able to reopen, whether it’s because of ongoing social distancing and capacity issues or other factors.
“It’s an unusually good investment for the state of New York to value investing in the arts by investing in ArtsWestchester,” Stillman said. “They are superbly good at rebranding their affiliate organizations and artists who are ready, who are passionate, who are willing to get back to delivering the arts at a high level of quality in this community.”
Langsam said the arts also is outstanding at promoting racial equity. ArtsWestchester strives equality. using the arts as a vehicle to bring people together and to provide opportunities and resources in a fair and equitable manner.
“I can’t think of a better way to honor the traditions, the customs and backgrounds of our growing diverse populations and by bringing the arts to every corner of Westchester,” Langsam said.
The arts also give people enjoyment and a much-needed diversion from their daily lives, said Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale).
“It is critically important that we recognize that ArtsWestchester is so important to our communities and to individuals because of what it means to our everyday lives and what it means to get back to normalcy, which we need to do after a year of this horrific pandemic,” she said.
To learn more about the ReStart the Arts initiative, visit https://artswestchester.org/speak-up-for-arts.