New York Senator Charles Schumer was in Albany Tuesday mroning. Below the marquee at the Palace Theatre, the Democrat promoted bipartisan legislation that would give the crippled arts economy a lifeline during the pandemic.
Albany Symphony Orchestra Music Director David Alan Miller says the arts community is hurting after months of COVID-19 closures.
"I went down to New York City last Tuesday evening for the first time in almost six months. And as soon as I arrived it hit me. I certainly has known that the theaters and Lincoln Center and all the museums were shut down. But what I hadn't fully appreciated was that the parking lots in midtown would be empty. And all of those parking attendants gone or furloghed. The streets were empty. Hotels absolutely empty. So many restaurants and cafes, if they were still open, empty or half-empty. If you ever want to see a graphic picture of the impact the arts can have on a community in reverse, just have a look at midtown Manhattan, when all sorts of performing arts venues have had to shut their doors."
Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, says the "Save Our Stages Act" would prevent venues around the Capital District from closing, with a new $10 billion dollars in Small Business Administration program.
"It provides up to $12 million dollars of grants for venue operators. So they'll get the money. It can be used very flexible. Not a loan, it's a grant. And it can be used very, very flexibly for payroll, for rent, for utilities and PPE. If the venues remain closed, these places have real trouble. Just the Palace Theatre alone loses 9 million dollars in ticket sales. 9 million dollars. How are they gonna replace that to pay their workers and do everything else? Independent venues provide 75 percent of all artist income here in the Capital Region. But they drive economic activity. When people come to the Palace, they go to the restaurants, they shop at the stores, they stay at the hotels because many come from out of town."
Miller says the arts economy has been turned on its dead.
"I recently heard from one of my favorite musicians, a member of our Albany Symphony. She said 'most of us in the symphony are attempting to survive on less than $200 a week.’ The fear of not being able to make rent, or a mortgage payment, or afford groceries or health insurance is very real. That shared fear that by the time theaters can safely reopen people have had to change careers in order to meet our basic needs. We are so eager to share our music with our audience once again. That will only be possible if our financial survival is secured until it is possible to do so."
Schumer vowed to continue the fight to include federal funding for independent venues in COVID-19 relief legislation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said later Tuesday he could call a vote on a slimmed-down Republican coronavirus aid package this week.