BY LOUIS FANTASIA
The Broadway League last month announced that it would continue the suspension of all ticket sales for Broadway performances in New York City through May 30, 2021. “‘With nearly 97,000 workers who rely on Broadway for their livelihood and an annual economic impact of $14.8 billion to the city (NYC), our membership is committed to re-opening as soon as conditions permit us to do so,’ Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, which represents producers, stated in the release.” (USA Today, October 9, 2020)
Compare this to ABC News’ reporting of “staggering losses” in the airline industry (October 1, 2020) that reported nearly 40,000 jobs would be lost if Congress did not approve a $25 million dollar bailout for the airlines (which it did not).
Now, any job loss is devastating psychologically and emotionally, as well as financially. But look at the numbers. If the respective industry sources are to be believed, New York City alone lost more than twice the number of jobs on Broadway as the US airline industry did nationally. Adding to those numbers in New York are the historic season closures of the Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic. Nationally, according to an August 11 report in Forbes online magazine, 2.7 MILLION arts jobs have been lost, with a cumulative loss in sales of $42.5 BILLION dollars. This includes those working in film, media, advertising, visual and performing arts. More than two thirds of these losses occurred in cities with a population of a million or more, with, as to be expected, New York and Los Angeles leading the bloodbath.
Quoting the authors of the Brookings Institute study that did the arts economic analysis, the Forbes article concludes that “small, stop-gap measures will not undo the damage (of the pandemic); a substantial and sustained national creative-economy recovery strategy is required… The most critical challenge is facing those who facilitate, promote, and perform in live events… The longer that events are prohibited from taking place with substantial audiences, the bigger the threat that the infrastructure supporting these events, (such as) promoters, sound engineers, venues, musicians, dancers, directors, etc., will disappear.”
Which makes me, and many of my colleagues and friends, dinosaurs threatened with extinction. It is true that compared to rampaging wild fires, epic hurricanes, collapsing ice shelves, impending mass evictions, raging social and racial injustice, and a viral epidemic that, Presidential claims not withstanding, will have probably killed more than 235,000 Americans by the time this column is published, solving a crisis of out of work artists is not high on anyone’s to-do list.
But it should be.
Between 1935 and 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration created and sustained the Federal Art Project, the Federal Music Project, the Federal Writers’ Project, and the Federal Theatre Project as part of the WPA, providing work for thousands of artists during the Great Depression. Of course, the complication here is the audience: as long as we are in the midst of a pandemic, we cannot gather as a live audience in any meaningful way, and virtual theater, art and music are only satisfying in limited measures.
But that is not to say that the next administration should not begin to plan now, with a national plan to employ artists and commission new works, rebuild arts infrastructures, and reinvigorate arts education programs in public schools (which have suffered because of a mindless and meaningless emphasis on quantifiable “testing”).
Roosevelt’s administration spent approximately $35 million dollars on the combined WPA arts programs (about $700 million in today’s money). That’s the cost of about eight F-35 jet fighters or 2% of this year’s subsidy to American farmers.
I know that as a nation we need to eat and protect ourselves, but we also need the arts. Now, more than ever. Otherwise, who are we feeding and what are we protecting?
Louis Fantasia is an acclaimed author and director living in Los Angeles. This article will appear in the November issue of The Larchmont Chronicle.
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