Broadway sends out an SOS for emergency arts funding

Representatives from The Broadway League and the theater industry joined Senate Minority Leader and long-time arts advocate Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in Duffy Square yesterday in support of the Save Our Stages Act (S. 4258). The proposed bill, introduced by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), petitions Congress to provide vital support for Broadway, as theaters have remained closed since March 12, due to COVID-19. The companion bill in the House of Representatives ​ (H.R. 7806) is led by Peter Welch (D-VT) and Roger Williams (R-TX). If ratified, the proposed bipartisan legislation would benefit Broadway by providing much-needed financial assistance for theatrical productions, organizers, promoters, producers, managers and host of concerts, comedy shows, and other live events nationwide, all of which have lost nearly 100% of their revenue since the shutdown.

At the time of the closure, 31 productions were running on Broadway, including eight new shows in previews, and eight more were in rehearsals for a spring opening. In the preceding 2018-2019 season, Broadway attendance had reached a record high of 14.8 million admissions, topping the attendance of the ten professional New York and New Jersey sports teams combined. That season also saw record-breaking attendance on the road, with 18.5 million admissions for touring Broadway productions. Every year, Broadway contributes over $12 billion to the New York City economy and supports nearly 97,000 full-time equivalent jobs. Touring Broadway has contributed $3.8 billion to local markets across the US.

According to Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League, “Broadway in NYC and our presenters and venues in every state are facing the worst crisis in our history. Our vibrant national industry provides hundreds of thousands of jobs, supports small local businesses, and generates $20 billion of economic impact in NYC and in over 200 cities nationally each year. We are urging Congress to pass the Save Our Stages Act and support live theatre across the country.”

Laura Benanti, Charlotte St. Martin, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Thomas Schumacher, and Schele Williams. Photo by Jeremy Daniel for The Broadway League.

Schumer noted, “The Great White Way has, for generations, led the way in what has made this city the envy of the world in the arts, and that’s why it’s so important to provide dedicated federal assistance to Broadway – because it really is a part of what defines New York, and we have to fight for it. The Save Our Stages Act will help Broadway and other live venues keep the lights on and the curtains calling when this is all over, and so I’ll fight to include this funding in upcoming legislation.

You can watch the SOS speeches in their entirety here:

Prior to Friday’s action, Actors’ Equity Association (Equity) – the national labor union, founded in 1913, representing more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers in live theater – partnered with hundreds of producers across the country to demand emergency supplemental arts funding from the US government. More than 260 theaters, representing producers in 37 states and DC, signed a letter, delivered to Congressional leadership on September 17, seeking $9 billion in aid for the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Corporation for Public Broadcasting. “Emergency arts funding means a healthier arts scene, and a stronger overall local economy for cities and towns across the country that depend on the arts,” said Equity President Kate Shindle. “We are proud to see so many theaters in so many states say with one voice that Congress must act.”

The letter states in part, “The arts and entertainment are responsible for more than four million jobs, and they power a sector responsible for $877.8 billion in value and 4.5% of US gross domestic product, according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. Furthermore, they are an important generator of additional jobs and GDP in the larger economy: the average nonprofit arts attendee spends another $31.41 per person, per show beyond the cost of admission, according to Americans for the Arts. That includes spending at restaurants, parking, and even the babysitter. Nationally, this spending supports 2.3 million jobs in all 50 states, provides $46.6 billion in household income and generates $15.7 billion in total government revenue.”

In addition to fighting for emergency arts funding, Equity is advocating relief for workers, including a renewal of expired unemployment provisions, and a 100% federal COBRA health insurance subsidy. Other priorities include low interest loans for theaters that do not qualify for NEA funding, restoring the business tax deduction for the purchase of live entertainment tickets, and the passage of H.R. 3121, the bipartisan Performing Artist Tax Parity Act.

It is made clear in the letter that the “pandemic has decimated the live performing arts. Our industry was one of the first to shut down, and our venues remain dark in most states. According to one national study, the industry has already realized $9 billion in losses. That is why we are writing to seek an emergency $9 billion in supplemental funding . . . Whether we are employers or workers, we are not only proud of our creative accomplishments, but also recognize our vital contribution to our local economies. That is why Congress must act to invest in additional arts funding at all levels that ensures local arts employers have the resources they need to quickly recover and reopen when appropriate.”

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Deb Miller
Deb Miller (PhD, Art History) is the Senior Correspondent and Editor for New York City, where she grew up seeing every show on Broadway. She is an active member of the Outer Critics Circle and served for more than a decade as a Voter, Nominator, and Judge for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre. Outside of her home base in NYC, she has written and lectured extensively on the arts and theater throughout the world (including her many years in Amsterdam, London, and Venice, and her extensive work and personal connections with Andy Warhol and his circle) and previously served as a lead writer for Stage Magazine, Phindie, and Central Voice.


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