Open Culture looks to revive the arts in NYC
by Jacob Henry
Mar 03, 2021 | 2016 views | 0 0 comments | 174 174 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A troupe of dancers performed in the streets during Open Culture’s announcement ceremony, courtesy of NYC Mayor's Office.
A troupe of dancers performed in the streets during Open Culture’s announcement ceremony, courtesy of NYC Mayor's Office.
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Q.E.D. owner Kambri Crews believes Open Culture will be a net positive for artists.
Q.E.D. owner Kambri Crews believes Open Culture will be a net positive for artists.
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Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and Mayor Bill De Blasio announcing Open Culture, courtesy of NYC Mayor's Office.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and Mayor Bill De Blasio announcing Open Culture, courtesy of NYC Mayor's Office.
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Astoria Music Collective is an arts organization that produced thousands of shows before the pandemic, photo courtesy of Patrick Merino.
Astoria Music Collective is an arts organization that produced thousands of shows before the pandemic, photo courtesy of Patrick Merino.
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Mayor Bill De Blasio’s Open Culture program began this week, and with it brings the hope that the arts may finally be returning to the city.

It is modeled after the city’s Open Streets program, and will allow arts organizations, venues and cultural institutions to hold ticketed performances and events at nearly 200 predetermined street locations across the five boroughs.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said it will transform the city and “get artists back to work.”

“All of us will be better off if Open Culture is a great success,” he said. “People can experience the joy of the arts and artists can feel alive again in so many ways.”

Queens Theatre executive director Taryn Sacramone said that she is thrilled for the new opportunities that Open Culture will provide.

“Artists will be bringing joy, beauty and unforgettable performances outside, safely,” Sacramone said. “It's a much-needed opportunity for artists to work and to connect with audiences, and something for all New Yorkers to look forward to."

Citywide Events executive director Ellyn Canfield said the program will bring additional funds back to the arts industry, a sector of New York that represented $150 billion in economic activity and over a half-million jobs before the pandemic.

“The opportunity to sell tickets for a street permit without fees is really a huge change that took some significant shifts of policy,” Canfield said.

She added that permit holders can apply for four consecutive days per month, with only one permit required per month.

“We're really hopeful that this cuts down on the number of permits you need to file and the application fees,” Canfield said.

Any infrastructure such as a stage will need to be removed overnight to keep streets clear for emergency services.

“The goal is to really be a very pop-up mobile performance,” Canfield said. “However, we hope that change will really open up some new opportunities for folks.”

She added that the program allows a free permit for non-ticketed events at certain spaces such as a band playing in a park.

Stefan Grybauskus, director of the Street Activity Permit Office, said Open Culture is a more streamlined process.

“This is an expedited permit that helps certain organizations that meet eligibility criteria get a quick permit that allows them to sell tickets without fees and collect donations without fees,” Grybauskus said.

Eligibility is separated between art and cultural institutions and cultural venues, with the latter being a traditional theater, music venue or comedy club.

There are other factors that come into play for that category, including owning a liquor license and having ticketed performances between 2019 and 2020, with flexibility depending on each venue.

COVID-19 is still a huge factor, and Grybauskus said that every participating organization must submit a COVID safety affirmation plan, with performances capped at 50 people, including cast, crew and volunteers.

“We actually encourage you to film your event or live stream the event to also help keep the crowds under control,” Grybauskus said.

Karen Adelman, a founder of Astoria Music Collective, an arts organization that hosted thousands of shows before the pandemic, said that while she sees positives in Open Culture, she is worried it is leaving individual artists without help.

“It's not for the people who have already been operating in the informal economy of hustling to get to Bandcamp sales, using a Venmo tip jar and going wherever to play,” Adelman said. “That hustle is not under the purview of this specific bill.”

She added that Open Culture is set up to help larger institutions like Lincoln Center and Brooklyn Academy of Music, but community groups and less-established artists may find the program inaccessible.

“Just looking at the application, it’s extremely complicated for the average creative person or smaller group,” Adelman said. “It just feels to me that the more resources you already have, the easier it is going to be to take advantage of this resource that's being offered.”

Van Bramer said that while Open Culture was written to be transparent and open, it’s not perfect.

“I'm not saying that this is everything that we can and should do for artists,” he said. “Far from it, but this is a good step.”

Kambri Crews, owner and operator of comedy club Q.E.D. in Astoria, said that Open Culture is not going to be an entire “lifesaver for the arts,” but will be a net positive in the long run.

“This is more about providing some sort of entertainment for the mental health of everyone, and to give that light of the end of the tunnel to show that it is still flickering,” Crews said.

And while she celebrated her local representatives for helping pass Open Culture, she specifically called out Governor Andrew Cuomo for his “mind-boggling” lack of relief for the arts sector in New York City.

“This Open Culture bill is a direct rebuttal to Cuomo’s arbitrary laws,” Crews said. “I sent multiple proposals to him and he ignored them.”

In February, Cuomo unveiled a “NY PopsUp” program that will host a series of 300 free performances featuring stars such as Amy Schumer, Chris Rock and more.

Crews said the “PopsUp” program is “a slap in the face” to the many arts institutions that have fought throughout the pandemic for performance opportunities, only to be ignored by the governor.

“We have been trying desperately to work with him on solutions,” Crews said. “The pop-ups are not seated, they're not distanced and they're not regulated, all the things he was telling us as the reason why we couldn't do things that Open Culture is doing.”

However, Crews said she is looking forward to putting on performances to show residents and the city the arts are here to stay.

“It's a reminder that we still have a life here,” Crews said. “There is still life and happiness that can be had here in New York City. It’s not dead, it’s in a coma, and we need to revive it.”
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