Advocates for independent venue owners and performers ripped New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday, arguing his plan to host star-studded “pop-up art events” to revive the state’s live events industry would not help out-of-work entertainers struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.
Dubbed “NY PopsUp,” Cuomo’s office described the festival as a “pilot program” to create “the state’s first large-scale model for how to bring live performance back safely after this prolonged COVID-related shutdown.” The campaign runs from Feb. 20 through Labor Day Weekend and will feature performances by celebrities such as comedian Chris Rock and actor Alec Baldwin.
Cuomo said the festival was a critical step toward the return of New York’s live entertainment industry. But critics pointed out the plan did not provide a blueprint for independent venues and small businesses such as comedy clubs to resume operations, nor did it outline financial relief for artists and performers who have gone months without work while lockdown measures were in place.
“Cuomo is producing outdoor comedy shows now,” Stand Up NY Owner Dani Zoldan wrote on Twitter. “Nothing like sticking it to independent venues forcing them to stay closed while the city creates their own entertainment programming. This is disgusting + they stole most of our outdoor show ideas.”
Venues such as comedy clubs, theaters and music clubs have been shut down for months in New York due to the coronavirus pandemic. Critics of the Cuomo-backed restrictions have argued the measures are crippling small businesses, many of which have closed for good after months without revenue.
While comedy clubs remain shuttered, NBC’s long-running show “Saturday Night Live” has skirted restrictions by paying audience members to attend its shows, effectively making them temporary employees.
New York City Councilman Joe Borelli panned Cuomo’s “NY PopsUp” campaign as a “plan to take photo ops [with] celebs.”
“Journalist friends, @NYGovCuomo did not present a plan to reopen live performances in NY today. Please don’t give him this,” Borelli said. “He presented a plan to take photo ops w celebs. Theaters are just, wait for it, “open” (yes with restrictions) in other states. Just open them like SNL.”
Cuomo’s announcement of the campaign also drew several critical responses on Twitter.
“I’m glad to watch millionaire Chris Rock tell jokes, but performance artists need aid right now,” one user wrote in response.
“Could you please just give us money to live,” another user wrote.
Representatives for the governor did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the criticism.
Initial “NY PopsUp” events will be held throughout the state and “make stages out of New York’s existing landscapes,” such as subway platforms, storefronts, and parking lots, according to a press release. The performances will number in the hundreds and are meant to entertain a “handful” of audience members.
Eventually, Cuomo’s office said events will be held at pre-approved “flex venues” capable of hosting socially distant crowds, including The Apollo, Harlem Stage and The Shed. At present, it’s unclear if New York plans to allow independent venues to participate.
“Not only will these indoor events be a symbol to the entire world that New York is back, they will also be a key step in the long process of getting tens-of-thousands of arts professionals around New York State back to work; and a bridge to getting Broadway and all of the New York cultural world open,” the governor’s office said in a press release.
The planned pop-show festival previously drew criticism from several groups, including the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers, the League of Independent Theater, and the Music Workers Alliance.
“New York’s performing artists don’t need livestream concerts and comedy shows — we need you to end tax breaks for the wealthy and fund our state so we can survive,” the groups wrote last month in a letter to Cuomo obtained by the New York Daily News.