Over 100 Art Workers Demonstrate to Demand Relief for NYC’s Cultural Sector

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Despite rain and chilly weather on Saturday, May 8, a group of about 100 New York-based artists, performers, and art workers gathered at Foley Square in Lower Manhattan to demand immediate city relief for the arts and its workers.

The protest was organized by a wide coalition of New York arts organizations, among them the Cultural Solidarity Fund; New Yorkers for Culture & Arts; Rise and Resist; A4 (Asian American Arts Alliance); Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI); and the League of Independent Theaters.

Clad in raincoats and hooded by umbrellas, the protesters carried posters with slogans like “Without Art Workers There Is No Art” and “Trickle-down Funding Leaves Artists Last.” A large canvas taped over a makeshift structure at the square listed dozens of arts venues that have shuttered since 2020. The list of shuttered organizations was written on a white sheet, along with the word “CLOSED” spray-painted in red.

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated New York’s arts sector. A report by the state comptroller in February found that two-thirds of arts, entertainment, and recreation jobs in the city were lost in 2020. Some of the affected artists and art organizations came to the square to make their voices heard.

The protest was held two days after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $25 million artist relief program inspired by the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA). The program, City Artist Corps, is expected to pay more than 1,500 local artists to beautify and activate public spaces across NYC with murals, public artworks, performances, and pop-up shows.

While welcoming the City’s new program, the artists said that the effort is insufficient. “It will give money to some artists, which is great, but now we have to see how to support artists as a regular part of the city’s budget,” Lucy Sexton from New Yorkers for Culture & Arts told Hyperallergic.