The New York City Committees on Economic Development and Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations recently introduced a bill to the New York City Counsel that would grant free access rights to non-profit cultural groups to both rehearse and perform in outdoor spaces throughout the City, including parks, pedestrian plazas, public parking lots, and roadways. The legislation, Local Law 2068, would require the organizations seeking to use the public spaces for theatrical and other performance works to obtain permits, but without any fees. The legislation is a valiant effort to save and transform live theater, and other performance art, during the pandemic, and to assist in propelling some of the roughly 70% of out of work performing artists back into the game. This law is similar in theme and in goals as those recently enacted to support restaurants by allowing them to expand seating into the streets of New York City. These changes seek to help save hospitality and theater, key tenants of the City’s appeal, while New York City waits for the end of Covid-19. If passed, Local Law 2068 would be in effect until at least January 31, 2021, with the possibility of extension through this March. Some hope to extend Local Law 2068 into a permanent fixture in New York even past the coming spring (as has similarly occurred for outdoor dining at City restaurants). In cases like these, more really is more.
Additionally, an associated law, Local Law 2034, was also introduced at the New York City Counsel. 2034 would call for the New York City Department of Information, Technology, and Telecommunications in consultation with the Departments of Cultural Affairs and Parks and Recreation to create a digital hub, including a mobile app, that would allow arts organizations to coordinate use of the open performance spaces subject to Local Law 2068 and to allow sharing programs to the public. This Law will support Local Law 2068 by providing an organizational structure around the use of available space by performing artists organizations, which would avoid, for example, competing musical versions of The Wild Party being performed at the same time at opposite ends of a given park. Further, Local Law 2034 would make the process of obtaining City permits easier for artists organizations and would allow users to search from within an available list of open spaces by location and openings.
The traditional New York City theater scene has been mostly halted as those of us in this great city continue to preserve lives. That said, I am hopeful that pandemic-driven initiatives like these local laws, and similar changes focused on reconsideration of appropriate venue (whether outside or virtually streamed), will have a long and positive impact on theater and other arts beyond the Covid-19 period.