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Gov. Cuomo plans COVID-19 rapid testing to kickstart live arts performances


Gov. Andrew Cuomo detailed his plans Tuesday to use rapid coronavirus testing in 2021 to reopen restaurants, theaters and arts venues — including New York City’s Tribeca Film festival in June — even before most New Yorkers are vaccinated.

Cuomo said the New York State Council on the Arts will begin sponsoring pop-up performances with 150 artists in outdoor venues, like state parks, in early February.

Performers include Amy Schumer, Chris Rock, Wynton Marsalis and Eastman School of Music alumnus Renée Fleming, as well as Ballet Hispánico, the Albany Symphony Orchestra, and the National Black Theater.

The governor pointed to the prolonged unemployment of artists during the pandemic as a reason for urgency, citing a study by the National Endowment for the Arts that found that more than half of all actors and dancers — as well as more than a quarter of all musicians — were out of work in September 2020.

In New York City alone, the arts and culture industry accounts for a half million jobs and generates $120 billion dollars in economic output.

“We cannot wait until summer to turn the lights back on the arts and provide a living wage for artists,” Cuomo said. “We will not let the curtain fall on their careers, or on the future of our cities.”

Cuomo said he’ll build on a  pilot program that has been effective so far, in which  a limited number of Buffalo Bills fans have been permitted to attend the football team’s playoff games. The governor plans to install rapid testing sites outside the events, as well as near some indoor venues, so that Broadway and other theaters can reopen, and restaurants can allow more indoor diners.

The planned events will culminate in the 20th anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival in Lower Manhattan, which began after another dark period in New York’s history, the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001.

The governor called on philanthropic organizations, including the Mellon Foundation, to steer funds to community arts groups.

But he warned that even with these efforts, it’s not likely the economy and culture will return to its prior status, even after the pandemic subsides.

“The reality is not all businesses will reopen, and not all jobs are coming back as they were,” the governor said. “Some of the changes we have seen this year will be permanent, and other changes preview new realities we have not even considered."

Karen DeWitt is Albany correspondent for WXXI News.