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Broadway Artists Push For Legislation To Support Industry In The Pandemic

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

When the coronavirus first began to spread in New York City, Broadway was quick to dim its lights. And there are no plans to light them up again until at least the summer of 2021. With such a long road ahead, many in the arts industry are struggling financially. Cardiff Garcia and Sally Herships from our daily economics podcast, The Indicator from Planet Money, talked to one group of people asking for some extra help from the federal government.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SALLY HERSHIPS: Broadway is shut down. But the show must go on. And recently, there was a show in the middle of Times Square.

UNIDENTIFIED DIRECTOR: This first time round is very much a rehearsal.

HERSHIPS: It's 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning. The director is holding a bullhorn. He's trying to talk to everyone through his mask. And his cast is made up of about 100 singers, dancers, musicians, ushers, theater workers.

CARDIFF GARCIA: In other words, this is not your typical Broadway show. In fact, it's more like a demonstration.

HERSHIPS: The Department of Commerce says economic activity generated by the arts and culture industry - which is everything from dance troupes, to theaters, to zoos and museums - it represents this enormous number. It is 4.5% of GDP. And the folks here today say because of the hit from COVID, their industry - it needs more bailout money from the government.

CARSON ELROD: Sixty-eight percent of tourism is cultural.

GARCIA: That's Carson Elrod. He's a co-founder and organizer of Be an Arts Hero, which is the group that's helped organize today's event.

ELROD: If the stars that are the arts institutions in this country are allowed to implode, they will turn into black holes that will take down restaurants, that will take down hotels and transportation.

GARCIA: When theaters are not shuttered and when galleries are not closed because of this global viral pandemic, the arts and culture industry generates a ton of money - $877 billion worth of economic activity. And the industry represents over 5 million jobs. That is one of the big points made by the performers here this morning and the one that they really want to emphasize - like Celina Polanco. She's an actress and an usher in theaters here in New York.

CELINA POLANCO: We are a huge part of the economy, and we're just asking for the same help that other industries have gotten.

GARCIA: For example, Celina might point to the airline industry, which got more than $50 billion in various kinds of aid from the federal government. And the arts and culture industry is, itself, asking for about $44 billion. And it is proposing a piece of legislation to go along with that request - The DAWN Act. DAWN stands for Defend Arts Workers Now. The money would get divvied up between different organizations, like the National Endowment for the Arts. And they, in turn, would make grants directly to artists, employees, cultural spaces and so on.

HERSHIPS: Think about it. Arts and culture organizations are especially vulnerable to the pandemic. A lot of art stuff requires us to go sit packed with a whole bunch of people.

GARCIA: So the organizers of today's event say that if we want historic sites in the ballet and the movie theaters all to still be around when we come back, this money would help us hold on to the skilled workers in the infrastructure that we already have.

HERSHIPS: Sally Herships.

GARCIA: Cardiff Garcia, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF RICHARD HAYMAN AND HIS ORCHESTRA'S "LES MISERABLES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.