Arts leaders join Sen. Schumer in advocating for funding relief

Senator Chuck Schumer speaks at a press conference Sept. 8 at the Palace Theatre in Albany to solicit support for the Save Our Stages act.
Photo: Jim Murphy

ALBANY – Senator Chuck Schumer came together today with regional arts leaders and Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan to advocate for COVID-19 relief funding for “independent venues for music and performance (that) are central to the life, energy, culture and attractiveness” of Capital Region communities.

Sen. Schumer used a 25-minute press conference to press for public support for the Save Our Stages Act. The bill, which has 28 bipartisan cosponsors including the senator, would create a new $10 billion Small Business Administration (SBA) program to provide grants of up to $12 million to eligible live venue operators, producers, promoters or talent representatives to cover six months of operating expenses including payroll, rent, mortgage, utilities and personal protective equipment.  

Under the marquee of the Palace Theatre – which hosted its last performance exactly six months earlier – Sen. Schumer said Capital Region arts venues, “part of the heart and soul of this community, are hurting bad because as you all know any place where people are gathering closely has been closed. They were the first to close. They will be the last to open.”

Without passage of the Save Our Stages bill before Congress, “90 percent of independent venues report that they will have to close permanently,” he added.

Sen. Schumer also spoke about the economic impact of the arts in the region. “Just the Palace Theatre alone has lost $9 million in ticket sales. $9 million. How are they going to replace that? To pay their workers and do everything else?

“Independent venues provide 75 percent of all artists’ income here in the Capital Region. They drive economic activity,” he continued. “When people come to the Palace they go to the restaurants, they shop at the stores. They stay at the hotels as many come from out of town. It’s just a great economic engine as well. So, we’re going to fight hard to get this done and to reach out.”

Proctors Collaborative CEO Philip Morris continued the economic argument. “The impact nationally of music and theater is larger than agriculture,” he said. “Think about it, it impacts $877 billion in contributions to the (U.S.) economy. This represents the fourth largest export: music, theater and movies.

“Just in the Capital Region, as of a year ago, there were 30,591 jobs in this industry … making it the fifth biggest sector, right behind education. With the group standing in front of you, these facilities represent aggregate budgets of around $60 million.”

Morris illustrated how the loss of work locally in one trade alone adds up to big numbers. “We gave up $12 million in stage hands work so far. $12 million. Almost 400 people work as stage hands. That’s just the one number, never mind the rest of that industry.”

David Alan Miller, the Grammy Award-winning music director of the Albany Symphony Orchestra, spoke about how arts institutions, if supported and reopened, will help community members heal following the pandemic. “Once we get to the other side of this virus, the arts will come roaring back in all their glory because as wonderful as online content can be, if we’ve learned one thing from the world of zoom, it is this we humans crave, desperate, authentic, shared experiences, experiences that move us that make us feel wholly human.

The arts “bring us together and cause us to appreciate that we are all sharing this fragile globe with one and other,” he continued.  “People will need healing; They will need community. They will need comfort and beauty, and they will desperately need spaces like this beautiful Palace Theatre or the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall or Proctors Theatre or the beautiful new Cap Rep theatre soon to open … And when music begins again and we are all together, theater is the place in which something beautiful, something magical, something priceless will once again happen.”

Also joining Sen. Schumer at the event were Billy Piskutz, executive director of the Palace Theatre, Steve Baboulis, board chairman of the Palace Theatre; Elizabeth Sobol, president and CEO of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center; Jon Elbaum, executive director of Troy Savings Bank Music Hall; Anna Kuwabara, executive director of Albany Symphony Orchestra; Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill; producing artistic director of Capital Repertory Theatre; Bobby Igoe, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees President; and Jimmy Anziano, an IATSE business representative.

Sen. Schumer blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for holding up a vote on Save Our Stages. “We’re asking everyone here to reach out. We’ve asked all of the venues across the country to send to their lists, the performers, the producers, the agents, and the lists of fans and customers and ask them to write the president,” Sen. Schumer said.

For more on Save Our Stages and how to support passage of the bill, visit