Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Open Culture program for New York City “does not meet Equity’s minimum standards for wages or COVID-19 safety,” according to an email sent to the union’s members this morning.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has launched the Open Culture program in New York. Photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

Actors’ Equity Association, the labor union representing more than 50,000 professional actors and stage managers in live theatre nationwide, listed the reasons that members should “contact their business representative immediately before accepting”.

  • The city permit process does not require that producers pay a living wage.
  • The city permit process does not require producers provide proof of workers’ compensation insurance.
  • The city permit does not require that workers be tested for COVID-19.
  • The city permit does not require performers to be socially distanced.
  • The city permit does not have a formal requirement for a COVID-19 safety officer.
  • The city permit process does not have appropriate safeguards to keep crowds distanced from the workers.

The Open Culture program allows producers to apply for a permit to close a city street and hold an outdoor performance at a reduced cost. Currently, the city permit process does not require proof that producers pay any wage at all — while explicitly permitting ticket sales and collecting donations.

“This is disappointing and unfair to the arts workers in our city. It is especially concerning that the city has put forward a plan that does not ensure a safe workplace for workers,” said Mary McColl, Executive Director at Actors’ Equity Association.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announce the Open Culture program in February. Photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

Equity said they will continue to talk with the city about this program, and have submitted testimony about the need to ensure arts workers are properly protected and compensated.

McColl was more supportive of Governor Cuomo’s state program, NY PopsUp. She said: “I am happy to report that NY PopsUp has taken important steps forward when it comes to pay and safety plans. As a result of conversations, we have signed an agreement allowing for Equity members to be paid for NY PopsUp performances with a living wage and health and pension payments. The NY PopsUp team has also incorporated our feedback into their safety plan, improving the safety for everyone associated with the project.”

UPDATE: Mitch Schwartz from the Mayor’s Office told us: “This program is designed to fill City streets with cultural performances of every description. You could see classically trained orchestras on one street, and an amateur dance troupe on another. That’s what makes it fun and dynamic – but it also means one-size-fits-all regulations don’t really make sense for this program.”

He added: “This program doesn’t erase union protections for any unionized workplaces that participate in it; it just allows performances of every description to participate. All other state and local COVID-19 guidelines still apply for these performances — and New York City has long supported fair wages for artists and workers in every field.”

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