Many independent musicians and artists have spent the last two years walking on eggshells, risking their own money to plan tours and shows that could be canceled.
But under New York State’s new budget deal, which was announced on Thursday and awaits final approval, musicians and artists who have been negatively impacted by coronavirus protocols would be eligible to apply for funding through a $200 million Seed Funding Program.
Performers and artists who sank money into a performance or appearance that was canceled for Covid-related reasons could be eligible for retroactive grants from the program, said State Senator Brad Hoylman, a leading proponent of the fund. He views it as an addition to the state’s $800 million COVID-19 Pandemic Small Business Recovery Grant Program, which was established last year and which freelance and independent arts workers are not eligible to apply to.
“These are the original gig workers, and what we’ve seen in recent months is that after the second wave of Covid abated, they were free to take gigs across the country and the world,” said Mr. Hoylman, who represents parts of Midtown and Lower Manhattan. “Many of them were far from home, ready to work when a band member got sick, or they themselves fell ill.”
Mr. Hoylman, who worked alongside Music Workers Alliance to develop the new fund, added that many of these performers were stuck in other cities and countries as Covid surged during the Delta and Omicron waves, “unable to pay for their expenses and get home because their concerts and appearances were canceled.”
Marc Ribot, 67, a touring guitarist based in Brooklyn, said that he and his musician peers make most of their money on tour.
“I toured with my band Ceramic Dog in Europe in late November and early December, and I can tell you it was like swimming two or three feet in front of a shark,” Mr. Ribot said. “We played in Berlin and two nights later, Berlin shut down, and it was like that in more than one city. We lost two gigs, and I think one or two others switched to livestreaming.”
These cancellations, he said, can cost thousands of dollars per tour in nonrefundable plane and train tickets and accommodations.
“What looked like an 18-month vacation from the outside was, from the inside, 18 months in which I always had gigs that I had to practice for and prepare for,” he said. “Then you find out three weeks or two weeks in advance: ‘Actually, it’s not possible.’ No one wants to cancel until they’re sure.”
But under the budget deal, someone like Mr. Ribot would be able to apply for grants to recoup some of that money.
Musicians and artists “took gigs once restrictions were dropped, but the surge ended up killing their immediate prospects for work,” Mr. Hoylman said, adding that he believed New York owed it to them to help out.
“Artists are the lifeblood of our city’s cultural identity,” he said.