New York arts initiative ‘NY PopsUp’ begins Feb. 20

These performers and dozens of others join previously announced participants such as Chris Rock, Renée Fleming, Hugh Jackman and Amy Schumer in the events, which kick off at Manhattan’s massive Javits Center on Feb. 20. That live performance, a tribute to health-care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis, will feature band leader Jon Batiste, countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant and dancer Ayodele Casel. The first pop-up performances will also occur that day on street corners and in parks throughout New York City. Many of the events will be recorded for viewing online later.

“This is really cool and creative,” Cuomo said Monday at a news conference in Albany. “You have an entire sector of the economy that has been out of work. When you shut down Broadway, when you shut down movie theaters, then you stop an entire industry. We have to now nurture that industry to bring it back. It is vital for our cities to survive.”

When asked whether the project was a precursor to the reopening of Broadway and other theaters — shut down for nearly a year — the governor replied, “I don’t have a firm timeline.” But he did note that a recent success with a Buffalo Bills football game, in which 7,000 in-person attendees were tested for the coronavirus, was a hopeful sign.

“Would I go see a play with 150 people if the 150 people were tested and they were all negative? Yes, I would do that,” Cuomo said. Broadway theaters all have far more than 150 seats, however, and producers say they need to completely fill those typically 1,000-to-2,000-seat spaces for shows to be profitable.

If “NY PopsUp” has a promotional dimension, that’s by design. Spearheaded by Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal and Broadway and film producer Scott Rudin, the months-long project is built around two tentpole events in June: the 20th anniversary of the film festival and the opening of Little Island, a new park on a pier in the Hudson River for which Rudin is involved in programming. The organizers say that “NY PopsUp” is “a key step in the long process of getting tens of thousands of arts professionals around New York State back to work.”

The most profound hope, Rosenthal and Rudin said in a statement, was that by the time “NY PopsUp” culminates, “New York will be fully on the way to being reopened and revitalized and that this initiative, having served its purpose will no longer be necessary. It’s the spark, not the fire.”

The idea, too, is to jump-start reopening indoor performance spaces that can conform to the mandates for social distancing. These venues lack fixed seating and thus are the most conducive to meeting health and safety guidelines. Among those spaces are the Park Avenue Armory, Harlem Stage and the Shed in Manhattan; the Bushwick Starr and St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn; and the Magic Center at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Upstate New York.

Cuomo said that although the events will be in person, the goal is not for large crowds to attend. Among the other events announced Monday will be a danced version of the Gershwins’ “Rhapsody in Blue” at the Guggenheim Museum, by pianist Conrad Tao and with choreography by Caleb Teicher, and a beatbox dance recital, “The Missing Element,” with Chris Celiz and Anthony Rodriguez. Rocker Patti Smith’s contribution will be a tribute to photographer Robert Mapplethorpe at the Brooklyn Museum.

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