Musicians and New York City lawmakers rally for extended pandemic relief

As pandemic restrictions ease across much of the city and the omicron push seems to be waning, you might start to think that business as usual might finally be at your fingertips.

But Marc Ribot, flanked by a dozen fellow musicians and supporters outside the legendary Village Vanguard jazz club on Friday, offered another perspective: that of working musicians whose livelihoods continue to be disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, two years later.

“We’re here on a beautiful day,” Ribot said. “Omicron is fading. It’s very counter-intuitive for us to talk about the need for funding for music workers.

But Ribot, a seasoned activist well known for speaking out on cultural, political and economic causes, insisted on the need for a pandemic tour fund proposed by State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblyman Harvey. Epstein, both of Manhattan, to be included in the upcoming New York state budget. The rally was organized by the Music Workers Alliance, a collaboration aimed at supporting and improving the livelihoods and rights of independent musicians. Such a fund would help provide a safety net for musicians who regularly plan their next source of income several months in advance.

“Our tours take 8 to 14 months of planning ahead,” Ribot noted.

“And our touring economy is not compatible with a situation where new variants emerge in months, and new closures are announced in two weeks,” Ribot added, succinctly summarizing the points he had made in detail. in an essay published Thursday by The nation.

Acclaimed guitarist, bandleader, composer and accompanist to artists like Elvis Costello, Tom Waits and John Zorn, Ribot can spend several months of any given year earning a living on the road. So do the luminaries surrounding him on Friday, including bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding, drummer Omar Hakim (Sting, Weather Report), keyboardist Rachel Z (Peter Gabriel, Wayne Shorter), and guitarists Gary Lucas and Brandon Ross.

“If I test positive on the second date of a tour, I face weeks or a month without income,” Ribot said. “I’m stuck in a hotel room somewhere, I have to pay for this hotel room with no income. And I can’t legally fly home. It’s not theoretical; it’s happened to people – probably people who are with me here today.

Respondents to an Alliance survey of working musicians indicated more than $1.2 million in lost wages and more than $80,000 in unrecoverable touring costs during the pandemic. Ribot and his fellow musicians — joined by allies like Hoylman, Epstein and Alliance co-founder Olympia Kazi, an architect and arts advocate on the city’s nightlife advisory board — are urging the creation of a fund to support musicians overlooked by previous pandemic relief funding efforts.

“Most of the recovery funds went to places and organizations, not independent artists and musicians,” Sen. Hoylman said. “Small business stimulus grants were limited to businesses whose employees met very strict requirements, which don’t work for independent contractors.”

Concretely, the Alliance and its supporters want the creation of an $8 million fund to support independent musicians whose livelihoods continue to be disrupted. A proposal put forward by Hoylman calls for expanding the Small Business Recovery Grant program, which currently holds a $200 million surplus in undistributed funds in 2021, to include independent contractors. Another would see the creation of a fund that would serve as insurance for artists whose tours are disrupted or cancelled.

The justification for these changes, Hoylman pointed out, was more than sentimental.

“According to State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, prior to the pandemic, New York City’s arts, entertainment and recreation sector employed nearly 100,000 people,” he said. “And music, according to the mayor’s office of media and entertainment, was directly responsible for 31,400 of those jobs, or about $13.7 billion in economic output.” So it makes sense not only from a humanitarian point of view, not just because we owe our artists, but it’s also a matter of economic sensibility. .

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