Bringing the arts back to the city: New Yorkers look to what’s next

Duffy Square in Times Square is quiet on an October afternoon. Photo by Rachel Roberts.

For a few fleeting moments, the voices of Broadway stars including Andrew Rannells, Bernadette Peters and Norm Lewis entertained an audience in Times Square on an October afternoon. They joined fellow masked actors on the red steps of Duffy Square singing “Sunday” from Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George.”

The Oct. 7 performance – which went viral with nearly 100,000 views on Instagram – did not signal the return of theater to the Great White Way. In fact, the Broadway League announced two days later that ticket sales would be suspended until June.

Instead, it was the ninth pop-up event hosted by NYC Next, a grassroots non-profit created by Andy Lerner, a managing partner at IA Capital Group.

“It’s really taken off much more than we ever expected or imagined,” said Lerner.

As a New Yorker himself, Lerner was frustrated and disappointed to see negative sentiments surfacing about the city. Some, like President Donald Trump, have claimed New York is dead. Others continue to spread doubt and concern for its revival.

“Instead of people complaining and wishing and watching, I wish people would step up,” said Lerner, stressing that people should take initiative and seek solutions to the city’s problems.

The events, which began in September, are not promoted to avoid drawing large crowds, Lerner said. The pop-ups took place around Manhattan in spots like Central Park and Chelsea, usually involving an element of live entertainment.

Their goal is to bring the arts and performers to different boroughs in hopes of driving energy, joy and eventually an economic growth, Lerner said. He intends on continuing shows through the winter and plans to spread the events out throughout the city.

The performers, videographers, photographers and some others involved are paid a small amount from raised funds for these events, but the rest is a volunteer operation, he said. It’s a trickle-down effort to support some of those who have been hurt by the pandemic.  

“We think the arts have the ability to help create the next New York,” said Lerner.

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