Speaking Theater to Power: NYC political candidates address arts issues

John Clancy, executive director of the League of Independent Theater, which conducted its first ever political candidate forums.
John Clancy, executive director of the League of Independent Theater, which conducted its first ever political candidate forums.

The League of Independent Theater held its first political candidate forums last month, and is planning to make endorsements in New York City political races.

With some 50,000 independent theater artists in New York City, roughly 86 percent of them regular voters, the league’s executive director John Clancy says he is convinced that an organized voice can make a difference. Clancy is a founding artistic director of the New York International Fringe Festival, but his aim is to bring the concerns of the city’s theater artists in from the fringes.

Jonathan Mandell: The League of Independent Theater began in 2008. Why?

John Clancy: I realized that Broadway had a league, Off-Broadway had a league, but the traditional Off-Off Broadway sector of New York theater did not. We had no organized, politically active and aware organization to represent our unique interests and challenges.  And so, meeting with artistic directors and managing directors, venue operators, playwrights, actors, directors and stagehands, I formed the League of Independent Theater along with our Steering Committee.

What does the league do?

John Clancy: The league articulates the needs of independent theater and fights for its strength and sustainability.  Practically, we offer rehearsal space for our members. We’ve drafted a Performing Arts Platform, and we’re working on a new Code or contract we’ll ask Actors Equity Association actors and stagehands to bring to their union.

What are the essential points of the performing arts platform?

John Clancy: Five of the planks deal directly with real estate issues, such as creating access to empty and under-used city property for rehearsal and performance space, and including our member venues in the favorable electricity and utility rates enjoyed by religious institutions.  We are advocating for affordable artist housing, since it’s difficult to make theater in a city in which you can’t afford to live.  We want plaques at sites of historical import for our community, so the citizens of New York can recognize and honor the extraordinary contributions of our sector.

What did you learn from these forums that you think it is important for New York City artists to know about?

 John Clancy: First, no candidate is anti-art or anti-theater.  They may not know about it or participate in it that much, but no one is against it.  What they need is for us to explain in simple terms how they can help us continue to enrich the civic, cultural and economic value of the city.  That’s what our Performing Arts Platform does.  I’ve also learned that real change takes real effort, follow-up meetings, strategy sessions, long conversations, accepting temporary setbacks and staying focused on the end result.

Below are videos of the league’s candidate forums. In parentheses are the races for which they are running. (CC means City Council) And beneath the videos is the league’s Performing Arts Platform

Panel 1
Kevin Coenen Jr. (Mayoral)
Robert Jackson (Manhattan Borough President)
Julie Menin (Manhattan Borough President)
Peter Vallone (Queens Borough President)

Panel 2:
Corey Johnson (CC Manhattan 3)
Yetta Kurland (CC Manhattan 3)
Ben Kallos (CC Manhattan 5)
Hill Krishnan (CC Manhattan 5) Did not show
Jenifer Rajkumar (CC Manhattan 1)

Panel 3
Panel 3:
Marc Landis (CC Manhattan 6)
Mel Wymore (CC Manhattan 6)
Mark Levine (CC Manhattan 7)
Cheryl Pahaham (CC Manhattan 7)
Angel Molina (CC Bronx 8)

Panel 4:
Laurie Cumbo (CC Brooklyn 35)
Kimberly Council (CC Brooklyn 37)
William Russell Moore (CC Bronx 18)
Matthew Silverstein (CC Queens 19)
Cathy Guerriero (Public Advocate)
Letitia James (Public Advocate)

Performing Arts Platform

1. Create access to low-cost and/or no-cost Community Facilities Spaces that are currently available and remain unused throughout the City through the creation of a Community Facilities Space Database.

2. Create access to empty and unused City property to be re-purposed as temporary rehearsal, office and (if appropriate), performance space.

3. Include non-profit performance venues in the favorable electricity and utility rates enjoyed by religious institutions and the VFW.

4.  Implement a proposal that would reduce or eliminate property tax assessments for those non-profit organizations that have an artistic mission and/or rent performance space to similar non-profit performing arts groups with artistic missions of their own. This proposal was unanimously ratified by all twelve (12) Manhattan Community Boards.

5. Secure affordable permanent low-cost housing for working artists.  In addition, work to provide access to affordable healthcare for these artists, depending on the status and reach of the Affordable Care Act at the time of negotiations.

6. Support the commission of an economic impact study for the independent theater territory.

7. Work with the Department of Cultural Affairs to expand the Cultural Institutions Group to include the independent theater sector’s anchor venues.

8. Install plaques at sites of historical import and rename streets after the founders of the independent and Off-Off Broadway community.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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