Why NYC Needs a Five-Borough Cultural Festival

“Creating a citywide cultural festival of global proportions would give locals and visitors a powerful new reason to explore the five boroughs each year, while sharpening the city’s creative edge amid an increasingly packed international calendar of must-do experiences.”

Latino artists and COVID

Adi Talwar

The Mazarte Dance Company practicing in Central Park in December 2020.

New York is home to a rich diversity of annual arts and culture events, from Lunar New Year festivals and the West Indian Day Parade to the Tribeca Film Festival and the Armory Show art fair. But New York still doesn’t have a globally renowned citywide arts and culture festival on the scale of South by Southwest in Austin, the Venice Biennale, or the Edinburgh Fringe Festival—the latter of which generates as many as 3 million ticket sales annually and $630 million in economic impact in the small city of Edinburgh alone.

New York City deserves its own turn in the global spotlight. Now is the time for the Adams administration to launch the city’s first annual five-borough cultural festival—helping the city tackle several challenges at once.

Even viewed through the optimistic glow of spring, one key facet of the city’s economic and social fabric has struggled to regain its former strength: the city’s arts and culture sector. New York City is home to fewer actors, dancers, and musicians now than before the pandemic. Broadway attendance this season is 16 percent below where it was pre-COVID, several arts and nightlife venues have shut down, and numerous working artists have left for more affordable locations. Indeed, the broader arts and entertainment industry has only recovered 84 percent of its pre-pandemic jobs.

There’s a lot that city leaders should do to strengthen the city’s cultural sector, from boosting investment in affordable spaces for artists to live and work to fully funding the Department of Cultural Affairs. But the city also needs fresh ideas that can breathe new life into its arts ecosystem—and help create a more vibrant and resilient post-pandemic economy.

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