New ‘Open Culture’ program will bring live performances to city streets

open culture
Streets will play host to open-air performances under a new city initiative.
Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

City streets will be packed with harmonious musicals and tap dancing theater troupes this summer, when the city’s “Open Culture” program frees Brooklyn’s battered artisans to lay claim to street space for open-air performances of all types.

As the “Open Streets” and “Open Restaurants” programs before it, the new initiative aims to allow cooped-up Kings Countians cautious of crowding indoors for fear of contracting COVID to sprawl out with ample space to social distance — this time, while enjoying a show from a cadre of local cultural craftsmen, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday.

“The idea is to make this simple, to make it accessible, to bring cultural institutions of all kinds, of all communities, out into the streets to engage people, give them energy, give them home,” Hizzoner said on Feb. 8 in Dumbo. “For that to work, we have to clear the way, we have to cut the red tape and make it simple.”

The city’s Street Activity Permit Office will now have the authority to more easily dole out licenses for live performances, rehearsals, classes, and workshops. Venues will be able to host ticketed events in over 100 locations in order to bring in some revenue after over a year of closure.

“This is a job creator, this is a motivator,” said Queens Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, chair of the Council’s Cultural Affairs Committee.

The permits will be made available to any recipients of funding from the Cultural Development Fund, the borough arts council, or members of the Cultural Institutions Group. The reimagined permitting process is based largely on the city’s “Open Restaurants” program, which turned a once-lengthy application into a much simpler and faster process. 

“We saw with ‘Open Restaurants,’ we cut the red tape, we made it simple,” de Blasio said. “If you build it, they will come.”

New York’s cultural sector is among the hardest hit by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — as venues were the first to close when COVID-19 first ravaged the city last spring, and they will likely be among the last to reopen once herd immunity is reached.

Until then, local arts leaders are lauding the city’s pivot into outdoor arts permitting.

“Brooklyn’s dynamic artistic community has been eagerly awaiting opportunities to participate in the revitalization of our creative community by presenting their work to the public in ways that are safe and engaging,” said Charlotte Cohen, executive director of the Brooklyn Arts Council. “We are so delighted to see the City innovating the Open Culture Program as part of a collective effort to bring creativity back to our streets and our lives — we need the arts to reflect our shared humanity now more than ever, after a period of so much suffering and loss.”

Applications for Open Culture permits open March 1 on the SAPO website