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Mapping the true value of NYC’s small theater community

“It is difficult to put a dollar value on the creative capital that makes New York a center for artistic innovation, but this study takes us behind the scenes to show how the sausage gets made.”

– John Clinton Eisner, Artistic Director at The Lark Theatre

Purpose

The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment commissioned the first in-depth study of the New York City theater ecosystem to guide future investment and growth strategies. 3×3 partnered with economists and planners at Buro Happold Cities Consulting to conduct an in-depth qualitative and quantitative study of small theaters as critical economic and cultural infrastructure. Our study led to an equity-centered investment strategy that focuses on democratizing access to real estate, job training, and regulatory support, as well as the expansion of resources beyond Manhattan.

Community-centered approach

3×3 complemented the quantitative economic impact analysis through narrative inquiry, organizing roundtable discussions that brought together communities that were previously not connected or in dialogue. Our discussions and pop-up events surfaced insights about the social capital, cultural values, and social justice content of the industry and the importance of strengthening networks to collectively articulate needs and wants.

Quantitative findings

  1. – 748 venues and organizations
  2. – $1.3B in economic output
  3. – 8,400 plus full-time jobs
  4.  – $512M in wages
  5. – 96% of theaters operating as nonprofits
  6. – 5% growth of economic output, wages, and jobs (outpacing NYC’s baseline economic growth by 20%)
  7. – 2.2 multiplier effect on the rest of the City’s economy (compared to 1.65 for other media and entertainment organizations)

Participation

– One-on-one stakeholder interviews (20 participants)
– Business landscape assessment (748 organizations)
– Round table discussions with (40 participants)
– Pop-up events (500 interactions)
– Community surveys

Community insights

– Most small theaters operate in a semi-formal, flexible, or informal manner, this means that they could benefit from a coordinated City system to support handling regulatory, financing, and operational challenges.

– The small theater industry faces increasing challenges from rising operating costs of rehearsal and performance space, wages, and production costs. Targeted grants and professional support services can help offset these increased costs and set theaters on a path of fiscal viability.

– Small theaters are growing in every borough of the City, beyond the confines and peripheries of the Theater District. The City can create incentives that leverage lower real estate costs and bring cultural and community services to underserved areas.

– The social capital that small theaters create through educational and family-oriented programs, discounted tickets for local residents, local hiring, and attracting more diverse audiences (e.g. young people, low-income families, BIPOC communities) support the City’s greater mission of increasing access to arts and cultural resources.

– The role small theaters play extends beyond performances to include community programming and social justice initiatives, as well as providing theater venues for community events when not used for rehearsals or productions.

Impact

A 60-page report highlighting both qualitative and quantitative insights, contextualized in the rich history of the industry, its cultural and economic impact, and recommendations for investment and growth strategies. Visually compelling and accessible infographics designed as a resource to advocacy organizations and the general public.

Project team

Kate Fisher, Megan Marini, Jakob Winkler

Join 3x3 for our summer training series 💙
  • Centering equity from the start — Thursday, July 22 at 12 p.m. ET
  • Transformative impact evaluation and storytelling — Friday, July 23 at 12 p.m ET
  • Inclusive facilitation fundamentals — 5 Fridays, August 6 through September 3