One of the few bright spots in the city during the pandemic has been the increase in the amount of Open Streets which have been closed to cars and turned over for pedestrian use. So far, the city has opened up over 67 miles of streets in the last three months, the most in the country, although the program has also been criticized for not going far enough. But it has in turn led to the city's ongoing Open Restaurants program, which has given a lifeline to an industry that is on the verge of collapse.

Now, a city council member wants to expand these programs to cultural institutions as well.

Queens Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer plans to introduce legislation this Thursday that would allow any nonprofit art or cultural group, organization, venue or institution to be able to utilize public outdoor spaces for performances.

"The city of New York is the cultural capital of the world, and the city without music and dance and theater is just not the same New York. Our city has opened up our streets for the people, so let the small theaters and smaller arts organizations that may want to set up exhibits outside come join us," Van Bramer told Gothamist.

"With Open Restaurants and Open Streets, our neighborhoods have come alive again," Van Bramer, who chairs the Council’s Cultural Affairs Committee, added. "This new program would bring culture to the public in our parks, Open Streets, public plazas, and parking lots, allowing arts and cultural non-profits at no cost to self-certify their socially distant performances and rehearsals."

With this bill, any arts nonprofit can apply for a free permit to put on programming outside with an expedited online process à la the Open Restaurants program (which would require that all participating groups are complying with social distancing guidelines). The program would go through at least January 31st, 2021, but Van Bramer is eager to get it passed sooner rather than later, so institutions can take advantage of the warmer weather and people's desire to be outdoors now.

Moreover, he argues that the city won't be itself until its cultural institutions begin to return: "Getting artists and performers out and allowing them to sing and dance, perform, and make people laugh is imperative for their survival, but also for the survival of the people of the city of New York."

Starting this week, museums, aquariums, and other "low-risk cultural arts" are allowed to reopen to the public indoors at 25% maximum occupancy. They are expected to have pre-set staggered entries, require face coverings, and be able to control traffic flow.

However, New York venues have remained closed since the start of the pandemic, leading to an effort to pass federal legislation to provide financial relief for venues during this period. Without those federal funds, advocacy groups estimate that 90% of indie venues will be forced to close permanently.

Last week, the State Liquor Authority updated their website to clarify new guidelines that specify that restaurants and bars are prohibited from offering live music, ticketed events, and other forms of outdoor entertainment. They also noted that karaoke, exotic dancing, and comedy shows are also not allowed currently, writing, "only incidental music is permissible at this time. This means that advertised and/or ticketed shows are not permissible. Music should be incidental to the dining experience and not the draw itself."