Can New Yorkers Be Lured Back to the Arts by a Good Deal?

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The sounds of a small jazz combo filled the Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art last Saturday evening. Warm candles lit the space. Over at the museum’s American Wing Café, Christa Chiao and Anna Lee Hirschi were sipping prosecco.

It was the first weekend of “Date Night” at the Met, an initiative to lure local visitors back to the museum on Friday and Saturday evenings with two-for-one cocktails, gallery chats and free live music featuring New Orleans jazz bands, Renaissance ensembles and string quartets.

The museum’s efforts to woo back visitors from the region comes as many New York cultural organizations worry not only about the pandemic-era decline in tourism, but also the continuing struggle to bring back local crowds. The Met is currently attracting 62 percent of the local visitors it did before the coronavirus pandemic, a change it attributes in part to the continuing prevalence of remote work.

“In this new reality, where many outer borough residents are working virtually and do not have to come to Manhattan, it’s on us, on the cultural institutions, to be creative and proactive in finding ways to encourage local visitorship,” said Ken Weine, a spokesman for the museum.

“The challenge that the Met faces,” he said, “is really no different than a midtown small business.”

The Met is far from the only arts institution trying to entice local visitors back with deals as the Omicron surge fades and the coronavirus outlook seems to be improving.

  • Lincoln Center recently announced a new “Choose What You Pay” ticketing program for its American Songbook series at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, with a minimum ticket price of $5.00, and a suggested price of $35, in an effort to make its programing more accessible.

  • The Museum of Modern Art announced this week that it would restart a program offering free admission to New York City residents on the first Friday of every month between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

  • And this year NYC & Company, the city’s tourism agency, extended NYC Broadway Week — during which theatergoers can get two-for-one tickets to most Broadway shows — for an additional two weeks, through February 27.

Chris Heywood, a spokesman for NYC & Company, said that the move to extend Broadway Week deals was proving popular: As of mid-February, he said, the program’s website had already received more traffic than it did in 2020, before the pandemic closed Broadway.

Winter is traditionally a down period for museums and the performing arts, arts officials note, and this season was made even tougher by lagging tourism and the disruption caused by the Omicron variant, which forced some arts institutions to retrench at the very moment the city was seeking to triumphantly bounce back.

Now, with spring on the horizon, some arts groups say they hope to essentially restart the reopening that began in the fall. Deals, they hope, will help.

The Met, which already allows New York State residents to pay what they wish for admission, is trying to sweeten the deal. As it began its second “Date Night” last Saturday, the museum was busy and bustling, with a line out the door late into evening.

As they sipped their proseccos and shared a box of dips and veggies that had been classified as a date-night special, Chiao, 28, of Harlem, and Hirschi, 29, of Washington, said it was their first time back inside a museum since before the pandemic began. They had not known about the “Date Night” promotion, but they were on a date and were happy to partake.

“It feels like it’s time,” Chiao said. “It’s your own risk assessment. I think more about what I’m going to do — is this thing going to be worth it? I do think I’m going to try to go out and do more stuff.”

Patrick Driscoll, 34, and Kathryn Savasuk, 33, of the Upper West Side, were also on a date at the Met, and said they were feeling increasingly at ease about going out. They had already taken advantage of the two-for-one Broadway tickets, having snagged tickets to “Company,” the revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical.

“We’d be comfortable either way, but it’s definitely an enticement to go out, be active and get into the flow of going to these types of events again,” Driscoll said of the deals. And they plan to keep going to the theater even for those shows that do not offer the two-for-one deals: They already have tickets to see Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga in the upcoming Broadway production of “Macbeth.”

Back inside the Great Hall, Allan Shikh, 21, had his arms wrapped warmly around Ami Kulishov, 21, as the jazz band finished its first set. They, too, were unaware that their romantic evening had fallen on an official “Date Night.” They would have been there anyway.

“We consider ourselves pretty artsy people,” Shikh said. “I don’t really need much enticing.”

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