The recently formed Costume Industry Coalition has launched a pandemic emergency relief campaign for New York City’s pattern makers, cutters, stitchers, tailors, milliners, hand finishers and other artisans who have seen their incomes vanish since the onset of COVID-19.
The Coalition, which includes members from more than 50 New York City-area costume businesses and artisans from stage, dance, television, film, opera, cruise ships, and concerts, has set a fundraising goal of $4.5 million. Between now and Sept. 25, the Coalition will match donations up to $100,000.
The coalition’s fiscal sponsor is the Artisans Guild of America, a non-profit dedicated to perpetuating the American tradition of the artisan workroom. All donations will be tax-deductible through the AGA, with the majority of the CIC Relief Fund being used to cover rent, employee health insurance, and utilities.
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The Coalition was founded in June as a response to the pandemic shutdown of Broadway theaters, other live venues and TV and film production. According to the Coalition, “Since timelines for the reopening of entertainment venues continue to shift, CIC Members recognize their survival is in jeopardy, as their orders have largely been cancelled or delayed indefinitely, leaving them without income for the foreseeable future.”
John Kristiansen, founding Coalition member and owner of the full-service costume shop John Kristiansen New York, said the group’s launch followed his own bout with the coronavirus.
“On March 12, I went to the emergency room with symptoms of COVID-19,” Kristiansen said. “When I was released on March 18, not only was my shop closed, but my whole industry was shuttered indefinitely. We were compelled to get the CIC together to safeguard our livelihoods – as we are one tentacle of the entertainment industry that cannot pivot to a telecommuting model. We simply can’t build costumes via Zoom.”
Brian Blythe, a Coalition founding member and Kristiansen’s business manager, said private donations are necessary due to a dearth of public money. “We have turned to private donations because in speaking to the Mayor’s office, State Senate and Lieutenant Governor, I kept being told they are waiting for federal relief,” Blythe said. “While the arts and culture sector adds $877 billion value to the US economy, employs 5.1 million people and is 4.5% of the GDP, it is often overlooked in federal relief packages. And as arts organizations start to fold, the local restaurants, hotels, parking decks, gas stations, dry cleaners, fabric stores, hardware stores will all be impacted. We may be focusing our efforts on New York, but we can’t forget the arts and culture sector is hemorrhaging nationwide.”
Sally Ann Parsons, of Parsons-Meares Ltd, founded her shop in 1980, explained that the costume industry includes many facets, all relying on one another. (Both Parsons and Kristiansen contributed work to Broadway’s Frozen, above.) “What many don’t understand is our interdependence,” Parsons said, noting that her full-service costume shop relies on specialty pleaters, fabric printers, embroiderers and other Coalition members. “We all work in conjunction with each other, and if one of our members closes, there will be a collapse of our entire ecosystem. We all know the entertainment industry will be back. We just want to ensure we are still here when it does.”
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