A few weeks back, I published an article about the “Heart and Hustle of New York City.” It’s my love letter to the city that has given me and so many so much over the years. There is no other place I would want to run my business.
I received some great feedback and some great stories of inspiration from members of the community: the people in our city that are “making the doughnuts” like only New Yorkers can do under these incredible circumstances. The people in our city who don’t have the time to have philosophical conversations about the future of the city because they are the ones actually making its future through their hard work and dedication.
The response was inspiring and way too good for me not to share with you. The more we connect and support one another, the better off we all are.
Let me introduce you to just a few amazing people from so many different industries in New York City that are inspiring me and I hope will inspire you.
Meet Brooke. I‘ve had the privilege to spend time with Brooke and the team at Be An #ArtsHero. Her passion for supporting the community of artists across the country is not only inspiring — but it’s also having a real impact on people’s lives. Keep it up Brooke and the entire Be An #ArtsHero team!
BROOKE ISHIBASHI, CO-FOUNDER; DIRECTOR OF TALENT OUTREACH & EQUITY, DIVERSITY & INCLUSION, Be An #ArtsHero
What have you learned about yourself or your organization in 2020? I’ve learned about resiliency and the beauty of community. One of my favorite things about being a New Yorker for 11 years was witnessing how the city comes together in times of crisis. After Hurricane Sandy, I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of UNITY from neighbors and strangers alike. Be An #ArtsHero is only about 4 months old, and in that short amount of time, we have received an outpouring of support from Arts Workers quite literally all over the world. It’s a true testament to the strength of the human spirit during periods of trauma.
How do you think you or your organization will be different in 2021? In the short term, Be An #ArtsHero is advocating for massive Federal relief to the Arts & Culture sector. In the long term, we exist to defend and position the Arts & Culture sector of the U.S. as a legislative priority for support and investment commensurate with our socio-economic value. We will continue to adapt and evolve, as the political landscape shifts in the coming months. Regardless of whomever takes the White House and fills Congress, our work remains the same: to demand a seat at the table and become a permanent, integral part of the national economic conversation.
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve witnessed during this experience? My co-leader Matthew-Lee Erlbach penned our OPEN LETTER TO THE U.S. SENATE and within a few weeks’ time, it amassed over 30K shares and 15K signatures, including rank and file, blue collar Arts workers; leaders of every major Arts organization in the nation; Pulitzer, Oscar, Grammy, Emmy and Tony winners; and countless prominent figures (including Rosario Dawson, Cher, Jane Fonda, Mark Hamill, Billy Porter, Glenn Close, Bette Midler, Alfre Woodard, Kevin Kline, Patti LuPone, Oscar Isaac, Daniel Dae Kim and many more). This was our “ARTS AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!” moment and it was awe-inspiring to see folx from our entire sector standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity behind the same message: we require and demand relief NOW.
What are you most proud of from your organization in how it’s operated during this unique moment in time? I’m proud that we’re giving folx something to believe in. We’re a ragtag, grassroots, kitchen table movement and our “little engine that could” story is giving Arts Workers hope. We’re becoming the heroes that we were waiting for: and in doing so, we’re encouraging everyday Arts Workers to find their voices and become their own heroes.
Meet Donna Walker-Kuhne. I’ve worked with Donna for almost 20 years. Not only is she a kind soul, but she’s also one of the most thoughtful marketers and educators in NYC. Her commitment to expanding the audiences in our city’s arts and cultural industries is unmatched. She has also been a driving force behind the growth of Harlem Week. Don’t stop Donna — we need you now more than ever!
DONNA WALKER-KUHNE, FOUNDER & PRESIDENT, Walker International Communications Group, Inc.
What has been the toughest part for you or your organization adapting to operating during COVID? The lack of mobility. The lack of engagement with colleagues and friends. The lack of experiencing live performances.
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve witnessed during this experience? The rapid response of the Harlem community sometimes up to 2000 meals daily, to take care of the local residents with food distribution, PPP distribution, providing laptops for students.
How has the role of your surrounding community and its impact on your organization changed during COVID? The Harlem arts, business, and civic leadership has been extremely proactive in providing necessary services to the community in a consistent and dynamic manner. It has been wonderful to be a part of this movement — from raising funds to providing leadership and strategies that take care of our artists, families and seniors.
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve witnessed during this past year? The rapid response of the Harlem community to take care of the local residents with food distribution (sometimes up to 2,000 meals daily), PPP distribution, and providing laptops for students.
Meet Erik Piecuch. I challenge you to find a more engaged bank in the Broadway and theatre district than City National Bank. Eric leads one of the most thoughtful groups of bankers I’ve ever worked with. I’ve seen firsthand not simply their kindness but their ongoing actions to support the community.
ERIK PIECUCH, SVP/TEAM LEADER, City National Bank
What has been the toughest part for you or your organization adapting to operating during COVID? I’ve found it challenging to keep in consistent touch with colleagues, clients, friends, and family. Like a lot of people, I’ve had to find new ways to maintain my relationships virtually, and it’s not always easy. Meanwhile, it’s been heartbreaking to see the Broadway community shut down, and so many clients and friends out of work. No industry has been hit as hard by the pandemic. That’s been one of the toughest things about the COVID crisis.
What have you learned about yourself or your organization in 2020? As an extrovert, I’ve learned just how much of my energy comes from being around people, and I’ve had to make adjustments to take care of myself and my mental health through this period. But a bright spot has been cooking at home — I don’t think I realized how much I’d enjoy spending time in the kitchen with my husband until we were doing that every night. It still hasn’t gotten old! In terms of my organization, the crisis has really shined a light on just how committed City National Bank is to our colleagues, clients and communities. I’m really proud of how much the bank has stepped up during this difficult time. We have an amazing CEO and leadership team steering us through this crisis, and we remain an incredibly strong, safe and sound organization that will continue to be here long after the pandemic is over.
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve witnessed during this past year? Just last weekend, I got to participate in a truly inspirational event — I was on the host committee of a Quarantunes fundraiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS that raised over $1.2 million, including $100,000 contributed by City National Bank. Over 1,000 people joined a Zoom call organized by Richard Weitz and his daughter, Demi Weitz. A truly phenomenal list of Broadway performers participated during the evening. It was amazing to be a part of and very inspiring to see the fundraising benefit such an important organization.
What are you most proud of from your organization in how it’s operated during this unique moment in time? City National Bank stepped up in an enormous way with the Small Business Association’s Paycheck Protection Program, helping our clients get much-needed support and funding to help bridge the gap caused by COVID-19. City National secured nearly 6,000 PPP loans for entertainment clients totaling over $800 million. For a bank our size, that meant colleagues working around the clock to process thousands of loan requests to help clients and their businesses. The bank also never hit the pause button on meeting our clients’ needs — we just do everything virtually now, providing consistent and clear communication and being there for them every step of the way to provide advice and financial guidance through this unprecedented time. Finally, City National has also really stepped up for our communities — we gave the biggest donation in the bank’s history to help our communities face the hardships caused by the crisis.
Meet Joe Leggio. I can’t even imagine what an “average day” in a NYC hospital must be like in 2020. But I know if there is anyone that can meet the moment, it is Joe and his hospitality and commitment to excellence in care for his patients.
JOE LEGGIO, ASSOCIATE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR/VP, EXPERIENCE SERVICES, Lenox Hill Hospital — Northwell Health
How do you think you or your organization will be different in 2021? Like many organizations and leaders, we will forever be changed because of Covid-19. I find that most leaders get caught up in the emotional frustration with this reality vs. trying to create new solutions within it. As a result of this, our customers are asking us different questions and have additional priorities. We will continue to need to evolve and partner with them on what’s most important. Personally, I will need to challenge and remind myself, that innovation & thinking outside of the box pre-Covid-19 and post Covid-19 are two different things.
What are you most proud of from your organization in how it’s operated during this unique moment in time? I am extremely proud of the incredible collaboration between our nursing, HR, IT, Playback Health, and patient experience teams in that despite the circumstances, we found a way to continuously be patient/family-centered and answer the two most important questions of, what did the doctor say, and is my family member okay. By leveraging technology and changing the way we approach provider & patient/family communication, we were able to ensure every family felt connected to their loved one and a part of their plan of care. We knew this was extremely important to our patients on day one, and we made it our number one priority.
What was the most valuable lesson learned during COVID-19? I feel it’s extremely important to share two of my most valuable lessons learned during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first is in the power of consistent, concise, and clear communication. When information was changing as fast as it did, having trust with our team was key to our success. The reality was that information was changing all of the time but ensuring it got to the right place at the right time made all of the difference. The second lesson is to remember to take care of yourself. As healthcare team members, we very often spring into action and only focus on others; that’s who we are. However, it’s important to remember that in order to be good to others, you must be good to yourself. Checking in with yourself emotionally, mentally, physically every day was extremely important. The biggest piece of that lesson is remembering to do that all of the time and not just in the middle of a pandemic.
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve witnessed during this past year? Still to this day I continue to be amazed and in awe of the tremendous support from our patients, families, and community members. Every day since our first COVID-19 case, people kept reaching out offering to help and support our front line healthcare heroes in any way they could. From providing free meals so staff didn’t have to leave the building, to donating personal PPE to ensure we had what we needed to take care of patients, to coming out every night at 7:00pm to clap and say or even sing thank you. Feeling this incredible love and support was the strength we needed to succeed.
Meet Felicia Fitzpatrick. At a time when most of the Broadway stages are dark, Felicia and the team at Playbill have used social media as a much needed meeting place for creativity and connection for both artists and fans. We are living in very challenging times and watching Felicia’s commitment to an industry she cares dearly about is admirable in so many ways.
FELICIA FITZPATRICK, SOCIAL MEDIA DIRECTOR, Playbill
What has been the toughest part for you or your organization adapting to operating during COVID? On a tangible level, we’re removed from the nucleus of our industry — live performance. Typically, a lot of Playbill’s digital content relies on capturing or creating content that emphasizes in-person events, like openings or special celebrations, so we had to reframe our thinking on what we can offer our audience. Personally, I miss being with the community. The theatre district feels like a college campus — I miss running to a curtain that starts in five minutes and waving to someone as they sprint through Shubert Alley to another show. It sounds cheesy, but it’s that inexplicable energy that’s buzzing right before 8PM, with the bright lights of the marquees dazzling above all of us.
How has your organization pivoted during COVID? Was it always in the cards or something born completely out of response to this moment? I won’t lie, when I started at Playbill five years ago, it felt like the Broadway industry as a whole resisted social media — like social media was the annoying younger sibling. A lot of questions were asked: How does live performance translate to the screen? How do social media engagements translate to ticket buying and other forms of revenue? Now, theatre has to embrace digital otherwise you’re getting left behind. I’ve been very proud and impressed with how Playbill has leapt into this moment with open arms, producing live-stream concerts, starting new digital series, etc.
Has this pivot been harder or easier than you expected? My social media philosophy has always been that it’s about creating a digital community, so in that sense, I honestly do feel like I’ve been prepared for this moment. Broadway fans love to share their opinion and love of the industry, so I tapped into that for content like our three-part 30-Day Song Challenge, Show Shirt Wednesdays, and the Cast Album Recommendation Twitter thread. I wanted to remind the fans we could still enjoy the thing that we love, even if we weren’t physically together. I think what was challenging was when the shutdown continued to extend — we quickly recognized that we needed to keep shifting to meet our audience’s needs.
What have you learned about yourself or your organization in 2020? 2020 reminded me to look at the bigger picture — people really look to Playbill as a leader in the industry, so what we choose to write, what we choose to post, what we choose to say, matters. It may sound obvious but when you’re working within the thing, you get caught in the day-to-day details. The (digital) pen is a mighty tool, so we have a responsibility to our audience to build something important. Not only with the shutdown but with the necessary conversations we’re having about racism and anti-Blackness in the industry, too. I’m very interested to see Broadway (and theatre across the country) come back stronger and more united.
Meet Ken and Daniel Trush. I had the great privilege of meeting Ken and Daniel at TEDxBroadway a few years ago after they delivered a moving talk on their amazing foundation which advances access to music making for all. Their passion is unmatched and watching them evolve their vision for what this moment calls for has been inspiring.
KEN AND DANIEL TRUSH, CO-FOUNDERS, Daniel’s Music Foundation
How has your organization pivoted during COVID? Offering classes online was something we had always talked about as an organization and part of our long-term plan, but it was not a priority for us as we were always consumed with the day-to-day operation of our music center. However, with the temporary closing of the music center in March and the uncertainty of the global pandemic, it was very important for us to find new ways to effectively engage our community. Individuals with disabilities disproportionately experience isolation, which has only been exacerbated by the current global crisis. So on May 15, 2020, we launched the new DMF Virtual Community, a place where individuals of all abilities can connect, engage, and celebrate the joy of music together, regardless of where they live. This new platform includes our DMF On-Demand channel — a destination for free, interactive and educational videos, virtual live events for all ages; plus, virtual music lessons and small group classes at an affordable price.
What have you learned about yourself or your organization in 2020? Aside from the fact that we are extremely nimble and positive in nature (we learned this way of life after Daniel’s injury), this entire experience has truly solidified who we are as an organization. The two pillars of the foundation are providing meaningful music programs for individuals with disabilities and using music as the instrument to build a more inclusive society. Facing challenging times such as these, really makes you look within. For us, it has always been about helping more people and with the birth of the new DMF Virtual Community our reach and impact has no boundaries. We now have the ability to expand well beyond the four walls of our music center in NYC to a national and even global audience and that is extremely exciting. For us and our family, we have found directional clarity as we look to expand globally. We even started an On-Demand series called Smile-o-meter Friday where we virtually travel the world looking for musical talent within our community. Our first stop was Zimbabwe — it has been super fun working together and we have a lot of laughs as we film each episode.
How do you think you or your organization will be different in 2021? As an organization our Virtual Community has become a permanent and integral part of our programming, even after it is deemed safe for us to open the music center and be together again. For DMF, not only will our programming continue to look different in 2021 with more On-Demand series and Live Events, but we will be able to continue to make connections well beyond the tristate area, which is super exciting. Not just the individuals who participate in our programs, but other organizations and potential partners who we will be able to collaborate with every day. We have already started seeing an uptick in interest and expect that to continue to grow. For us and our family, on a personal level, it is a very exciting time to be able to effectuate positive change in a world of uncertainty. Now that we are able to help people anywhere in the world, our work has now become relevant, relatable and important for all.
What are you most proud of from your organization in how it’s operated during this unique moment in time? Unanimously, for our family, it has been how the entire staff has stepped up during these uncertain times, regardless of what they may have been dealing with on a personal level. We literally launched a new line of programming from our collective dining room tables, and it has been an incredible experience. Not once did our staff waiver, they just rolled up their sleeves and worked together to figure it out — and for that we are forever grateful. For Daniel’s Music, our response to the pandemic is what has defined us collectively as an organization. That is something we are all really proud of.
Meet Ken Davenport. Ken is the ultimate disrupter. Ken challenges convention and challenges the people around him for progress — including on his popular podcasts and social programming where he provides fantastic interviews with industry leaders for no cost to patrons. As the business of Broadway will be fundamentally impacted for many years to come, now is the time to let the big ideas fly. This is your lane, Ken. Go get ‘em!
KEN DAVENPORT, PRESIDENT, Davenport Theatrical Enterprises, Inc.
What has been the toughest part for you or your organization adapting to operating during COVID? The toughest part has been the unknown…and wondering when we’ll be able to get back to doing what we love. Entrepreneurs, or “Artrepreneurs,” as I call those of us who run businesses in the entertainment space, are problem solvers. And we love a challenge. But every time we think we’ve got a plan, the virus jumps up and says, “Not yet!” On Monday, I think I’m doing one thing. At the end of the day, that idea is scratched. Tuesday, it starts all over again.
How has your organization pivoted during COVID? Was it always in the cards or something born completely out of response to this moment? We’re doubling down on streaming live events. I was the first producer to stream a show in 2015 (DADDY LONG LEGS) and the results were extraordinary, so I’ve known this is coming. But COVID accelerated the phenomenon. We’re trying a lot of different things with this concept as we try to crack the code of what an audience wants and what they will pay for, so we can keep people in the arts unemployed. One thing I know . . . independent streamed live entertainment is not going anywhere. We’re witnessing the birth of an entirely new entertainment medium.
Describe where you are seeing the most support in helping you through this moment? From other small business owners, and people trying to figure it out just like me. People who were competitors are now saying, “Hey — we’re both in a tough spot. Maybe we can figure this out together? We can get back to competing when this is over.” We’ve got a common enemy, and we’re all struggling to survive. So it’s better to “gather together” as there is strength in numbers. And even more strength in collaboration.
Has your view on operating your organization in New York City changed through this experience? If so, how? I continue to be disappointed by the lack of governmental support of Broadway and the theater industry. Our economic impact is in the billions. Beyond that, you know why people think Times Square is a ghost town? Because there aren’t 40,000 people a day going to see Broadway shows in that 4 block radius! We are not only the economic engine, we are the physical symbol of the health of the city. We light up midtown. Literally. And yet, I can’t help but feel that there’s this, “Oh yeah, we love Broadway, but where else are they going to go?”
Meet Louise Rosen. Louise embodies every letter in the word visionary — especially in the world of higher education. As higher education has been flipped on its head, Louise is leading the development of innovative strategies across Columbia University and doing it with a sense of NYC pride that we can all be proud of.
LOUISE ROSEN, SENIOR ASSOCIATE DEAN OF ADMINISTRATION, Columbia University, School of Professional Studies
What has been the toughest part for you or your organization adapting to operating during COVID? Maintaining our community when we are composed of students, faculty and staff who come from across the region and the world to convene in the city and on our campus while both had restricted access was brutal. So much of what makes up our daily experiences are the events, seminars and the passionate conversations you have with colleagues in an elevator, at a special lecture, walking across campus processing what we are learning, what we are experiencing, what we are trying to discover. We went remote and needed to deliver our programs online, then we needed to think about the connective tissue that binds us between classes and that followed shortly thereafter — community events, special guest lectures, bringing the campus to you via Augmented Reality, and creating unique remote experiences that only we, Columbia could deliver.
How has your organization pivoted during COVID? Was it always in the cards or something born completely out of response to this moment? In some respects this whole situation fast tracked some trends we were already seeing. Remote learning, video content being king, virtual engagements. But while the tech has enabled us to keep going and keep learning, it has also reinforced how valuable the in-person experience is. Our name is Columbia University in the City of New York, and we have seen our city rocked too. The City has been called our shadow endowment. We have access to wonderful resources being here — people, places, a diverse community. And they have been battered too. We will all heal and come back together, I believe. We’re New Yorkers, it’s what we do. This whole situation has made me fall deeper in love with Columbia and New York — the spirit, the community, the resolve, and the creativity. It has been said Columbia University is the greatest University in the greatest city in the world. I couldn’t believe it more.
What are you most proud of from your organization in how it’s operated during this unique moment in time? Our medical students graduated early to be able to treat patients while we were entering the eye of this pandemic, our hospitals treated members of our community — Citywide. Our colleagues stepped up to tutor children of first responders; we have a food pantry for the community; our scientists are studying this virus to help find viable treatments and understand it; we have public programming for all our community members and interested outsiders. We have laughed, cried, and watched our faculty’s grandchildren climb all over them while being interviewed on TV. We never closed; we never stopped; we never stopped caring about each other and that means everyone in the surrounding community too.
Meet Mark Fisher. Mark is one of the most impressive business owners I’ve had the pleasure to meet over the years. His company, Mark Fisher Fitness, is built on a core set of values that you can see, hear, and feel at every touch point with his brand. More impressive, he is active in sharing his knowledge, relationships, and audience with the community-at-large.
MARK FISHER, CO-FOUNDER, Mark Fisher Fitness
What has been the toughest part for you or your organization adapting to operating during COVID? Running a brick and mortar fitness studio in Manhattan means we’ve dealt with some very tough restrictions. Our physical operations were shut down completely for six months. As we enter our eighth month, we still can’t offer our classes, which were our primary revenue stream. And when we are given the greenlight for classes, the capacity restrictions (currently 25%) will likely mean we can’t open back up profitably. So we’re realistically looking at another 6–12 months with no in-person classes and possibly longer.
How has your organization pivoted during COVID? Was it always in the cards or something born completely out of response to this moment? As soon as things got locked down, we knew immediately we had to do something; not just for the business, but for our community who would need some fitness solutions while quarantined. So within 36 hours we started offering virtual class memberships via Zoom. (Unfortunately a lot of brick and mortar fitness businesses tried to wait it out, and up to a third of facilities are expected to go under before all is said and done.) We’d been talking about doing more online stuff for years, but this definitely forced our hand. It also made otherwise resistant-to-online clients willing to give it a try.
Describe where you are seeing the most support in helping you through this moment? Far and away it’s been our community of Ninjas (which is what we call our clients). It’s been moving to see the way they’ve rallied for us: from former Ninjas coming back, to demanding their friends give us a try, to being patient and flexible as we “built the plane in the air.” Not only were we rolling out a new business model with no notice, but the government guidelines on when we could reopen and what we could do continually changed with almost no notice. It’s been amazing to feel so many people rooting for us.
What are you most proud of from your organization in how it’s operated during this unique moment in time? I’m most proud of the total transparency with which we’ve approached the whole situation. I’m a big believer that people often distrust “businesses,” but they trust people. So both from a values perspective AND a brand perspective, we just wanted to be totally real and totally human. Both in communications with our team and with the Ninjas, we were clear on what we knew, what we didn’t know, and how we were doing our best to navigate. And I think that’s only built more trust.
Meet Matthew Jozwiak. Before the pandemic, the number of food insecure families was gut-wrenching. Since the pandemic, the issue has only become more pressing. That is why I continue to remain in awe of the work that Matt’s company has done in feeding New Yorkers in the face of so many headwinds.
MATTHEW JOZWIAK, FOUNDER & CEO, Rethink Food
What has been the toughest part for you or your organization adapting to operating during COVID? Relationships, especially the close ones. We had to account for both safety and our mission during COVID. People were concerned about the team being out and about in NYC; the team was concerned about the massive increase in food insecurity. We had to make difficult choices almost every day.
How has your organization pivoted during COVID? Was it always in the cards or something born completely out of response to this moment? Our goal has always been to bring the restaurants closer to those communities who need it most. We had a huge opportunity to connect them and I think we did that. We always wanted to certify or badge restaurants for doing good stuff, this just made it easier
Has this pivot been harder or easier than you expected? Harder, the concept is simple but everyone has a lot of questions in 2020. In 2019 you would just feed people, in 2020 everyone (rightfully so) is asking, who are you feeding, why and why did you choose this route? Communication has been much harder during this time.
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve witnessed during this past year? One night during the height of the protests, I was handing out masks to people on the street. One young kid grabbed all the masks out of my hands and said something rude. His friends who witnessed were about half a block up and he joined them. I was walking home in the same direction, and the young man came back and handed me the masks and said, “I am sorry, you are just trying to help. Thank you for caring.”
Meet Nicole Kankam. Nicole sits at the center of one of New York’s most cherished summer events — the US Open. She has spearheaded not only the growth of USTA events over the years but also its commitment to expanding accessibility to the events for all New Yorkers which I’ve personally greatly admired.
NICOLE KANKAM, MANAGING DIRECTOR, PRO TENNIS MARKETING, United States Tennis Association
What has been the toughest part for you or your organization adapting to operating during COVID? Obviously there are many challenges between working from home along with managing remote learning with my son, all while trying to maintain my sanity! I’ve found it really tough for me personally to stay positive in the midst of planning for all the worst case scenarios, especially when it can take you down a path of anticipating some pretty dire circumstances. For the most part, I’m optimistic that we’ll be welcoming fans back to the 2021 US Open in as close to a normal environment as can be expected, particularly with the advantage of nearly a year to plan. But on any given day when the overwhelming media coverage highlights all the doomsday scenarios, it’s often easy to focus too much on that negative perspective. Things as simple as taking a run to clear my head, or playing outside with my kids can help to refocus towards positivity.
What have you learned about yourself or your organization in 2020? One of the biggest things I’ve learned about myself and our organization is just how resilient and creative we can be. The whole organization was pushed to the limit to accomplish what many thought couldn’t be done in hosting the event, particularly as we endured a staff restructure in the midst of our US Open planning. But the entire team showed remarkable grit and resourcefulness in coming up with creative solutions to insure everyone’s safety, maintaining our sponsor and partner relationships, engaging fans in new ways and delivering an overall compelling presentation of the event. I found the creativity and resilience was contagious and seemed to bring out the best in people throughout the organization.
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve witnessed during this experience? What is so inspiring for me is to see individuals and organizations across sports use their voice to speak out in meaningful ways around issues of injustice and have it resonate with audiences. From the NBA and WNBA taking such bold action on issues of racial injustice and promoting voter activism to Naomi Osaka acknowledging the power of her platform using the US Open as an opportunity to bring awareness to victims of police brutality, I was energized by how sports can be a force for good.
What are you most proud of from your organization in how it’s operated during this unique moment in time? I’m so proud of the huge accomplishment that we were able to host the first truly global sporting event in the midst of the covid crisis and maintain the health and safety of everyone involved while still delivering a product worthy of the US Open brand. I’m also extremely proud of how we leveraged our event to amplify and promote themes of equality through our social impact campaign Be Open. The campaign reaffirmed the USTA’s values around diversity and inclusion while acknowledging the reality of the world around us in this moment. Leveraging the spotlight on the US Open, the campaign included content promoting themes of racial, gender and LGBT equality, an art installation to showcase the Black Lives Matter movement in a positive light, as well as daily recognition of frontline workers around the world by current and former US Open champions.
Meet Rachelle Pereira. To say this moment calls for leadership is a tremendous understatement. In a world where no decision feels like a good decision, it’s inspiring to hear the incredible guidance Rachelle offers NYC leaders navigating tough decisions with insight and, as importantly, compassion.
RACHELLE PEREIRA, CO-FOUNDER, EQUALibrium Group
How has your organization pivoted during COVID? Was it always in the cards or something born completely out of response to this moment? EQUALibrium is a leadership development company, and we service clients from across many industries including travel, higher education, entertainment and the non-profit sector. We were accustomed to traveling all over NYC, and often much further afield, to meet face to face and work with leaders on improving their performance and the performance of their staff. Many training and development companies offer on-line services and training programs — but we prided ourselves on getting personally and physically invested in learning about their people, culture and challenges. We thought of this in-person relationship as our competitive advantage. Then overnight, we pivoted to delivering all of our training, coaching and consulting 100% virtually, and at that time I am not even sure we had a Zoom account.
Has this pivot been harder or easier than you expected? It was a steep learning curve. Some clients cancelled all services while other expected us to deliver to the same deadlines virtually. Our days were endless learning how to do things like virtual instructional design, figuring out how to use interactive tools on Zoom, speaking to a group of people that you can’t see in a normal and natural way. In a matter of weeks, we needed to deliver high quality work virtually, as if we had always been a working on a virtual platform. Amazingly, once we did learn how to adapt, the experience and impact has been incredible. A full day’s training is now spread over six weeks in 2 hour webinars. Now we build relationships over time, deliver content in bite-sized amounts and watch participants create sustainable behavioral changes.
How do you think you or your organization will be different in 2021? We miss seeing our clients face to face — but now that we see the ease and impact of virtual delivery, this will be a permanent and perhaps even preferred mode of delivery. I predict that our new normal will be a hybrid of working in person and virtually, picking the right mode of delivery for the organization and their objective. We now have a entirely new way to engage with clients who have staff members living around the world and we can make training more cost effective by reducing the need for travel, space rental, catering and the like. Saying that, we can’t wait for the opportunity to break bread together, have quality in-person conversation, and give our wonderful clients a big hug.
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve witnessed during this past year? We have been a witness to the way organizations have coped with the double pandemic of COVID-19 and the national reckoning of racial injustice. It has been incredible to be privy to the inner workings, heart-breaking decisions, and strategic moves companies have been making in light of these acute challenges. And time and time again, I am inspired by how HUMANS are at the center of the conversation. This moment has forced us all to see our humanity and encouraged us to bring our fullest selves to the workplace and work together to push forward and build back better.
Meet Robert Conley. I’ve had the great pleasure of seeing the amazing talents of the Oratorio Society of New York (including my friend and work colleague Lisa Cecchini who is amazing!) with my own eyes at Carnegie Hall. I stand in awe at the work Robert and this amazing organization have done to pivot during this time to continue it’s nearly 150 year legacy in our city.
ROBERT CONLEY, TRUSTEE, Oratorio Society of New York
What has been the toughest part for you or your organization adapting to operating during COVID? The Oratorio Society of New York is a diverse community of avocational singers that perform choral music together with the highest musical standards. As a not-for-profit performing arts organization, we cannot fulfill our stated and traditional mission at this time. It became apparent in early March that our remaining concert season would be postponed, and weekly rehearsals cancelled for the foreseeable future. During this period of suspended in-person operations, we have identified new ways to engage our vibrant membership and preserve our nearly 150-year legacy in the New York arts community.
How has your organization pivoted during COVID? Was it always in the cards or something born completely out of response to this moment? Thanks to the creativity and commitment of our dedicated music staff and volunteers, we have substituted our live rehearsals with Zoom sessions plus additional activities to prepare for a post-COVID future. Our music staff is teaching a series of conservatory-level minicourses in musicianship in place of our weekly rehearsals. We are rebranding our website, exploring new funding opportunities, and supporting new music with the commission of a new Oratorio. Most notably, our annual performance of Handel’s Messiah will continue this year with an abridged version streamed on December 21st, a performance tradition that we are grateful will remain unbroken for 146 years. The video and audio recording was carried out in part out of doors and in part in an old barn on the property of our music director. An orchestra of 12 players accompanied 24 choral singers and 4 soloists. From planning to performance, this endeavor was executed in less than six weeks.
How do you think you or your organization will be different in 2021? Support for the performing arts is now more important than ever. We believe that while audiences will be slow to return to live performances initially, over time, the value and need for live performance will be recognized and demand will exceed pre-pandemic levels. We look forward to when we can safely gather and perform both the classics and new works.
What are you most proud of from your organization in how it’s operated during this unique moment in time? Most inspiring is the continued support from our community for our modified activities. We regularly attract over 100 participants in our weekly online meetings, and the majority of our roster has volunteered to participate in the Messiah streaming project. Our members are clearly a loyal and dedicated group of musicians.
Meet Sarah Haberman. You don’t need me to tell you the importance of storytelling. But in a world where our ability to tell stories in arts and cultural venues may have been put on pause, Sarah’s amazing work of keeping us inspired through the power of storytelling is moving.
SARAH HABERMAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, The Moth
How has your organization pivoted during COVID? Was it always in the cards or something born completely out of response to this moment? While challenging, this time has also been one of significant innovation and evolution. We looked at every facet of our organization — from our staff meetings and brainstorming sessions to our workshops, events, and programming — and adapted each to be completely virtual. The response to our live virtual events has been very strong. Immediately out of the gate in April, we hosted our first-ever virtual Moth Mainstage (a curated storytelling show) and it sold out in 90 minutes; our second virtual Mainstage one was attended by 3,000 households — people from 47 of the 50 U.S. states and Puerto Rico and even some as far afield as Nepal and Kenya. In addition, we produced a new podcast series, airing alongside our regular Moth broadcast, entitled “All Together Now: Fridays with The Moth” which ran weekly from the start of summer through Labor Day (it is now available for bingeing!). This podcast was all about creating an opportunity for people to listen together in their homes and connect. We even found ways to reinvent our annual fundraiser which is slated for November 17th.
Has this pivot been harder or easier than you expected? A little of both: Currently, we are under tremendous pressure to make difficult short-term decisions (staffing, fundraising, fixed costs, etc.) while attempting to predict the long-term effects of COVID-19 on audience and listening behavior. For us, this crisis has given us permission to experiment with new media, new forms of content, and expand our reach and ability to showcase our storytellers from around the world. I’ve been inspired and impressed with the team and what they’ve been able to accomplish.
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve witnessed during this past year? The power of storytelling to bring people together. We’ve heard such great feedback from our community about how our podcast, livestream shows, and workshops have helped people feel less alone during this time of social isolation. Hearing that was inspiring and gave us the confidence and determination to forge on and find new ways to connect and expand our reach. Seeing the reaction has also shown us that our virtual formats have succeeded in reaching new audiences and should continue in some form after the pandemic ends.
What are you most proud of from your organization in how it has operated during this unique moment in time? I am proudest of our team’s commitment to storytelling and presenting the best possible experience for our community across any platform. I’m in awe at how The Moth team stepped into this moment with so much strength, determination, and willingness to adapt 600+ live shows and workshops for the virtual space. That’s not an easy feat! From the beginning, they were committed to problem-solving and not panicking, taking the time to learn new platforms, and also to being okay with the potential of failing a bit. I am very proud of us for being so willing to take those chances. Without failure, you can’t innovate. Lastly, their resilience, positivity, and dedication to this cause is a source of inspiration for me personally, as well as for others on this team, and hopefully, for those in our storytelling community.
Meet Trish Santini. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more exciting project happening in NYC than the project Trish is heading up with Little Island. And you’ll be hard pressed to find a more positive and kind voice for innovation than the spirit that Trish brings to any room (or Zoom!) she enters.
TRISH SANTINI, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, Little Island
What has been the toughest part for you or your organization adapting to operating during COVID? We have been fortunate regarding operating as Little Island does not open till spring 2021. Our challenge has been building a team that has to work in a highly collaborative manner, when many of the team were hired after we started working remotely. Our current full-time staff is 23 people. And in March, we were a team of 15 with seven of those 15 only being in their jobs for a couple months. Having a team that is new to the organization and each other, without the ability to be in an office together, has meant the level of planning, intentionality, and structure has been vigorous. It has required the staff to function with a high level of diligence regarding communication. We are in a constant state of recruitment, hiring, onboarding, and integrating new staff who need to learn about and contribute to our systems, operating plans, and artistic, educational and hospitality programs, and that has required an enormous amount of trust, without the advantage of shared history. It is a real leap of faith when you don’t have the benefit of being in an office together or hanging out after work, so that you can get to know each other better and develop that collegial feeling in a more organic way. Zoom can only take you so far!
What have you learned about yourself or your organization in 2020? It feels like what we’re all learning due to covid is that flexibility, responsiveness, patience, and resilience are key. We (the Little Island staff) talk all the time about how we need those muscles to be strong, so that we can ebb and flow as we have more information, and we recognize that while we can plan thoughtfully, we can’t control everything and that has to be ok. We are continuously re-evaluating our plans and assumptions about how best to work, create, and serve our visitors and audiences, knowing that it will all need to evolve and adjust again once we open and are operating every day, and as we learn how visitors experience the park.
Has your view on operating your organization in New York City changed through this experience? If so, how? While we’ve always been thrilled at the prospect of opening this new public park for New Yorkers, I think we all now feel a deeper sense of purpose given how much more the city needs beautiful, green, public space and access to live performance. When Barry Diller committed to building Little Island more than seven years ago, we could never have imagined that it would open at such a challenging time of recovery for our city. We are committed to welcoming all New Yorkers next spring and providing a much needed oasis for our visitors and our artists. We hope that Little Island will be a place to restore the spirit and provide a sense of community — in the way that only a connection to nature and art can accomplish — and we all need that more than ever.
What are you most proud of from your organization in how it’s operated during this unique moment in time? I’m incredibly proud of everyone who is creating this public park — our designers, construction team, and the Little Island staff have been tireless in doing all they can to keep this project moving forward during this unprecedented time, and with a whole new set of considerations to manage in service of everyone’s health and safety. It’s been inspiring to witness the level of collaboration and coordination amongst all parties, as there is a profound sense of commitment to ensure we can open next spring. We all believe in the power of nature and art, and we want to make more of that available to New Yorkers as soon as possible…
Meet Victoria Bailey. One of the single most important organizations in expanding audiences for theatre in NYC, Tory leads with passion for the importance of theatre and the arts in people’s lives. While theatres may be closed and the renowned TKTS booth may be shuttered for now, I remain in awe of the work Tory and the team at TDF are doing to get vulnerable audiences access to the arts by building on their expansive list of theatre programs.
VICTORIA BAILEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, TDF, Theatre Development Fund
What has been the toughest part for you or your organization adapting to operating during COVID? There are huge financial challenges as our revenue stream dried up almost completely when the theatres closed. So we have had to make painful choices with regard to staff — layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts. But as we settle into the current “normal” I think the one of the hardest adaptations has been learning to work remotely and yet still collaboratively. We all miss the conversations at the coffee machine, the good ideas that pop up when you just drop into someone’s office — how do you build casual conversations into a Zoom world.
How has your organization pivoted during COVID? Was it always in the cards or something born completely out of response to this moment? The first pivot was to figure out how to deliver program services virtually — and we have done it in for every program. And then we have had to rapidly increase our fundraising — developing new messaging about the role we will play when the theatres reopen and the role the arts are going to play as NYC heals and rebuilds. I think these activities were in the cards in some ways, but they were in their infancy. We’ve had to develop new skills quickly and creatively.
How do you think you or your organization will be different in 2021? 2021 is going to be a year of rebuilding in every way. The theatre will be rebuilding audiences — before we reopen we have to make sure audiences feel safe and help them be ready to return. We will need to motivate local audiences to come to the theatre, including many communities of New Yorkers who historically have not felt welcome in the theatre. TDF is going to have to do more with less; the economic model we have relied on in the past will not be in place and we are going to figure out new ways to do things and we are going to have to continue to build contributed income.
What are you most proud of from your organization in how it’s operated during this unique moment in time? I am most proud of our perseverance — of our ability to figure out new ways to provide services and to keep the arts in people’s lives. I am proud of the fact that at a time when the world we know best — the theatre — has taken a body blow and at a time when the thing that sustains us all — the theatre — has been taken away, we are getting up every day and doing our best to serve the city we all love.
Meet Vincent Gassetto. The impact on our city’s public education system during this crisis has been profound — particularly on the families in underserved areas. This is why the world needs more Vincents. Now more than ever, our city’s students need our attention. And I remain in awe of the work Vincent and his supporting administration at MS 343 are doing under a remarkable set of circumstances.
VINCENT GASSETTO, PRINCIPAL, M.S. 343 (District 7/South Bronx)
What has been one of the biggest challenges for you or your organization during this time? There have been many challenges brought on by this pandemic as well as the social unrest and injustices that plague our country. I am not here to school anyone on that (pun intended) but do want to ensure everyone is aware of an issue that is still so hard to fathom exists. Reliable Wi-Fi connectivity! The biggest issue to remote learning by far has been getting students online consistently. More than half of our students struggle daily with consistent/reliable connectivity that prevents them from learning at their full capacity. We talk about gaps in education and social inequalities all the time in this country; but the one issue that seems simple to fix (only need money) that will have a profound impact on our youth is ensuring that every student in a public school has fast and reliable connectivity. To be clear, this is not just a school issue but also one pertaining to human rights. Every child needs and deserves access to information in order to grow and have the same opportunities, no matter their social status or zip code, as their counterparts. Most of our information is received virtually at this point, so let’s make sure everyone has access to it!
How has your organization pivoted during COVID? Was it always in the cards or something born completely out of response to this moment? As everyone in the world is aware, education made the unprecedented shift to remote learning (now blended) without much, if any, warning or preparation. As in most cases in life, when people are forced to make changes, they do so, and often come out better for it. I believe this is the case for education as well. We did not think teaching remotely to 1.1 million students was possible a year ago… now we know it is. Let me be clear, there is no substitute (pun intended) for direct in-person learning five days a week with expert professionals (and yes… we are PROFESSIONALS). However, I believe we have significantly closed the gap and myths about learning remotely and feel that this will make us better and stronger moving forward. I think we now know that learning does not need to stop for snow days or absences (sorry kids!). Teachers can have more flexibility to work remotely with their students or with students and colleagues across the city. Those familiar with schools know that they are a place bound by time and structure. Some students do well in this type of environment but what we found was that many also flourish when time is flexible. Some of our struggling students made tremendous growth academically simply because they were allowed to work and complete tasks at the time best for them. This has forced us to look at being more flexible moving forward to ensure everyone has the conditions that best set them up for success. Simply put, the pandemic forced us to make changes that I feel will stay with us and improve our education system moving forward.
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve witnessed during this past year? If I had to sum this up in one word, that word is resiliency. I serve one of the poorest congressional districts in our country. This community was devastated, as were so many others, by this pandemic. However, students and families stayed engaged in the learning process from day one and most did everything in their power to ensure that was not interrupted. Many people had every excuse in the world to disengage and quit but I guess that’s just not the NY way! I also have to shout out my staff for their dedication and creativity. You often hear the horror stories of schools and teachers not doing what people expect from them. Well, I’m telling you that teachers from our school, and across the city (my wife is a teacher and is amazing!), took this challenge head on and found ways to ensure instruction was accessible and impactful. All of this happened in an instant, but these people put their hard hats on and went to work. I strongly believe that we were forced to find new and innovative ways to teach that will stay with us moving forward and will definitely make us stronger.