When Broadway and theaters across the country went dark in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS moved to be a light for those in the industry and beyond facing immediate health and economic hardship. Thanks to the generosity of the theatrical community and dedicated supporters, Broadway Cares is proud to announce a record $18.1 million was provided in grants in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2020.
This marks the most ever awarded in the organization’s 32-year history. Any enthusiasm about that record, though, is tempered with the recognition that continued fundraising is essential to ensure healthy meals, lifesaving medication and emergency assistance are still available as the country faces an uncertain future.
“We are extremely grateful to everyone in the theater community – those onstage, backstage and in the audience – for sharing their generosity and talents to accomplish such a feat when half our fiscal year was consumed by a pandemic,” said Tom Viola, executive director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. “But today, on October 1, our fundraising slate wipes clean and we begin again. So while we celebrate the work made possible and the countless individuals helped, we also charge forward with our efforts to continue to raise these vital funds for the most vulnerable among us.”
The $18.1 million in 2020 grants exceeds 2019 grant-making by a remarkable 22 percent, up from last year’s $14.8 million in grants, which had been the previous annual record.
In the face of the pandemic, Broadway Cares was forced to change its fundraising course, both to adapt to a socially distant world and to support the growing number of people within the entertainment industry and beyond needing help.
On March 17, 2020, just days into Broadway’s shutdown, Broadway Cares launched its COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund, with an initial $250,000. The fund, administered by The Actors Fund, ensures thousands who work in theater and the performing arts receive lifesaving support during and after this devastating pandemic. Within a week, more than 20 Broadway producers offered a $1 million challenge match to double the impact of donations to the fund. When that initial match was met, another group of producers, inspired by the first, offered a second $1 million match. The full list of producers can be found at broadwaycares.org. In May, entertainment icon Bette Midler personally matched donations to the emergency fund up to $100,000.
As theaters across the country faced the shutdown, Broadway Across America, which is part of the John Gore Organization, offered its ticket buyers the opportunity to donate back the value of their unused tickets to Broadway Cares. Under the leadership of John Gore Chief Operating Officer Lauren Reid, who is also on the Broadway Cares Board of Trustees, the initiative led to a $909,000 donation for the emergency relief efforts.
In total, the COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund has provided $6.5 million to The Actors Fund so far. An additional $1 million was shared with The Actors Fund to launch the Every Artist Insured program, expanding on The Actors Fund’s free and confidential health insurance counseling and enrollment support services.
These pandemic-specific grants were in addition to annual support of the vital safety net of social services of The Actors Fund, including the HIV/AIDS Initiative, the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative and The Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts. In total, Broadway Cares awarded $11.2 million to The Actors Fund in fiscal year 2020. That total is up from $6.2 million in 2019.
Broadway Cares’ fundraising and grant-making efforts expand far beyond the theatrical community and into its National Grants Program.
In January, prior to the pandemic, the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS grants committee provided $2.1 million to 125 organizations nationwide as part of its annual food grants round. These grants ensured healthy meals would continue being served to the most vulnerable and marginalized. Then, when the pandemic struck in March, two remaining annual grant rounds were in jeopardy.
The pandemic and work shutdown struck just as Broadway Cares was beginning its spring in-theater fundraising efforts. With those efforts halted, so was Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ grant-making for hundreds more organizations across the country. Gilead Sciences then offered $1 million to help Broadway Cares award Emergency Grants for Pandemic Relief. They were quickly joined by M‧A‧C Viva Glam, ViiV Healthcare and the P. Austin Family Foundation. Broadway Cares’ supporters helped raise the remaining $250,000, matched by Gilead, to provide a full $2 million in emergency grants.
The awards to 319 organizations across the country were roughly 50% of their grant totals from the previous year. The grants served as a promise that Broadway Cares would return with full support as soon as the theater industry is back on its feet. For so many of the organizations that received grants, the support was indispensable.
“Our clients are on the front lines and so many have lost their jobs and are wondering how they are going to pay for food and rent,” Bradley D. Childs, deputy executive director at Palmetto Community Care in Charleston, S.C., said in an email. “We are changing the way we work by delivering food, food gift cards, hygiene supplies and medications to clients directly. We are offering mental health support to combat the extreme anxiety and panic that many are feeling. We appreciate your generosity and your compassion.”
In addition to these initiatives, another $942,500 was awarded in discretionary grants to 67 organizations requesting support during this challenging time. These grants included the Costume Industry Coalition, mobilizing efforts to support Broadway costume shops while the industry is dark; three organizations helping artists who might otherwise be overlooked through other programs – The Indie Theater Fund, the NYC Dancers Relief Fund and the NYC Low-Income Artist + Freelancer Relief Fund; and a series of social justice grants to Broadway Advocacy Coalition, The Bail Project, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Color of Change in solidarity with and support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Broadway Cares supporters made much of this grant-making possible by donating during digital versions of the organization’s annual in-person events, as well as all-new streams. An August 1 stream of the annual striptease spectacular Broadway Bares raised $596,504, with an additional $368,790 raised by dancers and behind-the-scenes supporters through its fundraising initiative, Stripathon. The Virtual Fire Island Dance Festival raised $295,366. And, most recently, an online version of the Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction, complete with auctions, unique treasures and virtual meet-and-greets, raised $316,282. Benefits also have included streaming editions of past Broadway Cares events, including last fall’s’ Celebrating 25 Magical Years of Disney on Broadway concert, Chita Rivera’s 80th birthday celebration concert from 2013 and Bernadette Peters’ acclaimed 2009 concert from the Minskoff Theatre.
More than 50 other online events and initiatives in the last six months helped ensure Broadway Cares’ record-breaking grant-making. From Lin-Manuel Miranda’s appearance on a special segment of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon: At Home Edition to a virtual reading of Lips Together, Teeth Apart, performed by Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ari Graynor, Celia Keenan-Bolger and Zachary Quinto in honor of playwright and Broadway Cares founding trustee Terrence McNally, who died from the coronavirus this spring. Among the other unique events that raised funds were a site-specific streamed performance of Jonathan Tolins’ Buyer & Cellar starring Michael Urie; the four-part series of Pride Plays, culminating in an online Pride Celebration concert; a reimagining of the one-man theatrical show Songs from an Unmade Bed into a pandemic-inspired series of artistic music videos starring BD Wong; and the Broadway Cares Virtual 5K, which encouraged fans to step away from their screens for exercise and fresh air.
“In March, thinking of any kind of fundraising seemed daunting, if not impossible,” Viola said. “But, this is proof that impossible is not in the vocabulary of our generous, resourceful and talented community. This is proof that what we do together makes a difference.”