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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Mayors and governors are starting to put artists front and center in pandemic recovery efforts, funding pop-up installations and even live performances.

Why it matters: The arts have been devastated by COVID-19, which has shut down everything from Broadway to local museums, and elected leaders say restoring beauty in public places will benefit artists and viewers alike.

Driving the news: New York State plans to put artists back to work this month in a big and organized way, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week.

  • Starting Feb. 20, there will be 300 free pop-up performances that will "run through summer," per the WSJ.
  • "The idea is to have lots of performances all over the state with small audiences, the governor’s office said."
  • The move is a prelude to opening Broadway and other venues.
  • Cuomo paired the announcement with the news that indoor dining will resume in NYC (at 25% capacity) on Friday, two days earlier than originally scheduled.
  • But critics called "NY PopsUp" a P.R. stunt that harms shuttered comedy clubs, theaters and music venues by providing alternative programming.

The big picture: Similar initiatives are happening around the country, most notably in California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed spending $15 million for a "California Creative Corps."

  • There's a public health element, with the artists being viewed as community health ambassadors who can encourage mask-wearing and social distancing.
  • The program would expand on the "San Francisco Creative Corps," which, among other things, sent clowns on stilts into the Mission District.
  • The idea is to "fuel positivity, regain public trust and inspire safe and healthy behavior across California’s diverse populations through a media, outreach, and engagement campaign,” per the San Francisco Chronicle (subscription).
  • Julie Baker, executive director of Californians for the Arts, tells the Chronicle that the programs are not just a bailout for a devastated industry: "We’re not here asking for handouts; we are here saying, ‘Use us in service.’"

Smaller efforts are under way in places like Milwaukee and Coral Gables, Fla., where a temporary beautification project is turning "the streets, historic buildings, and public spaces of Coral Gables into a brilliant outdoor museum."

The intrigue: One Canadian entrepreneur proposes letting painters, musicians, sculptures, and other artists populate deserted downtown commercial districts at reduced rents.

  • "This may be the time for artists to come back into the heart of American cities," Jeremy Zuker of WhereIPark writes for SmartCitiesWorld.
  • "With so much empty commercial and rental space, property owners need to find ways to fill their units, even if it’s not at the rate that they are accustomed to."

Thought bubble from Axios managing editor Scott Rosenberg: This isn't the first time that a national crisis has sparked collaborations between government and the arts. FDR pumped big money into visual and performing arts and even writers' programs as part of the New Deal effort to reverse the Great Depression.

  • These were "make work" efforts, to be sure, but they made amazing work, and some of it is still all around us in the form of public art from that era.

Go deeper

Updated 23 mins ago - World

Biden sends envoy as Israel and Hamas escalate toward war

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip leave their neighborhood on Wednesday following an explosion. Photo: li Jadallah/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Tel Aviv — With Israel and Hamas now engaged in their most destructive fight in seven years, the Biden administration is dispatching a State Department official to join the de-escalation efforts.

The latest: The Israeli air force attacked a meeting of senior Hamas military leaders on Wednesday in Gaza and reported it had killed the Gaza City Brigade commander and the heads of Hamas’ cyber arm and weapons research and development department, along with at least three other senior officials.

Former Pentagon chief blames media "hysteria" for lack of troops on Jan. 6

Former acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller told the House Oversight Committee Wednesday that he limited the deployment of National Guard troops at the Capitol ahead of Jan. 6 in part due to media "hysteria" about "the possibility of a military coup."

Why it matters: William Walker, commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, previously testified that a three-hour delay in approval for National Guard assistance during the Jan. 6 Capitol attack was exacerbated by "unusual" restrictions on his authorities by Pentagon leadership.

1 hour ago - World

Negotiations to oust Netanyahu stall amid Jerusalem crisis

Netanyahu holds a cabinet meeting this week. Photo: Amit Shabi/POOL/AFP via Getty

Efforts to form a new Israeli government and oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have come to an almost complete halt amid the escalation with Hamas.

Why it matters: Opposition leader Yair Lapid is six days into a 28-day mandate, and seemed on track to strike a coalition deal with Naftali Bennett, a right-wing kingmaker. But the latest crisis could make those efforts nearly impossible.

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