Vaccine Mandates Are Robbing My Son of the Chance to Play at Carnegie Hall
In 2020, my son won the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall. The concert was pushed out two years. But now, Carnegie Hall--recipient of $10M in ARPA grants--bars all unvaccinated patrons.
In a little over a week, my son will miss the opportunity of a lifetime—a chance to perform at Carnegie Hall—because he is not vaccinated for COVID-19. While New York City dropped its vaccine mandate weeks ago, Carnegie Hall has retained theirs. What’s that you say? Carnegie Hall is a private organization, and therefore may discriminate freely? I’ll address the problems of rampant, socially-sanctioned discrimination, and the [lack of] scientific rationale for doing so later. But first, let me ask, what if Carnegie Hall received $10 million of federal grant money (and it did)—my tax money and yours—in exchange for staying closed for 17 months? Is it still acceptable for them to turn away large swaths of the population—particularly children—from their doors? Given that we the people provided funding to bridge it to its present state, it doesn’t seem so to me.
The CARES act, passed in 2020 provided $75 billion in funding to arts and cultural organizations impacted by the pandemic. The American Rescue Plan Act added another $350 billion to that number. Part of that funding was $16 billion to a program called the “Shuttered Venue Operators’ Grants,” or SVOG. This money began being disbursed in June of 2021, when venues in many “red states” had been open and operating for more than a year.
Carnegie Hall applied for and received $10 million from this fund on 7/2/2021—this is a grant, not a loan. It does NOT need to be re-paid. It is a straight-up transfer from you and me, to Carnegie Hall. Despite “our” generosity, Carnegie Hall remained shuttered for an additional 3 months after it received its grant—until October 6th, 2021. But of further interest is that even in NYC, organizations such as Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center—which were not eligible for this program—chose to open months before. The Barclays Center re-opened in February of 2021—8 months before Carnegie Hall. Is it possible that anticipation of these funds encouraged Carnegie Hall to stay closed? I think so.
There are other concerns as well. While organizations like The Barclays Center, which were not bailed out with ARPA funds, immediately revoked their vaccine mandate when NYC lifted theirs, arts organizations like Carnegie Hall—whose bottom lines were heavily padded with federal tax dollars—often chose not to revoke their vaccine mandates. Is it possible that their choice to continue to exclude audience members (and hence potential revenue) was facilitated by these extremely generous gifts provided by you and me? Once again, I think it is entirely possible.
Arts organizations—and artists—have been some of the most “COVID-crazy” throughout the pandemic: vocal voices for shut-down and disruption of any and every flavor. Is it possible that part of their zeal stemmed from a desire to steer federal funds in their direction? Once again, I think it is not at all unlikely. I know many people who are on the boards of major arts organizations in various places across the country. While early in 2020, these organizations were concerned about surviving for even a few months, now, thanks to gobs of federal bail-outs, every one of these organizations (that I have heard of) finds themselves with the strongest balance sheets in their histories. This is despite remaining closed for months or years, offering nothing in the way of programming to their communities, and now, in many cases, excluding large portions of their potential customer base. It seems to me that this is one of the most salient examples of government programs creating perverse incentives. But just how perverse are these incentives?
If the financial cushion provided by the federal government is indeed making it possible for arts organizations like Carnegie Hall to engage in discriminatory policies such as vaccine mandates, what are the true repercussions of that discrimination?
Not long ago—as recently as February of 2020, in fact—arts organizations like Carnegie Hall, and other representatives of the “high arts”, were aware that they had a serious problem attracting younger audiences, and especially younger audiences of color. And so, massive outreach initiatives were undertaken to engage the young and minorities. Fast-forward two-and-a-half years, and the same organizations now have explicit policies that exclude—at a minimum—50% of audiences under 18 (due to vaccine mandates). In NYC (which has VERY high child vaccination rates for all races), more than 40% of children between 5 and 17 are excluded—nearly 500,000 children. From a race perspective, 56% of black children, 45% of white children, and 40% of Hispanic children are excluded from NYC’s vaccine-mandating cultural institutions. At a minimum, I suppose, we can take comfort that only 1% of Asian children are excluded.
These policies don’t follow the usual patterns. White children in NYC are the least likely to be fully vaccinated—and hence the most likely to experience exclusion due to vaccine mandates. In our new social justice lens, this is likely viewed as a plus. But let’s look a little more closely.
When examined on a borough-by-borough basis, we see that in Manhattan—the most affluent borough—white children are fully-vaccinated at far higher rates than blacks and Hispanics. It is only in the outer boroughs where white children are less vaccinated. This strongly suggests that what we are really looking at are not racial disparities, but class differences. The result is that every effort to discriminate based on vaccination status ends up being a de facto exclusion of the middle and lower classes by the upper classes. Whether or not that is intentional or not, remains to be seen. But it is no doubt being felt by those who are being excluded.
For me, this fact was uniquely hammered home last November when I did a virtual town hall for a group of Ugandans. I was asked to speak about lockdowns. In November of 2021, Ugandans were STILL in lockdown. Children had not been allowed to attend school AT ALL since March of 2020. But the thing that truly floored me was that Uganda was implementing a vaccine mandate—with only 0.6% of its population fully vaccinated. The vaccine mandates literally preserved access to society only for those in the top 1%. This is an object lesson, but it is a powerful one. Vaccine mandates exist not to improve health outcomes, but so that some groups—usually elites—can exclude other groups from participation in society.
Once it became clear that the vaccines did not stop infection and transmission, vaccine mandates left the field of public health, and entered the territory of punitive social exclusion—as much here, as in Uganda. These mandates have already cost millions of Americans their jobs, and they continue to exclude tens of millions of people from society in various states—especially children. They need to go, and the companies and organizations that maintained them after data demonstrated their futility should be subjected to the special scorn we reserve for bigots and hypocrites. Certainly, such discriminatory policies ought to be unthinkable in any organization that received millions of tax dollars in federal bailouts—or which prides itself on inclusion.
My son is in the same boat as yours, only here in Boston with a concert in Symphony Hall. What can we do?! I’m desperate to take action, but it’s almost impossible to network with other parents who may be experiencing the same thing… Equally impossible to afford legal action individually…
I’m sorry to read about your son’s unjust exclusion. Of course, in a just world, orgs getting millions from the tax payer would never dream of such behaviour.
Sadly though, getting federal funds probably makes them more likely to do so since vaccine passports are to reward people who are loyal, or at least not opposed, to the Covid regime and punish those who aren’t.