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Demographics
Internet resources for what you need to know on NYC Arts
Five Favorite Sites For Beginners

The Topic
"Arts" is an all-inclusive category encompassing virtually all forms of creative expression. Among its major disciplines are: music, theatre, literature, visual art, spoken word, film and video, and, increasingly, the internet.
The Context
Countless artists, writers, and performers work in New York City every day. Together with their audiences (both homegrown and far-flung) they constantly define and redefine New York City's creative landscape, making it an unparalleled cultural feast.

The City of New York administers a wide-ranging network of programs and subsidies to support the City's artists and arts institutions. The Department of Cultural Affairs estimates that there are more than 1,200 nonprofit arts organizations in the five boroughs. Cultural Affairs provides partial support to about five hundred such groups. For FY2000 arts support will exceed $100 million. Including capital expenditures for future projects, that figure rises to upwards of $300 million.

The Reporter
Martha Hostetter writes for American Theatre magazine.
The Archives
See past monthly updates for Arts.

by Martha Hostetter

Collaborations

At a conference about the future of theater in New York held last November, Jed Bernstein, president of the League of American Theatres and Producers, said that, if Broadway's actors, directors, producers, designers, and stage hands behaved the way they had since 9/11 all the time, then "there wouldn't be a need for this conference." Broadway, he said, had succeeded in overcoming breathtaking drops in ticket sales through a "rapid, collaborative" response.

Off-Broadway theaters and other arts groups mounted their own collective responses, including the "Downtown NYC" cultural coalition and the New York Arts Recovery Fund. Anecdotally, such collaborations have become more common since 9/11, but the notion of collaboration as a way to achieve shared goals is not new. Indeed, at a February conference on arts funding, one audience member complained that he'd been hearing about the need for united action for more than 20 years. "Instead of just talking about it," he asked the room, "what are we going to do?"

Such calls for collaborative action take place at a time when there are a greater number of arts groups competing for limited funding and audiences than at any other time in the city's history. Other than attending conferences and exchanging free tickets among arts professionals, what does collaboration among highly competitive arts professionals really add up to? And, now that arts groups are asking to be taken seriously as partners in the economic and spiritual rebuilding of Lower Manhattan, what models of collaboration between arts groups and other organizations seem to work?

SHARED RESOURCES

The greatest problem facing all arts groups is the lack of affordable space. To answer this need, the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York opened South Oxford Space, a shared office complex in Fort Greene that houses 20 small theater companies at below-market rents. A.R.T./New York is launching an even more ambitious project in the heart of the theater district, at 520 Eighth Avenue, where they will lease 32,000-square-feet of raw space, to be divided and sublet to 25 nonprofit arts groups. Some of these groups require as few as a hundred feet of administrative space--too little to interest realtors. Using their collective bargaining power, A.R.T./New York will be able to offer rents for 20 percent below market rates. Customized spaces will be built for tenants, who will also share rehearsal space, props, and office equipment.

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

Some of the more interesting collaborations of late have taken place between arts and non-arts groups. Begun in 2001, Creative Communities is the first-ever federal partnership between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the National Endowment for the Arts. The two federal agencies together contributed $3.5 million to provide arts instruction to children and teens in public housing communities. The project was born when someone at the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts observed that a public housing project in Charlotte, North Carolina, had created a successful in-house orchestra. It gained crucial support through the efforts of Gloria Cousar, the Department of Housing and Urban Development's former assistant secretary for public and Indian housing. According to Shawn Dove, the project director, "she grew up in public housing and credits arts education as the key to helping her develop into a successful adult."

The project is being implemented locally in Harlem. The Manhattanville Community Center, a public housing structure, and the Children's Art Carnival, a community school, are seven blocks apart from each other, but it has taken this federal partnership to bring them together. Through federal funding and matching grants, 60 Manhattanville residents, ages 8 to 18, receive instruction in book-making, drama and movement, painting and drawing, and other art projects from Children's Art Carnival professionals in after-school and weekend programs. Now seven months into the program, the program coordinator for the Children's Art Carnival, Vashti DuBois, calls the partnership a powerful tool for community-building. "At first we had to prove ourselves to Manhattanville," she says. "They didn't know us, we had to deliver the art, exercise good faith." She has found the process to be mutually beneficial: "Instead of us bringing the art to the housing project, it has been a process of making art together."

"Young people in public housing are experiencing powerful art-making experiences," Shawn Dove says of Creative Communities, "but resident councils are organizing, being educated, and contributing to the process too." Delores Stuart, the Project Coordinator at Manhattanville, who works for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, helps to arrange room for the art projects and involve adult residents in the activities. Stuart credits much of the success of the program to the time and money provided for training sessions, where housing and arts representative exchange ideas and build friendships and trust.

A COMMUNITY-WIDE COLLABORATION

Patricia Cruz, the director of the Aaron Davis Hall performing arts center in Harlem, used to gaze longingly across the street from her office to the enormous--and empty--Gatehouse Building, at 135th Street and Convent Avenue. Once part of the city's water delivery system, the Gatehouse was condemned by the Department of Environmental Protection and filled-in 10 years ago. Cruz imagined that the historic Romanesque building could house some of the artists that use Aaron Davis Hall, which provides a home for the Emerson String Quartet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Opera Ebony, and Boys Choir of Harlem, among many other groups.

Cruz began to convene meetings about the abandoned building, which many felt was not only an eyesore but a danger to students from the nearby school. Cruz talked to people at various city agencies and at City College, and it soon became clear that there was great interest not only in fixing up the Gatehouse building but in revitalizing the surrounding area. At nearby P.S. 161, it turned out, the playground looked more like a prison yard; at Annunciation Park, an abandoned field house also needed attention.

Last September, at a public "visioning" session, City College architecture students, P.S. 161 teachers and parents, Abyssinian Church members, community activists, artists, and others shared their ideas about how to make use of the Gatehouse building and create neighboring green spaces for children and residents. The final plan is still taking shape--and some promised city monies have not yet come through--but the collaborative effort of what has become known as the 135th Street Gatehouse Project is already yielding tangible results. This May, with funding provided in part by the "Take the Field" organization, P.S. 161 will get new playing fields. The renovated Gatehouse will expand available performance space for Harlem-based arts groups and provide a banquet hall and community center.

One art group's effort to expand their physical space has evolved into what promises to be neighborhood revitalization. "It's fair to say that we were a catalyst for this project," Cruz says. "We brought players together to the same table. . . . I'm very, very proud of our efforts."

BEYOND BROADWAY

Now that Broadway theaters are back on their feet--sooner than anyone expected--they are returning $1 million of emergency funds to the city, under an agreement that they would give back whatever remained of the original $2.5 million in aid once the theaters had returned to profitability. The money will be redistributed to nonprofit cultural groups, which continue to suffer. Three grant-making groups, A.R.T./New York, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the American Music Center, as well as four arts education programs, Arts Connection, Center for Arts Education, Young Audiences, and Studios in the Schools, will share the funds.

A modest proposal: To follow the city's enlightened example, Broadway producers could channel $2 from each ticket sale into a non-profit arts fund--an acknowledgment that arts groups of all sizes and types are needed in New York's cultural economy (and that Broadway theaters depend on off-Broadway to create new shows and nurture talent). For the non-profits, the money could be put into cash reserves. The lack of any financial cushion has made many groups particularly vulnerable to the disruptions caused by 9/11; even modest cash reserves could go a long way toward ensuring their stability down the road.


Favorite Sites For Beginners:

  • NYC Department of Cultural Affairs - Official NYC site sings the Mayor's praises as champion of the arts; details a funding policy clearly weighted towards the city's largest cultural institutions; and explains services offered (e.g. Materials for the Arts, and DCA's Artist's Certification Program). Check out Percent for Art, NYC's program for art in civic spaces, where you'll find great images of work by Vito Acconci, Mel Chin, Alice Aycock and many more.
  • New York State Council on the Arts - Committed to maintaining New York State's culture, NYSCA accomplishes its goal by making grants to non-profit arts organizations. Like the DCA and NYFA (see below), NYSCA is very supportive of those programs which marry technology and the arts, as well as arts-in-education "partnerships". Much emphasis on multiculturalism, decentralization and special opportunities for "the underrepresented". Surf this site to find out where NYSCA's dollars are going and why - as well as how to apply for funding.
  • New York Foundation for the Arts - Statewide service organization, set up by NYSCA. NYFA supports thousands of artists, non-profit arts orgs and arts-in-education initiatives throughout New York, offering fiscal sponsorship, workshops, loans, fellowships, in-school artist residencies and more. Info-rich site but a bit tedious to navigate. Super links! See also Artswire, NYFA's brainchild and now the nation's premier online communications network for the arts.
  • Local Arts Councils in NYC - Check out theBronx Council on the Arts, Brooklyn Arts Council, Council on the Arts and Humanities for Staten Island, Harlem Arts Council , Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and Queens Council on the Arts for the skinny on grassroots initiatives.
  • Center for Arts Education - Indy non-profit works closely with municipal agencies to administer ambitious $36 million, 5-year program aimed at restoring arts to public schools. Site details the 82 partnerships created since CAE's inception involving public schools and 135 arts groups.


Other Recommendations:

  • New York Women in Film and Television - Insider perspective on how the film industry works in NYC. Interesting series of open meetings about film and tv.
  • Third World Newsreel - Great site for searching by topic for films and video you may recall only vaguely. 30 year collection.
  • Harvestworks - Established for artists using electronic technology, but site is easy to use and should pique the curiosity of anyone interested in the arts. Calendar and good links to lots of other sites.
  • Meet the Composer - Offers listing of opportunities competitions for artists, and for the non-composer has a great series of conversations with composers.
  • Poets & Writers - A bit focused on the industry, but the Trivia question alone is worth visiting if you are a reader. Good resource page.
  • The Kitchen - This center for video, music, dance, performance and literature has real info on video. List of those it has sponsored, presented or worked with reads like a Who's Who of the video/music/performance combinations we now take for granted.
  • Theatre Development Fund - Group supports production of new play and musicals, but best known for the TKTS booth in Times Square. Advantage of the site, aside from telling you a lot more about theatre and TDF, is that you can get on their mailing list for discount seating if you are on the following "students, teachers, union members, retired person, performing arts professionals, the clergy, and members of the armed forces."

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