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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
Norma Munn is the chairwoman of the New York City Arts Coalition, a citywide advocacy group. She is also president of the Artists Community Federal Credit Union, and is a former chairwoman of The City Club of New York.
The Archives
See past monthly updates for Arts.

by Norma Munn

Making Art Matter: A Plan to Redesign the Department of Cultural Affairs

(Nov-Dec '00) Over the last year, a number of arts professionals have met in small groups to discuss how the city might better use its resources to support the cultural community. One of the constant themes is the need to change the Department of Cultural Affairs. Final recommendations of this city-wide planning effort will not be complete until next spring. But here is one blueprint for a new cultural agency.

A new Department of Cultural Affairs should have a broad mission aimed at supporting, nurturing and developing the professional arts industry. It should:

1. support the creativity of the city's artists
2. provide resources for economic development within the arts industry
3. protect the diverse cultural heritage of the city
4. sustain both mid-sized and well established cultural groups
5. encourage and nurture new, emerging art forms and smaller arts groups
6. promote arts education and act as a partner in effort to expand arts education in the public school system
7. develop access to the arts throughout the city

There is an assumption that the city's current financial support is targeted to professional arts of high quality. Since Cultural Affairs does not utilize an evaluation system based on artistic excellence for most of its contracted funds, that belief is not justified.

Two things are clear in the current system. It serves nether the professional non-profit arts groups, nor professional artists well, and it places the emerging or gifted amateur in competition with the professionals. This has the effect of lowering the public relations value of city support to professional arts groups when they solicit private funding sources, while creating a paperwork burden for the emerging groups.

Agreeing that Cultural Affairs should focus on professional arts and artists would clarify its purpose, as well as limit its role. Emerging groups, preprofessional, and gifted amateurs, if supported by taxpayers, should be funded through a local, decentralized process. Some argue that these kinds of activities should not receive taxpayer funding; others feel that many of these individuals and groups offer important local resources.

A new Cultural Affairs should use an evaluation system based on artistic merit to ensure that tax funds provide the very best to every citizen. The expectation of high quality art is as much the right of every New Yorker as safe streets. Mediocre art does not contribute to a civil society; quality art can and does.

Equally important, a new Cultural Affairs must distribute funds equitably across all five boroughs, within and among racial and ethnic groups, and between those organizations in city owned buildings and the rest of the arts groups. The factors complicating that effort are many, but the most difficult is simply that roughly 75 percent of the professional arts groups in the city are located in Manhattan. Even within Manhattan, arts groups are not widely distributed. The majority are located below 57th Street.

The low level political bickering that pits Manhattan against the other four boroughs is particularly detrimental to the arts. Many of those who work in Manhattan-based non-profit groups live elsewhere. They take their paychecks home to that other borough. In addition, substantial numbers of the arts groups in Manhattan clearly have citywide audiences and programs. However, it is also a legitimate concern of other boroughs that their much larger population be fairly treated.

One solution is to emulate a restriction placed on state funding for the arts, which requires a minimum per capita amount be spent in each county or borough. A per capita requirement provides a base line level of funding for everyone. Funding above that base line amount is common in many counties depending on the level of arts funding. A similar process could be devised for the five boroughs.

Access, equity, merit-based evaluations, support for arts education and protection of the diverse cultural heritage of the city are rational ideas that many can, and do, support. Suggesting that a new Cultural Affairs provide funding for individual artists would be widely welcomed in the arts, but elected officials can be expected to have a different reaction. Artists cannot be counted on to adhere to the status quo; they challenge, disturb and sometimes shock. One would hope that this city that calls itself the cultural capital of the world is adult enough to put all that in perspective and recognize the without artists, we would not be able to make that boast.

Almost as disconcerting to many, within the arts and elsewhere, is the notion that a new Cultural Affairs should promote economic development in the arts. The city's usual approach is to support culture because it attracts tourists, and claim that as economic development. Cultural tourism is important, but it requires a thriving cultural industry. To provide funds for marketing but not for general operating costs is like taking out an ad to sell a house, but neglecting to fix the leaky roof or replace the ancient furnace.

Yet every economic study about the cultural sector shows that it is a industry which employs tens of thousands of people and attracts creative talents useful in other industries. Public officials fret and worry about the real estate sector, Wall Street, the construction industry, Silicon Alley, biotech, etc, etc. Tax incentives to stay in the city, to relocate, upgrade, and expand are commonplace approaches in order to keep the jobs in those industries in the city. Not so in the arts. The Joffrey Ballet left town with no discernible concern from the cityĀó»s elected officials. Only 80 jobs, but a telling example of a blind eye.

The estimated 1000 professional non-profit arts groups in the city are almost uniformly understaffed. Speaking hypothetically, the city could allocate funds for one job per group at an average of $45,000 per person for $45 million per year. That is a paltry sum compared to the tax breaks provided to a number of large corporations over the past few years. Since artists and arts groups create products that add to the economy, they also earn a substantial amount of their annual budgets. Enhancing their ability to increase their product results in greater overall wealth for the city -- just like new jobs do in other industries.

Economic development treats the arts groups as the entrepreneurial business they are, albeit with an unusual product. It is an investment approach; not a hand-out. It could also do much to overcome the thirty five year history of inadequate and meager public funding that has left this industry perpetually undercapitalized. The latter is a major factor in the fiscal instability plaguing most non-profit arts groups, and every level of government has contributed to that condition by its short sighted funding policies.

Giving a new Cultural Affairs economic development responsibilities could also mean paying serious attention to the commercial arts. Many in the non-profit arts fear this. The resources of the commercial arts, and their largely unfettered ability to contribute political dollars, are not insignificant. But the intertwining of commercial and non-profit arts is increasing, and in any case, the commercial arts also contribute to the well being of the city. As it stands now the city does deal with the commercial arts, but on an ad hoc basis. Priorities about the use of resources and expectations as to results might benefit everyone.

A public policy debate is needed on these and other issues affecting the arts. Many within the arts are intent on seeing that the upcoming mayoral and City Council elections provide a long awaited opportunity for that debate.


Norma's 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 Information - 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:

  • Arts and Business Council - Excellent resource for arts groups in need of corporate assistance and/or better business skills. The Arts and Business Council matchmakes between would-be business volunteers and non-profits in need of Board Members, fundraisers, et al.. Special feature: A2B (Arts to Business) databank listing services offered by NYC arts organizations.
  • Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting - Targeted at the for-profit side of the arts biz - also known as the Entertainment Industry. Find out everything you need to know to shoot a film in NYC from industry regulations to sunrise/sunset charts to the Teamsters' local address and phone number. MOFTB motto: "We have a reputation for finding a way to say yes."
  • New York Landmarks Commission - Official site of municipal agency responsible for designating and protecting New York City landmarks. What is a landmark? How do you demolish one if you own it and the maintenance is bankrupting you? Can you install air conditioners in a landmark? Find out here.
  • Public Art Fund - Presents work of contemporary artists in NYC public spaces. Browse this site for images and precis of current projects from the ridiculous - Jones and Ginzel's Metronome - to the sublime - Ron Baron's magical, minimalist Birds. Special Initiative: In the Public Realm offering emerging/under-recognized artists the chance to create a temporary work in a public space. Find out how, when and where to submit proposals.
  • Creative Time - Also presents public art but of hipper, more postmodern variety than PAF's. Past projects include rumors spread via matchbooks throughout NYC and an exploration of the meaning of fashion in the base of the Brooklyn Bridge. 42nd Street Art Project, developed in tandem with the 42nd Street Development Project. A must see.
  • Dance Theater Workshop (DTW) - Premier fiscal sponsor and service provider for NYC performing arts groups. Manages the National Performance Network (NPN) - a coalition of 50 cultural organizers across the U.S. and sponsors the international Suitcase Fund.
  • Project Arts - With a $75 million budget, Project ARTS - the Board of Ed's initiative to restore "standards-based" arts education to NYC's schools -- wants to be taken seriously. One thing's for sure, however: the money certainly isn't going to its website. Worth a visit if only for the questions it raises.

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