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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

Hollywood East?

Over the past months, while many industries have struggled, television and film production in New York has flourished. The recent TriBeCa Film Festival celebrated that neighborhood's independent film scene, shows like "The Sopranos" and "Sex and the City" have continued to fuel a television production boom in Queens; and plans to build soundstages in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and a major film complex on Staten Island have gotten underway. The film and television renaissance began during the mid-1990s, when the number of New York-based productions climbed to levels not seen since the 1920s; there are now on average 200 films shot here each year, and 106 television shows call the city home. Traditional media production contributes $5 billion to the local economy and creates more than 70,000 jobs; factoring in pre-production; post-production, and studio work, the total economic impact doubles. And yet New York's film and television growth has not kept pace with growth abroad, and new economic and security concerns are stretching the resources of the city. Will an overtaxed police force, for example, be able to provide the red-carpet treatment for location shoots? With a drastically reduced city budget, will New York be able to compete with cities that provide direct economic incentives to producers? With such concerns, what is the long-term outlook for Hollywood East?

Like many regions, New York actively markets itself to producers. The Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting was created in 1966 as both an economic development agency and an advocate for the industry. It promotes the city through financial incentives and advertising, and by sending representatives to trade shows and meetings with Hollywood producers. (After 9/11, the office sent representatives to California to reassure studios that the city was open for business.) It also makes it much easier for the productions to get the necessary permits, permission and insurance, and even provides field representatives for shoots.

According to Julianne Cho of the mayor's office, the events of 9/11and threats of future terrorist attacks have had "little to no effect on the industry" and no productions have left the city since September. Due to fortuitous timing, few productions were even interrupted by 9/11; fears of an actor's and writer's strike had pushed most film projects into the first half of 2001, and many television shows happened to be on hiatus in September. The increase in the number of feature films being made this year, Cho says, "can probably be attributed more to projects that were in their preparation phase during the latter half of 2001, than to a surge in patriotism [attracting producers to the city]."

The real threat to the city's production industry, some fear, may not be from terrorists or economic downturns but from competition from the north. A March 2001 Department of Commerce report looked at the migration of film and television production from the U.S. to other countries--particularly Canada. The report concluded that about $4 billion worth of production, as well as thousands of jobs, goes to cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver each year. It's a trend that began in the 1990s, when the Canadian government created aggressive marketing and incentive programs to attract producers. From January to March 2001, production in Toronto--a city that often stands in for New York--increased 40 percent. Many studios now hire "cost consultants" to manage film and television budgets, and the cost-benefits of Canada are clear--the strong American dollar, coupled with the significant subsidies and tax breaks provided by federal, provincial, and city governments, can produce savings on average of 26 percent.

Even though New York offers some of the most extensive economic incentives to film and television producers in the country--including free permits, free police assistance, and zero sales tax on production consumables--it can't match Canada's economic advantages. Thus, if the global boom in film and television production abates, New York risks being left behind. To avoid this scenario, industry leaders in New York and elsewhere have raised questions about whether Canada's largesse violates fair trade practices. In March 2002 the Los Angeles-based Film and Television Action Committee filed a petition with the U.S. Commerce Department, asking that a duty be placed on productions made in Canada. Others have suggested that, instead of tariffs, federal and local governments should directly subsidize the movie and television industry. But would New York taxpayers be willing to pay to keep "The Sopranos" in the city, or to encourage Woody Allen to film his next project here?

As a location, New York clearly has strengths beyond the bottom line. Julianne Cho lists "a world-class talent pool, locations that cannot be duplicated anywhere else, and a simple, one-stop, expedited permit service that other domestic and international regions have only just started to imitate." Anecdotal evidence suggests that a smaller city like Toronto might not be able to sustain the high production levels it has been experiencing. (The Times quoted one Toronto resident complaining of "production fatigue," while other reports suggest that the labor pool in some Canadian cities has been overtaxed in recent years.) Many writers, directors, and actors place high value on New York's vitality--a quantity than can't be easily be reproduced, even with the latest digital technology that can edit out Toronto's trolley lines and add in New York's skyline. The city's independent film scene--which accounts for 60 percent of all films made here--might also be a source of strength, since indies tend to be driven as much by script and other creative requirements as by budget concerns.

This month, the Economic Development Corporation will review the plans for Stapleton Studios, a project now in the early stages that would build 10 soundstages, a hotel, marina, and esplanade on 36 acres of Staten Island's waterfront. It is an ambitious and seductive plan--a small, self-contained slice of Hollywood just minutes from Manhattan--and one that might help keep New York at the center of film and television production.


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."

Visit the Topic Archives!


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