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Internet resources for what you need to know on NYC Arts

by Kati Kormendi

The Topic: "Arts" refers to literature, architecture, and the visual arts - including film and video (when it's art!) as well as the performing arts - theater, dance, music, performance art, spoken word art.

The Context: As the nation's cultural capital, New York City boasts about 850 professional non-profit arts groups, literally tens of thousands of artists (struggling and otherwise), a booming film and entertainment industry, and galleries and museums by the score. The arts make up one of Gotham's most important economic sectors.

The City supports its artists and art institutions in a variety of ways. First, it supports the artists themselves. New York's Loft Law allows certified New York City artists to live and work in warehouse buildings in the Soho/Noho area which would otherwise be off limits as residences. The City also offers artists subsidized housing in buildings like Westbeth or Manhattan Plaza. It makes special low-rate health-insurance plans available, and provides limited individual grants through the Department of Cultural Affairs.

NYC also funds roughly 500 of the 850 arts-related non-profits, primarily through the DCA. And the Giuliani Administration has, in theory at least, made arts education a priority as well, with ProjectARTS which is now operative in over two-thirds of the city's public schools.

Rarely, however, does City funding suffice. The non-profit arts community relies heavily on state, federal, corporate funding, grants from private foundations and admission fees to stay afloat. Achieving solvency, in fact, means navigating through a complex grantmaking/service-providing/networking terrain whose features are not at all obvious to the uninitiated.
The Reporter: Kati Kormendi is a freelance writer and actress; the former Artistic Director of the Magellan Project, a multiarts theater; and the creator of The Serpent's Eye an online eco-art gallery. She has written for Mademoiselle, Cosmopolitan, and Talking Leaves magazine.

The Archives: See past monthly updates for Arts.

Kati's Five 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.

In The News:

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's battle against the Brooklyn Museum over "Sensation" has turned into the biggest arts/public policy story to hit the stands since Karen Finley's crusade against the NEA. Mayor and Museum are now duking it out in the courts, with the Museum suing the City in Federal court for violating its First Amendment Rights, while in State court City Hall petitions to evict the Museum from the premises it has occupied since 1893.

On 20 October, in the latest in a series of plot twists, Deputy Mayor Joseph Lhota acknowledged under cross-examination in State court that the Brooklyn Museum Corporation - not the City - owns the Museum's 1.5 million artworks, the second largest collection in the country after the Metropolitan's, and, if evicted, could pack them up and take them somewhere else - to Los Angeles, for example.

That the Mayor would desire the dissolution of a collection which took over a century to acquire seems extreme, but his lawsuit calls for a court order to compel the Corporation to "surrender the premises and the building thereon to the City." "I just can't believe he means it," said Frieda Rosenthal, one of the Museum's trustees. "What would the city do with the building? It's all been redone."

Commented another trustee, Barbara K. Debs: "I think it's always been threatening gestures...It's very hard for me to figure out the real motives of any of this. It just strikes me as bizarre."

According to a recent survey of the executive directors of 70 leading NYC cultural institutions, 95% of those polled support the museum in its battles. Many expressed fury with hizzoner. "He is an embarrassment to all intelligent New Yorkers," declared one respondent under the veil of anonymity. Charged another: "The Mayor is fascist and dangerous."

And the Museum? While almost half of those polled believe it put on "Sensation" for commercial rather than aesthetic reasons, few were appalled. As one respondent put it: "Why shouldn't they want crowds?"

Most interestingly perhaps, the survey suggests that the Brooklyn Museum's experience may influence others to take fewer risks. Asked if they thought the controversy would have a "chilling effect," 58% said yes. Offered one pollee: "It already has...All arts groups are terrified of losing city money."

One player who probably isn't suffering financially, however, is Chris Offili, creator of the now infamous Black Madonna, who is currently on a roll with a one-man show in Chelsea. As for "Sensation" - which, incidentally, opened to less than sensational reviews - it can be viewed online on David Bowie's official web site.

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.

Kati Sounds Off:

One night late last month I splurged and took a cab home from way uptown to our apartment near Union Square. The traffic was terrible † they're making a movie the driver explained † oh god a movie I thought, steeling myself like a proper New Yorker to react with contempt for the biz. (New Yorkers are too cool to turn their heads when a film is shooting down the block † too hip to stop and ask one of the guys with walkie talkies who the star is°This is New York after all: we're about High Art, we're not LA.)

The cab sputtered along and I became more and more restive every time the meter ratcheted up another thirty cents; and then suddenly there we were, swinging past the Flatiron building, onto Fifth Avenue † the entire avenue awash with violet and white light, festooned with Christmas garlands and mistletoe stars. Arnold Schwartznegger look-alikes prowled around looking important. Enormous trailers and sleek Cadillacs lined the sidestreets. Cameras strained overhead and a huge spot poured light onto the scene as though onto the set of Truffaut's "Day for Night."

They're making a movie! I thought † a remake of "Shaft," as it turned out, with Vanessa Williams and Samuel Jackson † and it was as if we had turned a corner, accidentally, into an unexpected and magical world: a world of expanded possibilities.

The police love film shoots for the overtime they pay, the Mayor for the revenue generated: $2.57 billion in 1998 alone from film and television combined. There are, however, other reasons to root for moviemaking in the Big Apple. It makes life here more exciting, sets up a tension on the streets between make-believe and reality, and transforms the City itself into a giant stage-set on which narratives and meta-narratives are created. NYC as an actuality exists side-by-side with a celluloid city † a compound pieced together from the NYC of every movie ever shot in New York from "King Kong" to "Breakfast at Tiffany's" to "Saturday Night Fever." This celluloid city is itself a kind of giant artwork † an historical artifact † and perhaps, in the end, will prove as important culturally as Lincoln Center or the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

So what if filmmaking interferes with parking? Real New Yorkers never park anyway!

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