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

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.

by Kati Kormendi

In The News: Sensation

(jan '00) Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Nina Gershon ruled that the Mayor's efforts to punish the Brooklyn Museum for mounting "Sensation," its controversial exhibit of British shock art, violated the First Amendment. Judge Gershon ordered the Mayor to resume monthly payments to the Museum, and to halt his campaign to remove its Board of Directors. Lawyers for the Museum are now seeking a permanent injunction (Judge Gershon's is temporary) while the Mayor, who called her ruling "the usual knee-jerk response of some judges," is appealing to have it reversed.

Mr. Giuliani now alleges that the Museum conspired with British advertising mogul Charles Saatchi, owner of the art on display in "Sensation," and with Christie's, the auction house which has sold works for Saatchi in the past, to inflate the value of his collection.

While these allegations seem unsubstantiated, hundreds of emails, memoranda and financial statements produced in court have raised serious questions about the probity of the Museum's fundraising methods.

David Barstow laid out some of the details in a 6 December New York Times article: Not only did Museum Director Arnold Lehman deliberately conceal the fact that Saatchi donated $160,000 to help foot the bill for "Sensation," but he also gave the collector a major role in determining the exhibition's content, provoking museum staff to worry aloud that Saatchi was taking over control.

Barstow describes an intricate web of ethically dubious wheeling and dealing. Lehman binds himself more tightly to Saatchi, enlisting the collector's aid in soliciting $50,000 from Christie's. Lehman has lunch with Patricia Hambrecht, president of Christie's America, and suggests that the Museum needs to "rethink its entire approach to contemporary art," an area of interest to Christie's. Weeks later, Christie's sells off $ 21,000 of art from the Museum's collection. Dealers representing artists featured in "Sensation"come up with more bucks. Rock star David Bowie donates $75,000. Bowie's for-profit website acquires exclusive rights to show "Sensation" on the Internet and Bowie himself records the audiotour. Lehman asks the Third Millenium Foundation, a Swiss foundation promoting arts education, for $200,000, falsely claiming he has already secured "several gifts" of up to $350,000. Lehman also presents the foundation with an "artificial budget" inflating the price tags of the programs it will fund.

The most conspicuous questions surrounding "Sensation" - whether the Mayor should withhold funding from a publicly-supported museum just because he doesn't like the art it chooses to display, whether a man should splatter white paint on a canvas - are easy. More complex and more nuanced are the questions now emerging about how art institutions fund, mount and promote mammoth exhibitions in a climate of limited public support.

L'AFFAIRE MARY BOONE: On December 6, Manhattan art dealer Mary Boone was cleared of a charge of unlawful distribution of ammunition. Ms. Boone, arrested in September after displaying handmade guns and a vase filled with live 9-millimeter cartridges that visitors were invited to take home as souvenirs at her Fifth Avenue gallery, described her subsequent overnight stay at the Tombs as an "adventure." "Art is the only thing I believe in and I'm glad to be arrested over it," she declared.

Kati Sounds Off:

There is something entertainingly Tom Wolfean about the goings-on at the Brooklyn Museum - to say nothing of Mary Boone's recent brush with the law. And it's easy to point a finger at Arnold Lehman for putting the resources of a publicly funded institution behind an exhibition that - religious issues aside - was arguably low on artistic merit, though high on radical chic. It also appeared to embroil him in questionable financial practices. The truth is, however, that when public support of the arts is at best partial, visibility (ergo hype) is at a premium. Further, one finds the money where one can - be it from Charles Saatchi, Christie's, Phillip Morris, or Rudolph Giuliani. The Arts today make strange bedfellows.

Kati'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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