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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

Budget Shenanigans

(June '01) The final budget from the Giuliani administration was passed after the usual alterations and "enhancements" by the City Council. For the cultural community, those alterations resulted in a restoration of the Mayor's propose d cut of $20.1 million to the Department of Cultural Affairs in the expense budget and an allocation of over $200 million for capital for the cultural groups. For the first time, the amount allocated to cultural groups not in city owned buildings appears to equal, if not slightly exceed, the funds for the 34 in city owned buildings.

The restoration is welcomed by the cultural community, which has come to regard the City Council as saviors in the annual budget ritual. In fact, there may be no other constituency in the city looking forward to term limits with both unrelieved relief and deep anxiety. Few, if any, regret the loss of a mayor who consistently sought to severely decrease their funding. None, however, look forward to thirty-five new council members, whose knowledge of the arts and cultural field is likely to be limited at best.

This latest budget was complicated by an unwanted and unnecessary 25 percent increase by the mayor for energy for the 34 cultural groups in city owned buildings. This appears to be a budgetary maneuver. Once allocated as energy, these funds are not transferrable to other operational aspects of a cultural institution's budget, so the $5 million has the effect of appearing to increase cultural spending. In reality, this appears to be a way for the Mayor's Office of Management and the Budget to increase the energy aspect of the city budget, which if unused -- as it most certainly will be for cultural groups -- can then be transferred by the administration to other areas of spending, including non-energy needs.

While the Council was aware of this situation, either they were unable to pry loose from OMB just how much money was squirreled away in this manner, or other aspects of the budget negotiations took priority. What is clear from OMB testimony, is that any citywide process of the kind described, if as oddly skewed as the cultural projections, has millions diverted to energy increases which will be unnecessary. That may be welcome news for the next mayor if the economy continues to drag along. It is not welcome news to the cultural groups, who would have preferred to see an accurate projection so those funds could have been allocated to the increases they so badly needed.

In the last eight years, the cultural groups have received only one general increase in funding and that was a modest amount from the Council last year. Efforts to achieve an increase this year failed due in part to the tax cut package, which limited the funds available to the Council, and to the preference by the Council for individual enhancements to specific arts and cultural groups.

Once called "add-ons", the Council allocated $8.7 million to 198 groups, ranging from $650,000 to Lincoln Center, as well as $506,700 for Jazz at Lincoln Center, and various amounts totaling $637,000 for American Museum of Natural History. Wave Hill in the Bronx got only $2500, but the Brooklyn Botanical Garden is mostly likely happy with their $165,000 and the Bronx Zoo at $400,000 is probably not complaining. Most groups received far less, sometimes as little as $1000. However, in the last three years, the Council has moved from an add-on list totaling $5 million to one at $8.7 million -- a 74% increase!

The cultural groups welcome the "add-ons" but rarely see the total picture. The same process of designating expanding funds to particular groups outside of an agency evaluation process is also increasingly evident at the state level. This process of "add-ons" and "member items" threatens the very heart of what most arts and cultural groups believe is essential -- public support for the use of tax dollars to fund the arts.

Public support for arts funding is based on the assumption that such funding is provided fairly and through some kind of evaluative process, and it is that evaluative process that the cultural community has used to defend itself against efforts at censorship.

Many in the cultural community feel they have no choice but to seek "add-ons" and "member items" since increases through the Department of Cultural Affairs and the State Council on the Arts have been either nonexistent or minimal. However, political clout or the ability to hire a well connected lobbyist is not a guarantee of artistic quality, nor of service to a community.

Elected officials mean well, but both they and the cultural groups may be inadvertently damaging the public perception of how tax dollars are used in the arts when they bypass the evaluative process. In doing so, the short term benefits may have serious long term costs. In the meantime, it is safe to predict that only the short term will matter. Political and cultural leadership to look at the broader picture are lacking even in the city that likes to call itself the cultural capital of the world. So, as the Giuliani administration draws to a close, it leaves the cultural community financially worse off than when it entered office, and perhaps weakened in a significant way. The legacy of the City Council is at least one of real concern about the fiscal impact of cutting funds to the arts and cultural community.

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:

  • 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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