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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
Martha Hostetter writes for American Theatre magazine.
The Archives
See past monthly updates for Arts.

by Martha Hostetter

Funding And The Arts

Kate Levin, the new cultural affairs commissioner, made her first public comments at the provocatively named "Who Pays for the Arts?" conference, held at Columbia University's School of Journalism and co-sponsored by Columbia's National Arts Journalism Program and the advocacy group Alliance for the Arts. Levin spoke of the awkwardness and inflexibility of the current budget structure, in which 85 percent of the city's arts financing is given to the Cultural Institutions Group (CIGs)--major theaters, museums, libraries, zoos, gardens, and historical societies. The CIGs, which occupy city-owned buildings and receive funding for basic maintenance and utilities--the mundane expenses that private funders are often reluctant to cover--include the Met, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, Snug Harbor Cultural Center, El Museo del Barrio, and the Museum of the City of New York. The rest of the city's hundreds of cultural organizations compete for the remaining 15 percent.

Levin's willingness to consider restructuring the budget--a taboo subject within the cultural establishment--came as welcome news to some. Virginia Louloudes, executive director of the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York, spoke of the need to nurture the smaller, sometimes experimental arts institutions. "If I was a mother with a newborn baby and a 30-year-old still living at home," she said during a panel on city funding, "I'd tell the 30-year-old to go out and get a job so I'd have money to feed the baby." Indeed, as Catherine Lanier, director of research at the Alliance for the Arts, reported, the current funding structure overwhelmingly favors larger, wealthier organizations. Institutions with budgets over 10 million get the lion's share of all city funding; in 1999, that share was over 70 percent.


While the conference touched on the moral and philosophical issues surrounding arts funding, the overriding concerns were immediate and practical. All of New York's arts organizations rely on a combination of private and public funds and earned income. An Alliance for the Arts report revealed that, even during the flush years of the 1990s, smaller organizations suffered as a result of rising costs and reduced public and private funding. Some fear that a survival-of-the-fittest model is emerging, whereby only those organizations large enough to support endowments and cash reserves will be able to weather hard times.

The report also revealed that larger organizations have become increasingly dependent on earned income--welcome news to those who consider for-profit ventures to be signs of ingenuity and strength. Earned income in 1980 on average made up just 39 percent of arts organizations' revenue; in 1999, money from tickets, admissions, rentals, gift shops, and other activities generated 50.9 percent of all revenue. The downside of this growth, however, is that an institution like the Guggenheim is dramatically affected by the drop in tourism (and the accompanying drop in ticket and gift shop sales).


The bottom line is that the this country's leaders have never been as generous to artists as, say, Elizabeth I during the English Renaissance. On a panel about city funding, the historian Kenneth Jackson argued that, if money is the best measure of what our society values, baseball and cars come out way ahead of the arts. Robert Lynch, the head of the research organization Americans for the Arts, pointed out that subsidizing artists goes against the grain of America's spirit of entrepreneurialism and our Puritan roots.

But many in New York's arts community recall brighter days. Robert Marx, vice president of The Fan Fox & Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, harkened back to 1970, when the New York Shakespeare Festival got $700,000 from the city and the state; today they get a pittance--$60,000--to present free Shakespeare in the park.

Funds to cultural groups do not comprise a major part of the city's gargantuan budget--only a fraction of one percent. "Is it enough," Patricia Cruz, executive director of Aaron Davis Hall, asked, "for a city that prides itself on being a cultural capital?" It follows that Bloomberg's funding cuts to cultural groups do not make up a lot of money, except to the arts organizations themselves, of course.


A refrain heard throughout the conference was that the arts community needs to become a political force. Jonathan Katz, president of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, advocated presenting arts funding as a vehicle for politicians to achieve their own goals. Since the arts already get played off against social services when budgets are created, it makes sense to argue that the arts themselves have social value--to educate youth or strengthen communities, for example. Kate Levin put it succinctly: "I think the dialogue has been hamstrung in the past by a tendency to be anecdotal, to talk about your conversion experience and how arts changed your life," she said. "But that doesn't really cut it when you have to numerically line up budget items."

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."

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