Culture Wars

NYC arts groups nervous as city hashes out new funding plan

Art East
NYC arts groups nervous as city hashes out new funding plan. Pictured here: Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the Lincoln Center President’s Bridge and Donor Wall, October 2012. (Courtesy NYC Mayor's Office)
NYC arts groups nervous as city hashes out new funding plan. Pictured here: Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the Lincoln Center President’s Bridge and Donor Wall, October 2012. (Courtesy NYC Mayor's Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio is rethinking the city’s cultural funding plan, a move that could impact not just major institutions like the Met and Lincoln Center, but smaller, outer-borough arts organizations, too.

Large organizations, many of them based in Manhattan, are worried about getting less money for their programming, while grassroots groups, especially those working in lower-income neighborhoods, are hoping to get a bigger slice of funding with the Mayor’s proposed changes.

The city allocates $178 million annually for its arts budget, so that funding comes from a pretty big pie. Especially in the face of cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts, the city’s changes, the New York Times reports, “could be setting the stage for an art-world version of class warfare, with cultural giants and their well-heeled patrons pitted against smaller, less-glamorous institutions that focus chiefly on serving racially and economically diverse local audiences.”

Right now, the Metropolitan Museum of Art gets $26 million, the largest single grant at almost 15 percent of the budget, while the Bronx Historical Society gets less than $200,000 from the city. The Cultural Institutions Group, a coalition of 33 arts organizations, gets 63 percent of the budget, and the rest is distributed through grants.

So far, 20,000 residents have weighed in on where the funding should go, and why. Those findings will be released in summary next week, while Mayor de Blasio’s team has until July 1 to submit a cultural plan to the City Council for consideration.

“There will be something that says there are parts of New York City that are under-resourced, and that’s going to be something we want to address,” Tom Finkelpearl, the commissioner of cultural affairs, told the Times. “It’s also going to say that there is great recognition on the part of this administration of the value of major cultural institutions. These are very important, not just for tourism—which we do care about—but also to the spirit of the city.”

Some practitioners think it’s time to expand the pool, investing more in arts and culture so all institutions, big and small, can sustain themselves and their missions. To that end, the city last year added $10 million to its arts budget and set that money aside for smaller organizations specifically, and gave larger groups a six percent increase.

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