New York City Council restores funding to the arts

But organisations struggle with city, state and philanthropic reductions

Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council approved the 2011 budget, including the restoration of $30m in arts funding

new york. In a surprising turnaround, the New York City Council decided at the end of June that it would restore about $30m to the Department of Cultural Affairs to spend on the arts, lessening the blow of the $50m in cuts initially proposed by Mayor Bloomberg in May.

“Thanks to the hard work and partnership of Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council, the Department of Cultural Affairs will continue to provide a strong level of support to New York City’s vital cultural community,” cultural affairs commissioner Kate Levin said.

The Department of Cultural Affairs budget for 2011 was voted in at $149.5m. This includes $28.9m for programmes and $110.2m for its Cultural Institutions Group, which provides funding to museums, zoos and performing arts centres in city-owned buildings, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the Brooklyn Museum, El Museo del Barrio and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Almost all of these museums will see a dip in their funding from the city—but not as much as many feared.

A spokesman for the mayor’s office said Bloomberg was happy to see the funding partially restored to arts organisations, which he said are an important source of money for the city through tourism, and which contribute to the public’s quality of life. “The mayor is the biggest advocate of the city’s cultural institutions and all they bring to New York. The cultural institutions are not only at the heart of the city’s life but at the heart of its economy.”

Many arts advocates who strenuously fought against the cuts were also pleased—and surprised—with the result. “It’s a great restoration and I’m very pleased that the city council was able to do it,” said Norma Munn, the chairwoman of the New York City Arts Coalition. “I’m pleased with the progress that the council made,” said Randall Bourscheidt, president of the New York-based Alliance for the Arts. “I think that the restoration of the cultural budget is nothing short of heroic and it represents a very strong commitment from the city council and the mayor to the arts in New York. We know the mayor is a friend of the arts and that all budgets in good economies and bad are the result of debate and discussion… This is a really good day for New York. We’re not seeing the recession hurt the arts in the important area of city funding. It’s down, but it’s not catastrophically down, and that’s a victory.”

Despite this, the New York state budget for 2011 still includes significant cuts to funding for the arts, as much as 39%. The budget, which is weeks late, is currently mired in the Senate as Governor Paterson took up his pen on Thursday to veto thousands of additional grants tacked on to the bill by state lawmakers, including funding for local non-profits and community projects.

The threatened cuts are compounded by a general drop in donations to charities. A recent report, from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and the Giving USA Foundation, found charities in the US had received around $11bn less in 2009 than the previous year, a reduction of 3.6%.

Note: The article in our July/August issue (out next week) on the New York culture budget cuts went to press before the city council made the surprise move to restore funding to the Department of Cultural Affairs. The piece reflected fears that New York arts organisations would suffer three-fold cuts, and was headlined “New York arts funding hit with massive cut”. We were able to insert a late update into the paper, but we apologise if our report on a fast-changing situation caused any confusion.

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