New York City Revamps (and Increases) Arts Funding

Classic Arts News   New York City Revamps (and Increases) Arts Funding
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the New York City Council announced yesterday that municipal funding for arts groups would be increased to approximately $30 million, awarded via a competitive, merit-based peer-panel review.

Beginning with the 2008 fiscal year, arts groups on land not owned by the city will compete for financing from the city Department of Cultural Affairs.

As reported by the Associated Press, more than 600 arts groups currently vie for funds in a complicated process long criticized as unpredictable and unfair. Some groups have been guaranteed the same annual amount (under line items in the municipal budget), while others rely on City Council members to lobby on their behalf each spring or rely on discretionary grants from councilmembers' own funds. The rest of the groups fight over the remaining money, about $3.8 million awarded on a merit-based system.

All that money (except for individual councilmember grants) will now be pooled, allowing most local arts groups the same chance to compete for the approximately $30 million. The city reportedly anticipates that opening the process will increase the number of organizations applying to about 1,000.

According to the AP, the 170 groups that have long counted on consistent line item funding will be given one year's grace period in case the new system ends up reducing their funding — that is, each of those organizations will be notified of its new grant amount; if it is lower than before, that group will receive the higher previous grant for one more year.

Bloomberg said he hoped the reforms would "increase transparency and accountability and shorten the budget dance we see every year," adding that cultural institutions "not only contribute to our city's rich quality of life, but also add $5 billion to our economy."

The Bloomberg administration is also increasing, from $102 million to more than $115 million, the money it awards for operating support to the 34 organizations (known collectively as the Cultural Institutions Group) which occupy city-owned facilities. Those institutions, from such powerhouses as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center and its resident companies, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Carnegie Hall to smaller organizations like the Staten Island Historical Society, will be more accountable for how they spend the money.

A new monitoring program called CultureStat — a name meant to allude, no doubt, to the famously successful CompStat program of crime monitoring instituted by William Bratton, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's first Police Commissioner — will grade Cultural Institutions Group organizations on criteria such as how well they organize their finances and maintain their facilities; 10% of their total funding will be tied to such evaluations.

According to The New York Times, Bloomberg said at the news conference that he hopes arts groups will find it less necessary to appeal to their council representatives for small amounts of money: "They can stop all the lobbying and get back to what they're supposed to be doing."

The Times quotes Nancy Umanoff, executive director of the Mark Morris Dance Group, as saying, "I think it's wonderful that they're depoliticizing the process. It means that arts administrators can go back to running their institutions and not have to lobby politicians."

Arts organizations outside the Cultural Institutions Group are reportedly expected to apply for the $30 million between March and June of this year; they will be evaluated by peer panels on criteria ranging from education programs to management and financial stability.

Dominic M. Recchia, Jr., chairman of the City Council's Cultural Affairs Committee, told the Times, "What this does is tell groups, 'You're going to move forward, or we're going to take away funding and give it to groups that are moving up.' It's a sign that you have to produce."

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