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City Council Debates Mayor Bloomberg's Proposed Arts Cuts

On Monday, City Council committees held hearings on the mayor’s proposed cuts to the Department of Cultural Affairs 2011-12 fiscal year budget. The city agency provides annual grants to nearly 900 arts programs and contributes funds to the operating expenses of 33 of the city’s largest museums, theaters and zoos.

The baseline budget projected for the department is $100.1 million, around $43 million less than the Cultural Affairs budget in Fiscal Year 2010-11. Over the next month, City Councilmembers will work to close some of that budget gap by giving money from their own discretionary funds to the Department of Cultural Affairs budget.

As it stands now, the reduced culture budget will mean a 12 percent cut to arts programs across the board. For The Cultural Institutions Group, which is made up of the 33 city arts institutions that rely on Cultural Affairs Department funds, that means $35.4 million in cuts, which could lead to nearly 1,000 jobs lost in the cultural sector.

Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate Levin defended the proposed cuts to members of the Council on Monday. She said that all city agencies are being forced to make painful reductions and cultural institutions are not being singled out unfairly. Levin also said that arts organizations were “nimble,” and would be able to find ways to work with less.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer disagreed with Levin, citing concerns that smaller arts institutions may have to close up shop. He said that, unlike the schools or police department, arts institutions brought money into the city and boosted tourism.

“If you know that our cultural institutions and our cultural offerings are the reason that 20 million people are coming to the City of New York to spend billions of dollars which flow into our treasury, then why would you propose to drastically cut the very cultural institutions that are sustaining our city in such a difficult economic climate?” asked Van Bramer.

The final adopted budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year was $149.5 million.

Budget negotiations will continue over the next month. By law, a final budget must be passed by the Council by the end of June.

Despite the cuts the mayor proposed to the arts, the mayor's charity, Bloomberg Philanthropies, announced that it would give 250 city arts organizations $32 million in grant money in February.