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City Arts Groups Relieved After Restoration of Fiscal Year 2012 Budget

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Councilman Van Bramer and other members of the Committee on Cultural Affairs discuss the Mayor's proposed cuts to arts institutions around the city. Councilman Van Bramer and other members of the Committee on Cultural Affairs discuss the Mayor's proposed cuts to arts institutions around the city. (Marlon Bishop/WNYC)

New York City cultural institutions are breathing a sigh of relief following a complete restoration of Department of Cultural Affairs funding in the adopted budget for Fiscal Year 2012, which went into effect on July 1. The department had faced $43 million cuts in the mayor’s original proposed budget, which would have reduced operating funds to major museums, theaters and zoos by 50 percent and caused some 1,000 employees in the cultural sector to be laid off.

The one-time restoration of $43 million included $29.5 million from the City Council’s available funds and $13.5 million from Mayor Bloomberg’s office.

In addition to providing grants to arts non-profits around the city, the Department of Cultural Affairs provides major funding to 33 cultural institutions located on city-owned property, ranging from major arts groups like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Academy of Music to smaller institutions like the Staten Island Zoo and the Queens Theater in the Park. Collectively, they are known as City-Owned Institutions, or C.I.G.s.

The cultural affairs department provides its C.I.G.s with funding that pays for both energy (lighting, heating, and cooling) and operational expenses. In the initial proposed Fiscal Year 2012 budget, energy funding was guaranteed, but operational funding would have been cut almost in half. While that might not mean much for large museums like the Met, it could have been a crisis for smaller institutions.

In the end, the C.I.G.s won back their funding by convincing the administration that they were vital to the city’s economy.

“I think the cultural community did a very strong job of pointing out that arts and culture aren't just issues of taste and aesthetics, but they're a really robust employment sector for the city,” said Kate Levin, Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs.

Her department pointed out that according to a 2007 Alliance for the Arts study, New York City arts nonprofits employ 40,000 workers.

Others pointed to the massive revenues generated by tourists who come to New York to experience the arts. According to the city's tourism group, NYC & Company, 21 million visitors spent $21 billion in New York last year to participate in cultural activities.

For Queens City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who chairs the council’s Committee of Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations, those numbers speak for themselves.

“Unlike other areas of the budget, culture actually spins off revenue for the city," he said. "We’d be cutting our nose to spite our face if we cut the culturals in a difficult budget season.”

This is the second year in a row that deep cuts were proposed, only to be restored in final budget negotiations last minute.

“There has to be a meeting of the minds between the executive and the legislative branches on the budget — that’s the law,” said Harold Holzer, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which receives about 10 percent of its funding from the city. “It’s been called a dance before, but we’ve been to the prom a few times and we’re prepared for the dance.”

While the budget allocation system may be imperfect, Holzer said New York cultural institutions have no choice but to roll with the punches.

“Would it be better, less taxing, and easier to plan for the long term future if this wasn’t the process? Yes,” said Holzer. “But it is the process for now.”

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