For the fifth year in a row, the New York City Council has spared the arts from massive spending cuts. In the finalized budget for the new Fiscal Year that passed last week, New York City has committed to spending $156 million on supporting the arts through its thirty-four cultural institutions and hundreds of smaller not-for-profit artists groups throughout its new fiscal year, which began on Sunday. (Scroll to Page 38 of that PDF for all the details.) This is a $4 million increase from last year’s budget and, it should go without saying, a very good thing.
As we previously reported, Mayor Bloomberg’s executive budget, introduced in early May, called for a $49 million cut to the Department of Cultural Affairs, the city organization responsible for funding everything from classical institutions such as the MET to purveyors of cutting-edge artists such as Rhizome, Flux Factory and apexart. That latter group—smaller organizations reliant on the Cultural Development Fund to sponsor burgeoning artists—were especially placed at risk under the executive budget, facing a 60% cut to the subdivision’s funding. Instead, the CDF will receive a little over $37 million this year, about a half a million more than last year.
We’re gratified by City Council’s dedication to increasing arts funding (even if this year’s budget is still over $2 million shy of the DCA’s budget three years ago) but the fact that said funding continues to require justification is worrying. Bloomberg has displayed an eagerness to cut deeper into agencies City Council has protected year after year. The Mayor’s office has attempted cutting the DCA’s budget by a third during the past two budget cycles, with most of the brunt being taken by the CDF. The “why?” is anyone’s guess; the Arts & Business Council of New York reports at its current budget, one five hundreth of a percent of the city’s overall budget, the DCA has previously generated $3 billion in direct arts spending.
The budget dance continues to serve as a reminder of what we risk losing when we separate art (or more specifically, art lovers) and politics. Despite the massive cuts the DCA constantly faces, their plight often receives far less attention than the other massive cuts Bloomberg has threatened in previous budget proposals. The survival of arts funding in New York is thanks to supportive councilmembers like James Van Bramer, Leroy Comrie, Jessica Lappin, and Domenic Recchia, along with a staunch group of arts advocates; without them, it is easy to imagine that funding quickly eroding with little notice.