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Against the Tide: NY State Increases Arts Funding by $4M

by Jillian Steinhauer on April 24, 2012

New York State Assembly Chamber

The New York State Assembly Chamber (image via flickr.com/matt.h.wade)

Just when many Americans thought that government funding for the arts was going the way of the dodo, last month New York State passed a budget that included a $4 million increase in grants funding to the State Council on the Arts.

That morsel of budgetary fact may have been lost on many, but Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D-North Brooklyn), a longtime supporter of the arts, trumpeted the increase in a press release over the weekend.

“This funding increase for the arts is a great triumph for Brooklyn because of our large artistic community,” said Lentol, whose district in the New York State Assembly covers the art-centric Brooklyn neighborhoods of Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Fort Greene. Lentol also directs the Brooklyn Assembly Delegation, which represent the whole borough, currently the largest democratic voting bloc in the county.

In his original 2012–13 budget, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a grants budget of $31.6 million for the Council on the Arts, the same level as last year. The Arts NYS Coalition — a cultural nonprofit group encompassing the NYC Arts Coalition, the Museum Association of New York and a host of other arts councils and societies — decided to push for more and went to Albany in February to lobby for an extra $4.5 million, according to Crain’s New York.

Though the final add-on fell half a million short of that target, the pressure worked: the approved budget allocates $35.6 million for the Council.

“The arts councils have a huge impact,” Amy Cleary, Lentol’s media coordinator, told Hyperallergic. “Assemblyman Lentol supported their request. As chairman of the Brooklyn Delegation, he’s influential in asking the speaker, the governor and the senate, saying this is what Brooklyn supports.”

As for how much the extra money will actually impact Brooklyn — it sounds like at least a little bit. All $35.6 million goes to the State Council, which in turn administers some of it directly to large arts groups. “Then they will administer some of it to smaller arts councils throughout the state, for example the Brooklyn Arts Council, so they’ll get a little bit more money this year,” Cleary said. Those local councils in turn give out their own grants, to individual artists and smaller, more obscure arts organizations that may not be known outside of, say, Bushwick.

Lentol’s press release mentions that he also recently co-sponsored the Arts Stabilization Act, which would provide $50,000 in grants to small and mid-sized arts organizations. He’s been a long-standing supporter of funding for both the Brooklyn Museum and BAM and was a co-prime sponsor of the 2009 loft law.

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