Joel Shapiro, "Untitled" (1980–81) on the roof of the new Whitney Museum building

Joel Shapiro, “Untitled” (1980–81), on an outdoor terrace at the new Whitney Museum building (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

On Tuesday New York’s City Council approved by a vote of 49 to 0 an amendment to the municipal charter to create a comprehensive, citywide cultural plan. The bill, first introduced in 2013 by city council members Stephen Levin of Brooklyn and Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens, paves the way for the creation of New York’s first-ever cultural plan by July 2017.

The plan, which is to be developed and administered by the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), will be reviewed every 10 years and, where appropriate, revised. Every two years the DCA will deliver a report to the mayor and speaker of the city council outlining the progress made toward meeting the plan’s goals. Among them will be addressing issues of affordability, both in terms of housing and studio spaces, for artists living in New York. Another focus will be increasing the distribution and availability of cultural events and facilities in all parts of the city, including arts programming in schools. To these ends, the amendment requires the DCA to establish a Citizens’ Advisory Committee made up of at least 12 members from a broad array of backgrounds to advise on soliciting feedback from citizens and implementing the plan.

“This Administration recognizes that the arts are essential to the vibrancy of our communities and the quality of the education we provide our students — that’s why we have launched a number of initiatives dedicated to enhancing cultural equity and access for all New Yorkers,” DCA Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the City Council to formalize this vision of ‘one New York’ as it’s expressed in our cultural community and to seek feedback and new ideas from residents.”

New York joins a number of US cities that have developed comprehensive cultural plans in recent decades. Houston first drew up an arts and culture plan in the early 1990s, although the city is now in the process of overhauling it. In 2012 Chicago launched its own cultural plan, and just over a year ago Denver unveiled its “Imagine 2020” initiative.

The DCA has its work cut out for it between now and the July 1, 2017, deadline for submitting New York City’s plan. According to a press release from Councilman Levin announcing the amendment’s approval, the department

will survey and identify the current level of service of cultural groups in each neighborhood; detail the feedback from community outreach, establish a strategy to meet the specified needs of each community; quantify the economic impact of arts and culture in the City; and ultimately put forth a targeted approach to increase cultural activity citywide, increase the economic impact of the arts and culture and provide support to individual and emerging artists in the City.

Fortunately, many of these tasks dovetail with the initiatives spearheaded by Commissioner Finkelpearl since he took the helm of the DCA last spring, including building affordable studio spaces for artists and examining levels of diversity among cultural institutions’ staff members.

Avatar photo

Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...