On Wednesday, July 19, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled New York City’s long-awaited cultural plan, CreateNYC, and called out the city’s arts and cultural institutions for not having staff that is diverse enough, threatening to curb their funding if they don’t change their hiring practices.
“This will be a factor in funding decisions by the city going forward, because it’s important to ensure if we’re investing public money that these organizations represent everyone and include everyone,” he said according to a transcript of the press conference. “We do this because we believe in fairness.”
When asked by a Daily News reporter whether the city’s larger museums were elitist, the mayor replied there was “no question” in his mind that they were.
“I mean it’s not giving a newsflash. Some of them were created to be elitist,” he said according to a transcript. “I think the consciousness has changed a lot but there’s more work to do. And I think there’s a semblance of elitism still.”
A City Hall insider, who works closely with the mayor and preferred to be cited anonymously, said de Blasio, who is running for re-election this year, believes the city’s iconic cultural institutions and their benefactors are not his allies and do not reflect the values on which he is campaigning.
“The mayor has this war against [elite] cultural organizations,” the source explained. “He doesn’t show up at their events, he doesn’t like to hobnob with them, and he thinks they look down on him.”
The mayor’s office has been steadily increasing the Department of Cultural Affairs’ budget each year, from $181.8 million in 2017 to $188 million in 2018. Only now, according to city officials, cultural groups seeking money from the city will be asked to include the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of their staff in their applications for funding. They will also be required to adopt a “diversity and inclusion plan” and show how they are improving their hiring practices one year later.
“We’re going to ask those institutions how they address diversity and inclusion and equity on their staff and in their programming,” Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl told WNYC. “We’re going to talk about what plans work, how plans work, how they’re effective and requiring big institutions to put them in place.”
The agency has worked to overhaul its mission and budget after the City Council passed a law in May 2015 to create its first-ever cultural plan. The result is a 180-page roadmap, which also includes proposals to build arts studios, improved access to facilities for disabled patrons, and award grants to individual artists. However, there are few details about what criteria the city would use to determine diversity, how it would be weighted in grant funding, or what the application would look like.
While the plan is currently a little vague, Ryan Max, a Department of Cultural Affairs spokesman, said details would be worked out later as city officials conduct workshops with arts groups. “There are no quotas here, it’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all plan,” he said.
Nearly 1,000 organizations receive funding from the Department of Cultural Affairs but award amounts vary widely. About 63% of the agency’s $178 million budget went to 33 museums and organizations, known as the Cultural Institutions Group, located in city-owned buildings. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has received $26 million each year, the most among this group, while the Bronx Historical Society has received the least, at only $184,072. The other 37% is spread among hundreds of groups applying for the proper that are not on city property.
Museum leaders feared their funding would be redistributed to smaller organizations under the new cultural plan, but Finkelpearl insisted they would not face cuts and may even get a boost since the agency’s budget has grown. A representative for the Metropolitan Museum of Art declined to comment.
Meanwhile arts activists want to see the city do more to support the arts beyond promoting diverse hiring practices. In May, advocates released a “People’s Cultural Plan” calling for a rent freeze and the redistribution of city funds toward small arts organizations and outer borough groups, and away from Manhattan museums. The group held a launch for their plan on Tuesday, July 18.
“One thing that would be really great is if grants could cover operational support rather than be project-based,” said artist Chloë Bass who attended the event. “Many small organizations are forced to invent projects in order to receive funding, when really their everyday work is more than ‘project’ enough, and deserves more ongoing financial stability in order to meet real goals.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated Chloë Bass consulted on the People’s Cultural Plan. She only attended and spoke at the launch. This has been corrected.