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NYC Has Allocated $1 Billion to Arts and Culture Since 2017

The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs announced its 2019 action plan for its CreateNYC culture plan, pledging record-breaking budgets for inclusion and diversity programs in cultural institutions

Tom Finkelpearl, New York City’s Cultural Affairs Commissioner (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic) 

“Since 2017, the city has allocated more than $1 billion for arts and culture,” said Tom Finkelpearl, New York City’s Cultural Affairs Commissioner, in a press conference today, August 1, in Long Island City. Finkelpearl, together with a lineup of city officials, culture workers, and artists held the event to announce an updated action plan for CreateNYC, New York’s first-ever comprehensive culture plan, launched in 2017. The new action plan pledges to invest the city’s unprecedented funds into programs focusing on diversity and inclusion in the cultural workforce, and on the support of the cultural life of low-income communities and underrepresented groups. Another $212 million allocated to the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) for its 2020 budget set another record for City cultural funding. 

After a contested beginning in 2017, CreateNYC “2019 Action Plan” presents five new major objectives that resemble the plan’s original goals in 2017, and overlap with its strategies, and yet focuses more sharply on issues of equality and inclusiveness in the arts. The 2019 plan’s objectives are: Increasing equitable funding and support for culture, especially in historically underserved communities; Cultivating inclusive practices in the cultural sector; strengthening connections between the cultural sector and government; addressing affordability crises for the cultural community; providing high-quality arts education for all NYC public schools students. The document lists 25 strategies to achieve its goals, from increased funding to the organization and individual artists in marginalized communities to cultivating more inclusive employment policies in cultural organizations in the city.

The press conference was held at the nonprofit Materials for the Arts in Long Island City, where CreateNYC was first announced two years ago. After a performance by the dance duo Louisa Mann and Peter Trojic, who were supported by the plan’s disability arts budgets, Finkelpearl took the stage to list the program’s accomplishments in the past two years. “We’ve increased funding for individual artists and unincorporated organization to $4 million from what was $1 million three years ago,” the commissioner said. In another highlight, the program added 444 certified arts teachers to public schools around the city.

CreateNYC ran into serious objections by local artists and activists when it was introduced in 2017. The People’s Cultural Plan (PCP), an independent group of artists and cultural workers, accused the City of touting a “cosmetic and feel-good narrative” without concrete funding commitments and without proposing “adequate anti-displacement policies.” They have also accused the DCLA of involving real estate developers in drafting the program and of relying on capital from the private sector in mending issues of inequality. “DCLA hired real estate development consultants to work on CreateNYC, whose past and current projects are directly implicated in displacement,” the group wrote in an op-ed for Hyperallergic.

The group also argued that the mechanism laid out in the program privileges cultural organizations with larger budgets and more paid staff, who have a better ability to comply with the programs’ administrative requirements, leaving behind smaller and people-of-color-led organizations. As an alternative, PCP proposed a “People’s Cultural Plan” with detailed policy recommendations for achieving equality in housing, labor, and public funding. The plan proposes a citywide rent freeze on stabilized apartments, mandatory artist compensation, and the implementation of language access plans, among other recommendations.

When asked if the new action plan responds to past criticism, Finkelpearl told Hyperallergic, “We listened to thousands and thousands of people, 200,000 people weighed in, one way or another, and we had hundreds of meeting with the city.” According to Finkelpearl, the DCLA has specifically listened to criticism over its last survey and implemented changes. “Our new survey is self-reported, a very different mechanism from the first, so we now have new information about LGBTQ participation and about people with disabilities, which wasn’t in the first survey,” he said.

Louisa Mann and Peter Trojic performing an excerpt from their piece “Broken Open”, choreographed by Mark Travis Rivera

A number of representatives from New York cultural institutions spoke about the ways in which they have used the city funds they received. Diego S. Segalini, co-executive director of finance and administration at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC), said that with the new funds, his organization has doubled its average award to artists in the past three years. The funds were also instrumental in renovating a new arts center that the LMCC will open on Governors Island this fall, Segalini added. Madaha Kinsey-Lamb, founder and executive director of Mind-Build, a Bronx-based arts center, said the funds allowed free services to the community at her center and praised the city’s rescue of the Weeksville Center in Brooklyn, which came close to bankruptcy this past May. Esther Robinson, co-executive director of ArtBuilt, a nonprofit that creates affordable space rental and ownership opportunities for artists and art businesses, said the city budgets allowed her organization to provide 100 artists and arts-businesses with affordable workspaces. 

CreateNYC’s new action plan comes at the heels of a new report released earlier this week, which showed a great disparity between New York’s demographics and the makeup of the workforce in the city’s cultural nonprofits. According to the report, about two-thirds of New Yorkers are people of color while two-thirds of the people running arts organizations are white. “We believe that there has been, anecdotally, some change already, especially in very visible positions like curators, ” Finkelpearl told Hyperallergic after the press conference. “In our last survey, curators were the single least job in the entire cultural sector.” All the cultural organizations benefiting from the program’s budgets are committed to diversity and inclusion programs, Finkelpearl says, adding that the DCLA will be monitoring the implementation of its diversity goals on a yearly basis. 

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