Opinion

An Urgent List of Demands for Arts and Culture in the Face of NYC State of Emergency

The People’s Cultural Plan shares a list of demands in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including housing as a human right and free public education.

At the essence of this call are to care and organize.” (all images courtesy of the PCP)

As organizers of the People’s Cultural Plan, we are sharing a list of demands in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) and to all art institutions and organizations in the city.

We remain heavily invested in the three platforms of our plan: displacement and housing, labor equity, and equitable funding. We are revisiting our work, placing it in dialogue with the pandemic, as well as with climate change and the city’s over-policing of Black and brown people on the MTA, schools, and museums. All are interconnected and all must be acted upon to root out historically consistent racism, classism, and greed.

COVID-19 is serving as the basis for transformation. Not since Hurricane Sandy has the call for mobilization in New York City on the hyper-local level been at its greatest. At the essence of this call are to care and organize, which are both instrumental in getting rid of an uncontrollable capitalism killing people. As imperatives, to care and organize demand internal work, not simply sanitizing the surfaces of our bodies and buildings to fit the crisis. It is irresponsible of the US president to attempt to incite more xenophobia by blaming Sinophobia For the pandemic. Likewise, Senator Pelosi’s bill is deplorable in that it only “guarantees sick leave to about 20% of workers,” and does not force retail giants to provide paid sick leave, nor does it bail out smaller business to provide sick leave as well. 

Our existence as individually-minded people among other individually-minded people has ended. To care and organize have been consistent survival and thriving tools for IBPOC and LGBTQAI+ communities fighting white supremacy and patriarchy in this country since its inception.

This is a list of demands to the DCLA and to arts organizations as the city welcomes a newly appointed commissioner, Gonzalo Casals. In our work over the past three years, we have been transparent about the internal structuring of the DCLA and its working under the purview of the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which oversees private-public partnerships and low-cost financing and asset management involving city-owned real estate. During Commissioner Finkelpearl’s tenure, the DCLA answered to former deputy mayor Alicia Glenn and now to deputy Vikki Been. Both deputies have favored rezoning and supported the proposed Amazon take over of LIC and the privatization of NYCHA. What the new commissioner will bring to the table in regards to ending DCLA’s ties to the EDC, taking a stronger stance on truly diversifying the top “Cultural Institutions Group” CIGs, and ending the city’s practice of selling public land, is something we will wait and see. As the PCP, we will be monitoring the transition closely. 

It’s a new world no matter what happens tomorrow. Today has already ben the Day After the Earth we once knew.

Our response to the pandemic comes with the desire to see prison abolition into fruition, housing as a human right, excellent free public education, and a debt-free society. We propose these demands to inspire continued and sustained action that serves front-line IBPOC communities. These demands are blueprints to create community installations of liberation. We will not accept that these demands can not be done. If trillions of dollars can be made available to provide stimulus packages for oil companies and banks, then these demands can be implemented as soon as possible amidst the city’s state of emergency. 

  1. Pay all teaching artists and artists employed as contractors in full and completely cover their health care costs if they fall ill. These workers form the basis of every educational programming in museums and nonprofits. Paying in full does not translate into loans nor reasoning for layoffs or terminations. 
  2. Pay all custodial staff and security guards in full. If you are an organization sharing space with other groups, push for this and make sure this essential staff gets paid and is fully insured. 
  3. Pay full and part-time retail staff and cashiers for their scheduled time until they can return to work. If they are not insured then insure them. Negotiate with insurance companies to make co-payments that are truly affordable. 
  4. Share your space. Access to space in this city is power. Because the space you occupy sits on the unceded land of the Lenni-Lenape people, it is really not yours to begin with. Organize a plan with grassroots groups not affiliated with nonprofits to use your spaces for necessities specific to the pandemic and in the communities after this is over. Provide free testing and distribute FREE food to needy children who will not be in school for 5 weeks. 
  5. Share your wifi. Schools are closed until April 20th. There will be about 114k homeless students and others with inconsistent wifi access to do assigned classwork. Make yours available to them. Connect with local schools and the DOE to see what you can provide that can seriously help others. 
  6. Advocate for prisoners to get tested for Covid-19, receive treatment, and get them out of the jails. Prisons are breeding grounds for uncontrollable outbreaks. Do not allow inmates to be used as guinea pigs. Get the city to allow inmates to communicate with family and friends. Abolition now!
  7. Provide free childcare for people having to work from home. This should be separate from their wages. Pay a real living wage to childcare givers. 
  8. Become real sanctuary spaces for the undocumented. Use the resources you have from the millionaires on your boards to provide assistance. Many migrants have left their countries due to the policies and economic practices related to resource extraction, real estate investments, and coups. The private prison industry in the US is another source of income for many museum board members making a fortune detaining people fleeing violence and war. 
  9. Cut the salaries of executive directors, particularly those at the wealthiest of the CIGs. Redistribute. It’s the 21st century, follow a cooperative model. As this list demonstrates every person working in all positions is equally as valuable as the other. Show it where it counts in the paycheck. 
  10. Push to permanently stop evictions, forbid the selling of public land to developers, and end rezonings. Gentrification is an extension of settler colonialism’s aims to steal land, remove the people and take anything deemed valuable by the oppressor. It is important to acknowledge that the climate disaster is historically attributable to these practices and to colonial empires directly connected to many corporations and the wealthy on your boards. 
  11. Support movements to get NYPD out of museums, MTA, and all public schools. In any crisis as the wealthy receive relief, the poor get more police. Use your influence to make changes happen. Stop the surveillance of IBPOC people. Like museums, make the MTA accessible for all. 
  12. Advocate for farmworkers, urban farmers, and food industry workers (from the farm to the factory to table). Make sure they are paid and are insured during this pandemic. This is directly related to demand #8.
  13. Make available grants for community-managed emergency relief action work. These grants would not be for artists or socially engaged art projects. Rather, they would generate functioning work for future crises that are inevitably coming. 
  14. Do not co-opt the work of grassroots organizations not affiliated with a nonprofit that you begin working with to garner future funding. Their work is their work. As a 501C3, you actually belong to the people. Let them co-opt you into a true entity of and for the people.
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