Protesters calling for defunding the police during a rally in Brooklyn, New York in June of 2020 (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

New York City’s new budget, approved yesterday, July 1, will slash the city’s budget for arts and culture by 11% in fiscal year 2021. The city’s education department will suffer a nearly 30% cut of art education programs ($15 million compared to $21.5 million last year). Also, the New York Police Department (NYPD) will see a reduction of $1 billion from its $6 billion budget, a move that failed to satisfy the demands of advocates for defunding the police.

Facing a $9 billion loss in tax revenues due to the COVID-19 shutdown, the city has cut allocations across all departments, reducing its total budget by more than $1.1 billion, down to about $88.1 billion.

In the fiscal year 2020, the city allocated a record $212 million budget to its Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA), which is the largest in the country. The adopted budget will reduce that amount to $189 million, a big blow to many small arts organizations but a relatively mild cut compared to a previous proposal to slash 35% of the cultural budget.

In April, the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable launched a public campaign Arts Are Essential to advocate against the then-proposed budget cuts. The group enlisted a lineup of celebrities for the cause, including actor Alec Baldwin and the original cast of Hamilton. Ultimately, the campaign did not prevent the city from reducing budgets from various arts and culture initiatives, from after-school art programs to cultural programs for immigrants.

Yesterday, as the new budget was being announced, NYPD forces clashed with Occupy City Hall and #DefundNYPD protesters, who have been camping outside City Hall for more than a week. Some critics of the reduced NYPD budget have called it insufficient while others dismissed it as mere cosmetics; among them is Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“Defunding police means defunding police,” the congresswoman said in a statement. “It does not mean budget tricks or funny math. It does not mean moving school police officers from the NYPD budget to the Department of Education’s budget so the exact same police remain in schools.”

New York is not the only city to slash its arts and culture budget amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In Philadelphia, the city has cut the arts budget by 40% and completely eliminated its Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. Originally, Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenny had suggested eliminating the city’s $4.4 million arts allocation entirely.

Local arts and culture organizations in Philadelphia have been campaigning against these cuts for more than two months. Speaking with Hyperallergic in May, Christina Vassallo, the executive director of the city’s Fabric Workshop and Museum, warned that Kenny’s move would cause the shuttering of many small local arts organizations.

“For so many of these organizations, city funding is what keeps them going,” Vassallo said. “Once you allow a culture and arts office to dissolve in a city, it’s nearly impossible to get it back. The political will that is required to create that is immense.”

Correction 7/3/2020 4:06pm: An earlier version of this article misstated that the arts education budget was cut by 70%. It has been updated to clarify that the 2021 fiscal year budget for arts education is 70% of its previous year’s budget.

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...