From a performance at the Borinquen Dance Theatre in Rochester, New York (courtesy the Borinquen Dance Theatre and Museum Hue)

A proposed budget cut that would slash more than half of the funding for the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) would be detrimental to the state’s creative economy, particularly for Black, Indigenous, Latine, Asian, and all communities of color. The arts are a vital part of our culture and identity and play a significant role in our local and state economic viability. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the arts and cultural sector contributed $877 billion to the US economy in 2017, more than the construction, transportation, or warehousing industries. In New York, the arts generate $120 billion in economic activity and support nearly 466,000 jobs, according to the Comptroller’s Report on the Creative Economy.

Arts entities led by Black, Indigenous, Latine, Asian, and all people of color are critical to this economic and cultural contribution. They provide unique perspectives and experiences that enrich our communities and contribute to the diversity of culture for which New York is known. Arts entities of color across New York State, such as Seneca Iroquois National Museum in Salamanca and the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association in Ausable Chasm, preserve the rich history of New York’s Indigenous and African-American communities. Organizations like the Borinquen Dance Theater in Rochester and Teatro Yerbabruja in Bay Shore keep the vibrant traditions of our Latine community alive while sharing them with visitors from around the world. However, these entities and countless others have traditionally been underfunded and underrepresented in the distribution of city and state funding. This proposed budget cut for NYSCA funding would exacerbate this problem and further marginalize these organizations.

One challenge facing arts entities of color is the lack of data on their specific needs and contributions. During the fiscal year 2024 budget proposal testimony, NYSCA representatives shared that they do not have data on New York’s arts entities specific to race and ethnicity. This lack of data is a significant problem because it makes it difficult to understand their funding practices, how the disparities in funding affect arts entities of color, and the ability to quantify the impact of budget cuts on these organizations.

Museum Hue’s HueArts New York initiative helps to fill the gap. Our research identified over 500 arts entities of color across New York State. HueArts New York consists of an interactive map of New York State that visually locates each of these entities with a directory, and corresponding Brown Paper report that highlights key findings and recommendations to enact critical changes in the state’s arts policies. By doing this work, we are advocating more effectively for greater awareness, funding, and support. 

We discovered that arts entities of color are given significantly less funding distributed for arts and culture. A large majority of their operating budget is less than one million dollars. One of the key findings in the HueArts NYS report is that nearly two-thirds of the 550+ arts entities of color we identified operate with budgets below $100,000. Over 400 are in New York City and about 150 are located in other regions across the state such as Long Island, Hudson Valley, and Buffalo. This is particularly important because 67% of NYSCA funding goes to organizations with budgets of less than $1 million. To compare, only 17% of all New York State entities reporting to Data Arts (the primary entity collecting data on arts and cultural non-profit organizations nationwide) note budgets of less than $100,000. This means that the vast majority of these organizations operating on shoestring budgets are our arts entities of color. These organizations are often small and grassroots, but they provide critical services and cultural contributions to their communities.

HueArts has already published two reports that outline the specific needs and contributions of arts entities of color across New York State. These reports provide critical information that policymakers can use to make informed decisions about how to direct our state’s resources to the organizations and entities that need them the most. Our data makes it clear that these arts entities of color not only provide cultural services, but also essential human services to their communities, and contribute significantly to New York State’s creative economy in ways that go unnoticed by decision-makers.

Senator José M. Serrano and Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell recently called for the New York State Legislature to include $140 million for NYSCA and $50 million for NYSCA capital funding. The leaders noted how critical this funding is for small arts organizations across the state. HueArts fervently supports this request and is advocating for a specific budget of $100 million in discretionary funding over five years for arts entities of color in New York. We believe a dedicated budget for arts entities of color would create greater racial equity in our arts sector by allowing more than 500 BIPOC-led arts organizations to address their immediate needs and develop long-term strategies that will strengthen their sustainability well into the future. By advocating for targeted funding, HueArts is working to ensure that these organizations receive the support they need to continue to contribute to the cultural richness of their communities and to our state’s creative economy.

The impact of the proposed fiscal year 2024 budget cuts on the arts would be devastating. Arts entities of color already face significant challenges due to systemic underfunding and lack of representation, while continuing to do so much for their communities with very limited resources. The proposed budget cut would make it even more difficult for them to survive. It would undermine the state’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in the arts sector.

Stephanie Johnson Cunningham is the Executive Director of Museum Hue, the leading organization dedicated to advancing Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color in the cultural sector.