New York State Assemblymember Tony Simone spoke at a March 21 rally at the Capitol. Simone and other state legislators are advocating for a higher NYSCA budget. (image courtesy New York State Assembly)

Governor Kathy Hochul’s proposed executive budget for fiscal year 2024 slashes New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) funding by $61.7 million from last year to a total of $48 million — $42.8 million in grantmaking allocations and a little over $5 million for operating costs. The governor’s office attributes the suggested 56.2% cut to the expiration of pandemic recovery assistance for arts and culture organizations in the state.

In 2023, NYSCA distributed over $90 million worth of grants to more than 1,600 organizations. The governor’s proposed budget, which must be approved by the state legislature by April 1, eliminates $1 million in NYSCA grants for small to mid-size arts organizations and cuts the $50 million Recovery Grant Program, which allowed NYSCA to allocate increased funding during the pandemic. The proposed executive budget also cuts $10 million from capital funding for NYSCA, citing “no funding being provided for construction or rehabilitation projects for regional arts and cultural councils outside of New York City.”

Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell, who represents the 69th District including Manhattan Valley, Morningside Heights, and the Upper West Side, told Hyperallergic that the proposed cuts would “decimate the arts landscape.”

“It’s among the stupidest things I’ve ever heard,” O’Donnell said. “Arts funding has a multiplier effect — if you spend $1 in the arts, $7 comes back to the state government.” Along with State Senator José Serrano, chair of the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks & Recreation, O’Donnell is advocating for a NYSCA budget of $140M.

O’Donnell invoked Hochul’s $200 million tax credit program for commercial musical and theatrical productions, meant to help for-profit arts entities shoulder the cost of putting on a play or performance. In contrast, he says, NYSCA was created to support the nonprofit arts community — where many of the most successful shows got their start.

“If you go to Broadway, the things that you want to see, like Strange Loop or Hamilton, they all started in a nonprofit theater,” O’Donnell said. “If you give money to an organization so it can survive, they hire a director, they hire actors, lighting people, all those people get jobs.”

Assemblymember Tony Simone, who represents the 75th Assembly District covering Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Midtown, and part of the Lincoln Center area in Manhattan, was among the advocates at a recent rally for arts funding at the New York State Capitol in Albany on March 21.

“NYSCA provides the funding that makes it possible for art to be accessible to everyone and for artists to live and work in our city,” Simone told Hyperallergic. “We should be giving more support to the arts, not less, and my colleagues and I in the Assembly are fighting to keep this important funding in this year’s budget.”

A summary of the tentative FY2024 budget says the NYSCA cuts are “primarily due to the expiration of pandemic relief,” nonrecurring appropriations approved over the last two years to support arts nonprofits whose various streams of funding were impacted by COVID-19. According to O’Donnell, however, the governor’s proposal would not only do away with provisional relief but also bring the NYSCA budget down to “1980s levels.” For context, NYSCA’s budget in 1985 was $35.6 million. Funding hit a peak at $54.8 million in 1989 before deep cuts brought the budget to $28.2 million in 1991 as part of Governor Mario Cuomo’s highly criticized plan to reduce the state deficit.

NYSCA’s suggested budget is barely higher than it was in 2019, particularly when taking inflation into account. The FY2019 executive budget allocated $46.9 million in total funding for NYSCA, a little over a million dollars less than the current proposal of $48 million.

In response to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, a representative for Governor Hochul’s office said the proposed budget “makes transformative investments to make New York more affordable, more livable and safer.” Hochul “will continue to work with the legislature to deliver a final budget that meets the needs of all New Yorkers,” the spokesperson added.

Valentina Di Liscia is the News Editor at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.