After 12 long years filled with bike lanes and billion-dollar developments, the Bloomberg era is finally drawing to a close. Next Tuesday in the primaries, New Yorkers will take their first steps toward choosing a new mayor.
The Democratic race is looking relatively tight, as voters try to parse the differences between lead contenders Bill de Blasio, John Liu, Christine Quinn, Bill Thompson, and Anthony Weiner (some admittedly more in the lead than others, at this point). The Republican race tends to be less closely watched, given that the city’s residents skew liberal, but its top two contenders are John Catsimatidis and Joe Lhota.
We figured our readers might want to know how the candidates measure up in terms of the arts. Here’s our guide. (And if you have more information or insight, please share it in the comments!)
Bill de Blasio
Arts education actually shows up on de Blasio’s campaign site: his education page lists “Ensure Every Child Receives Arts Education,” albeit at the very bottom. The takeaway: “Bill de Blasio will establish a four-year goal of ensuring that every child in every school receives a well-rounded education, including the learning standards required by the State Education Department, taught by certified arts instructors.”
At a New Yorkers for Great Public Schools mayoral event, he said he would provide dedicated funding for arts education.
At the Future of Education, Arts and Culture in New York City forum on July 30, de Blasio said he would spend more than Bloomberg had on arts education, which has been around $300 million, or roughly $300 per student. De Blasio wouldn’t specify how much, though, calling it “a resource question.”
A number of arts groups have officially endorsed him, including the Associated Musicians of Greater New York Local 802 (“musicians playing in Broadway musicals, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and in nightclubs, restaurants, and hotels in New York”) and Local One of The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (“the premier stagecraft local in the world”).
De Blasio has a pretty detailed plan to make and keep more affordable housing in NYC and supports rent control, which is generally a good thing for artists.
He likes to bring up the importance of the arts to his family. In his answers for the New York City Arts in Education Candidate Survey Project, he goes straight for the heartstrings, although he seems a bit clueless about Brooklyn (emphasis ours):
The diversity of New York City is a treasure – and an important reason why my wife Chirlane and I decided to raise our kids here. One of the more obvious manifestations of that diversity is in the treasure of art, music, dance and theatre that we can find – even within walking distance of our home in Brooklyn. The arts can bring meaning to life – inspiration and hope – laughter and tears.
His wife is a poet, which maybe counts for something.
At the same New Yorkers for Great Public Schools mayoral event, Liu said he would provide dedicated funding for arts education.
At the Future of Education, Arts and Culture in New York City forum, Liu also said he wanted to increase arts education spending — and he gets points for actually suggesting how. Liu argued that “supplemental arts funding,” which schools can now actually use for non-arts subjects, should be moved back into the core. He added that the city could redirect other Department of Ed money, like the $1 billion a year it spends on consultants.
At the same forum, Liu got personal, saying he was a “naturally qualitative thinker” and that arts classes taught him to use “the more creative side” of his brain.
In his answers for the New York City Arts in Education Candidate Survey Project, Liu tossed out this nice idea, of initiating collaborations between schools and nonprofit arts organizations — although most major arts nonprofits already have education programs and relationships with schools, so it’s not clear what this would really look like:
Additionally, I believe that there is room here for creative collaboration with our schools and our world renowned arts and humanities institutions. With the world’s richest collection of arts museums, cultural centers and humanities non-profits there are endless possibilities to collectively address the shortage of space for arts education.
Liu wants to increase the “rate of preservation and affordable housing creation by more than fifty percent.” Again, good for artists.
He also wants to legalize marijuana, which would definitely help us all unleash our inner creativity, right?
At the Future of Education, Arts and Culture in New York City forum, Quinn was also part of the “unanimous agreement” to increase arts education funding. She kept her response fairly vague, but agreed with Liu on redirecting Department of Education money to it. She also suggested placing a music teacher in every school, starting with schools with low reading levels.
At the same forum, she tried to both connect herself with Bloomberg and distance herself from him: “She said she was proud that the City Council had fought to preserve cultural funding each year, but that it was now time to ‘put the arts on the offensive,’” which is a slogan we hope no one got paid to think up.
As Council Speaker, Quinn directed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the High Line. Great! But she also received a whole lot of money in return, making the whole thing pretty shady.
Quinn aligns with the others on increasing affordable housing in NYC, outlining a Permanent Affordability Act and the city’s first LGBT senior housing community in her housing plan.
In her answers for the New York City Arts in Education Candidate Survey Project, she touted her record on the arts thus far:
I have more theaters in my district than any other elected official in the world and I have made it a priority to protect funding for them and for other cultural institutions citywide. … Expanding access to art and design education has also been a focus of my efforts to launch a new design week called NYCxDesign, which will debut this May. We’ve been encouraging our partners to offer programming in our public schools and I plan to keep expanding Design Week’s educational offerings in years to come with the goal of raising awareness about design and showing our city’s young people that it is a viable career path for all of New York City’s students.
At the New Yorkers for Great Public Schools mayoral event, Thompson said he would provide dedicated funding for arts education.
At the Future of Education, Arts and Culture in New York City forum, he was also part of the “unanimous agreement” to increase arts education funding, but, like the others, he kept things vague: “It’s always dangerous to pick a number,” he said. He did add that he’d set a baseline for arts and music funding in school.
In his answers for the New York City Arts in Education Candidate Survey Project, he criticized Bloomberg’s policies and outlined a plan (link ours):
I strongly supported Project Arts, and was genuinely disappointed that Mayor Bloomberg eliminated all guarantees that the funds would be used for arts education. Our students need the widest range of influences to nurture their capacity for self-expression. To help insure equity, I will initiate a program modeled on Project Arts in order to ensure that per-capita allocations are given to schools specifically for arts education.
Similarly to Quinn, he’s got a history of supporting arts organizations — $20,000 to the Tribeca Film Festival, $10,000 to the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council — that’s not without its questionable returns.
His wife, Elsie McCabe Thompson, was the president of the Museum for African Art for 15 years.
At the New Yorkers for Great Public Schools event in May, Weiner was the only candidate who said he wouldn’t offer special arts funding for public schools.
He also didn’t show up for the Future of Education, Arts and Culture in New York City forum. (To be fair, it was about a week after the second sexting scandal went down.)
His Keys to the City Idea #8 is to “put a ‘Kindle’ in every backpack,” which sounds pretty sweet — although once you read it, it’s clear that the emphasis is more on using new technology to decrease costs for schools than actually getting kids to read.
He doesn’t have any answers on the New York City Arts in Education Candidate Survey Project, but mysteriously, he’s not included in the list of candidates who failed to submit responses.
Bonus: he’s probably great on Snapchat.
At the Future of Education, Arts and Culture in New York City forum, Catsimatidis was more specific than most, committing to New York City Councilmember Stephen Levin’s One Percent for Culture initiative, which would dedicate one percent of the city budget to arts funding.
Then again, he said he’d find the money for that one perfect “by cutting what he called unneeded spending on bicycle lanes and ‘hills on Governor’s Island.’” Um.
Although housing isn’t listed as one of the issues on his website, Catsimatidis has endorsed the Housing First plan, which calls for the city to spend $8 billion over 8 years to create and preserve 150,000 units of affordable housing.
He didn’t respond to the New York City Arts in Education Candidate Survey Project.
- Bonus: his last name includes the word “cats,” and a lot of art people love cats.
You may recognize Lhota from the Sensation scandal back in 1999, when he, as part of the Giuliani administration, tried to defund the Brooklyn Museum for showing Chris Ofili’s “The Holy Virgin Mary.” He tried to play down his involvement and repent for his actions in a New York Times article earlier this year, but also admitted that he never saw the painting.
At the Future of Education, Arts and Culture in New York City forum, Lhota was part of the vague “unanimous agreement” to increase arts education funding.
When he ran the MTA, from late 2011 to end of 2012, he revived the “Poetry in Motion” program, which prints verses of poetry around the subway. And his strong aesthetic preferences have apparently not gone away: Lhota “involved himself in minutiae rarely taken up by the chairman, like … the aesthetics of building designs at the Second Avenue subway site. ‘They wanted me to rubber stamp the design,’ Mr. Lhota said. ‘I was not going to rubber stamp something as ugly as what they presented.’” At least he has conviction?
Similarly to Catsimatidis, Lhota doesn’t list housing as an issue on his website, but he’s endorsed the Housing First plan. In the Wall Street Journal, he awkwardly cast it as a political issue more than anything else: “It’s not right for the Democrats to own affordable housing,” he said. Well, you know, if you had a plan and a page for it on your website, then they wouldn’t!
He didn’t respond to the New York City Arts in Education Candidate Survey Project.
- Unlike Catsimatidis, who at least pretends to love cats, Lhota hates them.