On July 6, after months of advocacy efforts by arts organizations, community cultural groups, and city council members, New York City announced a fiscal year 2024 budget of $241 million for the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA).
The adopted budget, which the agency says is a record high, comes on the heels of an open letter addressed to Cultural Affairs Commissioner Laurie Cumbo, Mayor Eric Adams, and other New York City representatives. A collaborative effort between the local arts advocacy groups Latinx Arts Consortium of New York (LxNY), Dance/NYC, and the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York (ART/NY), the letter took aim at perceived cultural funding inequities in the previously proposed executive budget and garnered 600 signatures from museum professionals, filmmakers, gallerists, performers, and others working across New York’s arts and culture sector.
As the largest municipal funder of arts and culture in the United States, the DCLA allocates approximately $200 million to the city’s artists and arts organizations each year through grant funding, direct subsidies, and capital spending. City funds comprise more than 99% of the DCLA’s budget.
The adopted budget of $241 million is less than half of one percent of NYC’s $107 billion overall budget for 2024, but significantly higher than the previously proposed executive budget of $157.6 million — which would have been lower than the 2023 adopted budget of $238.1 million. (As opposed to the adopted budget, which is finalized, the executive budget is the second version and penultimate draft, incorporating edits made after city council hearings in response to the mayor’s initial proposal.)
The adopted budget for the 2024 fiscal year, which began on July 1, will include an additional $40 million in funding to be added at the time of adoption, $43.9 million for council member one-year discretionary funding items and initiatives, $93 million to be distributed among the 34 members of the city’s Cultural Institutions Group (CIG), and $59 million for the agency’s Cultural Development Fund (CDF), which supports the city’s arts and cultural nonprofits through an annual grant-funding process. Another $48 million will be used to pay for electricity costs for organizations that operate on DCLA-administered property.
In response to the newly released numbers, authors of the recent open letter told Hyperallergic that they still have uncertainties about the way that funds will be distributed, since the DCLA has not yet released a point-by-point breakdown.
“It remains uncertain if reporting will be more transparent moving forward,” the organizers said, adding concerns about the lack of a baseline for the 2024 budget. (A baseline is a budgetary benchmark that uses current spending levels to establish sufficient future funding.) On the other hand, the petitioners expressed gratitude for the budget initiative to introduce three new staff roles in the agency, which will help facilitate the grant-funding process.
Published at the end of May, the letter decried an alleged “disproportionate allocation of resources across programs, and thereby across the City” and argued that the DCLA’s 2023 adopted budget of $238.1 million exacerbated budget funding inequities.
“Many worthy cultural organizations face challenges to our survival, especially those organizations led by or serving Black, Indigenous, People of Color, (BIPOC), immigrant, LGBTQIA+, low-income, disabled, and older New Yorkers,” the open letter read. During the pandemic, the city’s arts and culture industry suffered greatly, with two-thirds of all arts, entertainment, and recreation jobs disappearing, according to a report by the state comptroller in February 2021.
The letter went on to cite the DCLA’s “multi-million dollar increases” in direct subsidies to the CIG — which has 11 members located in Manhattan out of 34 total members — as a significant contributor to what the authors perceive as unequal funding distribution. This year’s CIG budget allocation of $93 million is nearly identical to last year’s operating subsidy of $92.8 million distributed to the institutional members.
Petitioners also called for more transparency in the DCLA’s CDF reports and other documents, claiming that despite a series of equity-based reforms the administration introduced in 2023, the agency simultaneously slashed funding for “small and mid-sized organizations, including many led by and serving communities of color” in order to make space “for the [grant] increases to other small and mid-sized organizations.”
The DCLA announced in April that this first year of CDF reforms led to increased funding for 73% of grantees, in part due to an expansion in minimum award sizes for the first time since 2008. The agency also announced that the reforms helped provide more support for organizations led by and serving people of color, as well as more funding for the smallest organizations: 19% of groups with budgets of $25,000 or less experienced a higher rate of funding success in comparison to the previous competitive grant cycle. In addition, the average baseline awards for groups with budgets under $250,000 increased from $8,300 to $13,900, according to the agency.
However, a December 2022 survey of CDF applicants found that 32% of responding organizations received increases, about half of respondents received funding decreases, seven percent did not receive any award, and only two respondents received grant awards consistent with the previous year. The survey was conducted by Dance/NYC and ART/NY and received responses from 139 organizations, which represented 11% of all CDF applicants last year.
“In light of this ongoing experience, we assert that equity means giving more absolute funding increases to those organizations and neighborhoods that currently receive less, in order to correct for the historic underinvestment they’ve received and ensure equitable distribution of funding and opportunities in the future,” the organizers’ open letter read.
The announcement about the 2024 adopted budget for the DCLA also comes in the wake of criticism from the City Council, which released a response in April scrutinizing the preliminary budget for its lack of adequate funding for the city’s arts and culture sector.
“The Council is proud to have prioritized and fought for restoring $40 million in funding to the city’s arts and cultural organizations for Fiscal Year 2024 throughout the budget process,” a city council spokesperson told Hyperallergic.
Despite the administration’s record budget, advocates continue to stress that baseline funding remains the most critical in order to ensure that funding will adequately support New York’s most vulnerable arts and culture organizations.
“Although there were no cuts to the previous year’s funding levels, this FY24 budget has not been baselined. Without a baseline, we face a labor-intensive struggle year after year just to maintain the same level, which, after adjusting for inflation, actually results in a reduction,” organizers said.