New Yorkers seeking refuge in cool museum halls, botanic gardens and library reading rooms can stop sweating-the arts are safe, for now.
The City Council capitulated to reason and restored $20 million of arts funding in the city budget, putting back in most of a proposed $30 million cut that had threatened 33 of the city’s major cultural institutions.
Arts advocates hailed the reprieve, which followed an outpouring of support from culture lovers across the city. New Yorkers wrote more than 130,000 letters to council members in defense of the New York Public Library; schoolchildren made signs for rallies; and newspapers (led by The Observer!) ran editorials in opposition to the cuts.
“I have never spent so much time on City Hall steps,” said Andrew Hamingson, executive director of the Public Theater, which produces Shakespeare in the Park. “Major kudos to the whole City Council for their response.”
Mayor Bloomberg had proposed cutting arts funding by 31 percent and library financing by 25 percent in May, the highest cuts on the table in eight years. But after meeting with members of the “culturals” and hearing from their constituents, the Council successfully negotiated the restoration of funds. In doing so, they prevented museums from reducing hours, library branches from shutting down and programs like Shakespeare in the Park from cutting the number of shows they offer.
“Thirty million would simply have been impossible for us to absorb and still be the institutions that we are today, in terms of what we provide for the residents of New York City and the tourists that come to New York City,” said Arnold Lehman, director of the Brooklyn Museum and chair of the Cultural Institutions Group.
Randall Bourscheidt, president of the New York-based Alliance for the Arts, called the restoration “miraculous” and stressed the number of jobs saved-security and maintenance personnel as well as curators, artists and performers. Alliance for the Arts estimates that the nonprofit arts industry employs 40,000 citywide.
“We clearly pointed out to the members of the Council that although they might not have a CIG institution in their Council district, they certainly have people who work at a CIG in their district,” said Mr. Lehman.
In New York, the arts also provide enormous educational value, community support and affordable entertainment for families. As the city has experienced budget cuts to senior centers, services to the disabled and after-school activities at schools over the years, cultural institutions have stepped in to take on some of what has been eliminated from other programs.
“We are so closely integrated in the fabric of our communities these days, it’s impossible to separate the institution from the community which it serves,” Mr. Lehman said.
Additionally, this past year, the 33 cultural institutions in CIG contributed half a billion dollars to the city’s economy, according to Mr. Lehman, from tourism, street vendors and other related spending.
Still, not all the news on the horizon is good. The New York Public Library, which does not receive funding from CIG, faced a 6 percent loss of funding, and had to reduce the number of days it is open by one.
Norma Munn, chairwoman of the New York City Arts Coalition, said the City Council did an “outstanding job,” but added that the city budget is dependent on both state and federal funding indirectly. She mentioned the need to plan for the possibility of a midyear budget cut, saying, “There’s not a lot left that isn’t cutting to the bone.”