City Funding for the Arts 101

David Johnston

Updates from our intern, Meera. 

New York City’s political center, City Hall, is based in Lower Manhattan. 11411905_839777669402959_3310859442119093490_oAfter catching the R, one gets off at City Hall, walks out of the station and into a quaint area of the city surrounded by tall buildings of the notorious off-white color that mark many government buildings in the United States.

In addition to being one of the oldest city hall buildings that still functions as a city hall, (don’t believe it? Check out this picture!)11406122_839777666069626_475492470984109969_o it is the home for press conferences, council meetings, mayoral appointees plus the Mayor and his staff. It was also the site of last week’s City Council Executive Budget Hearings with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl, which I had the pleasure of attending through my internship with Exploring the Metropolis.


The DCA and City Council hearings are designed to question and clarify the Mayor’s budgeting decisions for the city, and provide citizens the opportunity to interact and be involved in this discussion. The structure of these meetings is a testimony by the Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner, followed up by questioning from members of the Cultural Affairs, Libraries & International Intergroup Relations Committee.


According to Tom Finkelpearl’s testimony, New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs is the largest local arts funding agency in America. Its budget is even larger than that of the National Endowment for the Arts (which serves the entire nation in terms of culture and the arts). The DCA is headed by Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl. (Read his testimony here).11113889_839777759402950_454950486081062638_oCultural Affairs, Libraries & International Intergroup Relations Committee, chaired by Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, is made up of City Council members charged with oversight for the DCA. The goal is to gain more support for arts and culture, while ensuring that the City more equitably distributes support in all areas of NYC. The attendees (like Exploring the Metropolis) go to these events to gain perspective, network, and help create a larger united voice.


One of the main points discussed at this council hearing was a proposed 30 million dollar increase in the DCA budget. Although NYC was the first of many cities to bounce back after the recession in 2008, the cultural sector is still recovering from this hit. Therefore, many believe this increase is pivotal to adequately fund all the cultural projects the city wants to accomplish. Many of the committee members questioned Tom Finkelpearl as to how the 30 million dollar increase would be utilized, but nothing concrete was discussed.

Recently signed by the Mayor, the creation of a comprehensive cultural plan for the City of New York was also a topic discussed at this hearing. This plan has potential to increase cultural participation in all 5 boroughs of NYC and cultivate new artistic projects. While the creation of a comprehensive plan will provide great research material and overall case studies and conclusions for policymakers and urban planners, we must carefully examine the steps it will take to bring this plan to action.


11416367_839777752736284_7857924233529283416_oThe following day of hearings, June 9th, were a series of testimonies. Groups come up one by one in front of the panel to give three-minute testimonies for their organizations. Our friend Heather Woodfield from One Percent for Culture shared her thoughts in her testimony. (You can also check out EtM Executive Directors David Johnston’s testimony here.)

According to NYC and Company, the official marketing and tourism organization for NYC, the total economic impact from visitors to NYC in 2013 was 38.8 billion dollars. These visitor dollars do not simply come from the various cultural institutions people can visit in NYC, rather the dollars additionally come from the money spent on transportation, hotels, and food costs. NYC is in a unique position of enjoying significant economic impact from  tourists who come to enjoy the culture and entertainment.


Having lived in the Midwest and the South, these hearings have made me realize how much economic and social support New York City provides its artists and creative sector when compared to other areas around the United States. For example Durham, North Carolina, an up and coming entrepreneurial city and member of the research triangle, does not even have a government person who represents the arts! New York City has an entire department of paid officials to support arts funding. There is a sense of structure and collaboration for the arts through the DCA, and there are a wide range of local artists and groups who feel comfortable to speak up and voice their stance in front of the governing system. Furthermore, the City acknowledges the massive economic and social impact the Cultural Institution Groups have on its community.

From my perspective, this is a very unique and valuable asset to this city. This sense of community and value for the arts is why nonprofits such as Exploring the Metropolis can thrive and affect such a wide range of citizens.

Me, the intern, next to City Hall!

Me, the intern, next to City Hall!


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