Most New Yorkers say they want more art and culture because they generally believe the arts can enrich their lives and help them engage with the world more substantially -- especially after the attacks of September 11. Three quarters of New York's cultural groups, however, receive little or no financial support from the City.
If funding was already scarce before September 11 for arts organizations, how much more difficult has it become for fledgling groups to produce a piece of the cultural pie in helping rebuild New York?
Such concerns were the focus of a one-day conference last month entitled "Who Pays for the Arts?" sponsored by the Alliance for the Arts and the National Arts Journalism Program (NAJP), based in the Graduate School of Journalism and in association with the School of the Arts. The gathering -- which drew over 220 participants from a variety of world-wide organizations, including museums, foundations, theatres, community programs and advocacy groups -- addressed the tensions between what studies and experts have identified as an increased need for the arts and decreased government funding.
"We need to talk about the humanizing effect of the arts in an increasingly dehumanizing environment," said panelist Patricia Cruz, executive director of Aaron Davis Hall, Harlem's principle performing arts center, during a discussion entitled, "City Funding and the Arts: Is New York Giving Enough to the Arts?"
"The arts are the place where we recognize our frailty and connect spiritually, emotionally and intellectually with one another," Cruz said. "But the poor are dropping out of the arts altogether. So how can we use this lean [economic] moment to bring on a more responsive allocation for the arts?"
One way might be to include a vision for artists' spaces and small theaters as efforts are underway to rebuild lower Manhattan, said Ginny Louloudes, executive director for the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York. As Louloudes identified rebuilding, renewing and economic development as three agenda items for the City, she also suggested creative strategies could be used to promote the arts while simultaneously meeting these goals.
"Spiritual renewal -- which we all need -- is found in the arts. Arts groups came together post September 11 and we're still here. I think businesses can learn a lot from us," Louloudes said.
Unfortunately, the United States government doesn't support the arts like other countries do, said Kenneth T. Jackson, president of the New York Historical Society and Jacque Barzun Professor of History and the Social Sciences. "We don't have a level playing field. The defense budget alone is bigger than the rest of the world's combined. No other nation could compete with us . . . yet the government supports [a variety of] other big businesses by subsidizing them [and not the arts]," Jackson said.
Given the reality of the recession, job cuts and a fiscal crisis, Jackson believes some short-term strategies for arts groups could include partnering with other institutions to accomplish more. "We haven't reached our full potential so maybe we should worry less about competition and provide good experiences so people will go to other events," he said.
Instead of recruiting audiences to the theater, theaters also could also go to audiences, Louloudes said. "We need to look at the impediments facing shows and creatively adjust. Then we could begin to use wise budgeting and create our own buzz through the Internet since the media is so expensive," she said.
Whatever the strategies for financing productions, advocates and residents alike are convinced that the shows must go on as New York recovers from the September 11 tragedies.
"Bearing in mind that this [conference] was originally scheduled for September 20, there was a lot of interest in it then because of a mix of anxiety and expectation about what would happen in the post-Giuliani era," said Michael Janeway, professor of journalism and NAJP director. Janeway said the strong response to the conference was due largely to the fact that representatives ranging from the Alliance for the Arts and the City to philanthropic/private donors and public policy makers are concerned with "how these outfits are dealing with their tough new world."
Even Kate Levin, New York City's new Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, gave her first public remarks since her appointment, acknowledging the need to address some structural issues. "It troubles me that there is a kind of second-class citizenship status," she said in response to how some groups have been funded by the City compared with others.
Most agree that the important role the arts play in helping rebuild the City cannot be underscored, or under-invested. As Louloudes said, "Thank you for your money, but it's not enough."