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Queens Chronicle

Snip. Snip. Snip. — Arts organizations lose out in mayor’s proposed city budget

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Posted: Thursday, May 13, 2010 12:00 am

“The cultural funding is so small that if I do a pie chart it does not even show as a percentage of the City budget,” wrote Norma Munn, chairwoman of the New York City Arts Coalition after she reviewed the mayor’s proposed budget issued on May 6.

In an email sent to arts organizations across the city, Munn went through the budget and tallied across the board losses at 31.1 percent.

If enacted, the mayor’s budget would take $519,980 from the Queens Botanical Garden, when the budget for the organization in 2010 was $1,141,639. The New York Hall of Science is facing a $668,782 reduction from its budget, which was $2,159,721 in 2010. Other organizations including the Queens Museum of Art are reeling from projected losses as well. The museum which gets approximately one quarter of its budget from the city, may lose over $448,430 from its formerly $1,024,688 allocation if the mayor’s budget is enacted.

The museum has already reduced its staff and put all 31 employees retained on five-week furloughs, during which time they may collect unemployment but are not allowed to come to work. “We will cut programming. This is the breaking point,” said QMA executive director, Tom Finkelpearl.

He said prior cuts to the museum’s budget were absorbed in small ways. Exhibits were extended, museum cleanings became more infrequent, but he has nothing left to reduce. “The worst thing I have had to do in my adult life was lay off nine people last year,” he added. “For me as a human being facing additional lay-offs is horrible. Everyone at the Queens Museum is doing their jobs well.”

The QMA is one of 36 cultural institutions known as the Cultural Institutions Group which may loose significant funding including, the American Museum of the Moving Image, Flushing Town Hall, The Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning. Queens Theatre in the Park and MoMa P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center.In exchange for providing free or low-cost cultural programming to New Yorkers, these organizations operate on city property and with city funding.

Part of the funding allocated by the city is used to pay utility bills for the cultural institutions and cannot go toward programming costs.

According to Munn, the mayor estimates the cost of heating and lighting these buildings every year. However, in a quite uncommon fashion, energy costs estimated in this year’s budget have gone down.

“Energy is projected with a cut of $6.2 million and some CIGs have cuts in this area close to 50 percent from fiscal year 2010 projections,” Munn wrote after she looked at amounts allocated to pay for energy for the cultural institutions.

She said that this means something may have been wrong with previous projections, and money that appeared to be going to cultural institutions in the past may actually have been funnelled back in to the overall city budget. This also means that projected cuts, while harsh, also include reductions in funds that members of the CIG would not be able to spend on programming.

“I have been trying to get the CIG’s to tell me how much money they actually spend on utilities every year but they have never given me the numbers,” Munn said. Finkelpearl said since he is on city park property, he has no idea how much money the city spends on utilities for his organization. Munn finds the decrease mysterious.

Utilities for the American Museum of the Moving Image are projected to cost around $200,000 dollars less than they were projected to have cost in 2010, representing an almost 50 percent cut in energy spending, causing Munn to speculate that this year, the Mayor was too hard pressed for cash to overestimate.However, according to the Department of Cultural Affairs cuts to energy spending were “due to a projected reduction in natural gas pricing.”

Smaller arts organizations such as the Chocolate Factory Theater in Long Island City are also feeling the pain of budget cuts, but in different ways. “Arts funding is in an interesting spot right now because when the economy went down hill … the foundation money dried up … the public money went down slightly but it’s kept steady, but the problem with public funding is that it goes to larger organizations. Most arts organizations are one to two people and they get a smaller portion of public funding,” said Chris Henderson, an independent artist and employee at the Chocolate Factory.

Tasked with allocating city money to organizations, Danai Pointer of the Department of Cutural Affairs said grant money partially funded 884 arts organizations last year. Due to collective bargaining agreements, DCA will be receiving $128,270 more for its staff members, marking the only increase paid to any arts organization in the mayor’s budget, though the agency itself is expected to have far less money to give out.The budget may reduce DCA funding by $13,458,980, marking what Munn tallied as a 41.5 percent loss.

Among those funded by DCA is the Chocolate Factory, and Executive Director Sheila Lewandowski says cutting funding to the arts doesn’t just hurt her organization, it hurts New York City’s cultural and intellectual cache. “The arts includes programs in senior centers … it feeds all of these important programs. It means less programming across the board,” Lewandowski said. “The impact is greater than whether or not there will be shows to go see.”

However according to Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), the budget issued by the mayor is purely a worst case scenario. “We have to know what the state is going to do before we can say exactly what we are going to do for the city,” he said. “If the city doesn’t hear anything from Albany by the beginning of June, then we have to begin to assume that the state is not going to be a part of our budget and that those dollars are not going to be there. That’s when this worst case scenario budget would take place.”

The city budget has to be finalized on June 30. Dromm said it is possible that the city budget could be enacted before the state budget, in which case the city could lose out on state funding entirely. However, if the city receives the budget from the state, Dromm said money obtained could be allocated to different city services and organizations.

The state budget was supposed to be finished in April. “Many cultural institutions depend on this budget in order to move forward with the programs they have planned.It makes for an uncertain future for everybody concerned,” Dromm said.

Before the city budget is approved, City Council members debate it and may alter funding allocations. “I think right now is the period for advocacy, for people to raise their voices and let leadership know how important these arts organizations are to them,” said Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and chairman of the Arts Committee.

“I care a great deal about our cultural organizations because I know that unlike many other programs and services, they generate revenue they bring tourists to the city and people to hotels and local stores and they also enrich the lives of people in New York City,” he said.

Regarding the city budget, Van Bramer said, “I see and talk to the leaders of cultural institutions, and yes, people are concerned.”

For information regarding the exact amounts cut from arts organizations visit nyc.gov/html/omb/html/publications/finplan05_10.shtml and click on Schedules, then go to the Department of Cultural Affairs section of the over 4,000 page document. The DCA section starts on page 1468.

Welcome to the discussion.