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New York City cuts arts spending by 11% to close budget gap
File photo of Jimmy Van Bramer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, April 1, 2014.

by Julia Jacobs

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- The New York City budget adopted early Wednesday cuts spending on cultural affairs by nearly 11%, a damaging blow after years where municipal spending on the arts had grown, but it was not as deep a gash as some had feared.

The reductions came as the city responded to a roughly $9 billion loss in tax revenues because of the coronavirus shutdown.

Last year, funding for the Department of Cultural Affairs, which coordinates grants to arts organizations across the city, climbed to an all-time high of $212 million. This year, the budget allocates around $189 million.

Jimmy Van Bramer, a City Council member who chairs the cultural affairs committee, said that some budget negotiators wanted deeper cuts to the arts funding.

“I fight like an animal inside the budget negotiating team for those things,” he said in a phone interview before the council budget vote.

Van Bramer ultimately voted against the budget, in part because of a roughly $15 million cut to arts education services in the Department of Education budget. Among those reductions, the new budget cuts three-quarters of the funding for a program that has organizations like the Brooklyn Academy of Music providing arts instruction for schools.

“We are all trying to figure out how we do what we have done with less,” said John Calvelli, chair of the Cultural Institutions group, which comprises 33 museums and other organizations that operate in city-owned buildings or on city-owned land. Calvelli is also executive vice president of public affairs for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs four city zoos and the New York Aquarium.

The city’s Cultural After-School Adventures Program, which facilitates workshops for children in areas like theater and music, was assigned $14.3 million compared with last year’s $17.3 million.

Funding for the Cultural Immigrant Initiative, which finances groups that serve immigrant communities or focus on the cultural history of immigrants in the city, was cut by nearly 14%.

The Coalition of Theaters of Color, which supports theaters that serve communities of color, however, kept its $3.7 million in funding from last year intact. Van Bramer said that in this moment of national reckoning over racial injustice, including in the theater world, he could not imagine cutting anything from that initiative.

Carla Precht, executive director of the Bronx Children’s Museum, said that the cuts would limit what the group could provide to children this year, but she was relieved that the reductions were not larger.

The decade-old organization is planning to open its first permanent building in late 2021, and because the budget for the organization has climbed rapidly in recent years in response to a growing audience, Precht had been seeking a funding increase.

So even modest cuts are painful, in part because revenue has been curtailed by the pandemic as well.

“The Bronx Children’s Museum is being cut by all sides,” she said.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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