NYC Unveils Cultural Plan to Expand and Diversify the Arts

On Wednesday, July 19, Mayor Bill de Blasio released New York City’s first-ever comprehensive cultural plan, which examines issues ranging from equity and inclusion to the affordability of arts programming. Dubbed CreateNYC, the 180-page report, which includes input from more than two hundred thousand New Yorkers, both celebrates the city’s cultural scene and aims to strengthen it.

“This is a city of unmatched cultural richness that expresses itself on sidewalks, in storefronts, in museums, theaters and parks in every single corner of the five boroughs. New York City is the world capital of art and culture,” said Mayor de Blasio. “If we are going to continue to live up to that title we must use every tool we have to ensure that every resident, in every neighborhood, has the same access to cultural opportunities.”

Highlights of the plan include increased support for low-income communities and underrepresented groups, the promotion of greater diversity and equity in the workforce, financial support for individual artists, expanded access to cultural events for people with disabilities, and collaboration with arts organizations on sustainability goals.

In anticipation of the plan’s release, a coalition of artists and activists outlined a number of grievances they believed were not being addressed and published their own proposal for arts funding in May, which they called the People’s Cultural Plan. The seventeen-page document urges the city to overhaul housing, labor, and development laws and criticizes de Blasio for contracting developers who have close ties with the mayor. Major arts institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is currently facing a number of challenges, including a $10 million deficit, were also anxious that the redistribution of funds and de Blasio’s pledge to give more to smaller organizations would result in less financial support. Their worries have been put to rest, since the plan maintains the level of monies allotted to many of the city’s cultural giants.

A new concern for the Cultural Institutions Group (CIG), comprising thirty-three institutions that receive financial support from the city in exchange for reduced-admissions costs, including the Met, Carnegie Hall, and the American Museum of Natural History, is the unprecedented proposal to link funding to diversity goals. If these institutions don’t make diversifying their staffs a priority, they may receive less financial support from the city. While the plan doesn’t elaborate on what diversity targets will look like, Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl told the New York Times that diversity reporting from city-funded groups “is the next step [in working] toward a cultural sector that is fairer, more equitable and looks like the city it serves.”

Katy Clark, the president of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which receives funding from the city, said, “I actually welcome the mandate. You have to consider it in every hire. You have to work a little harder, but the talent is there.”

According to the New York Times, the city’s cultural budget for fiscal year 2018, which increased arts spending by $18.5 million, is $188.1 million. The funding boost will allow the city to support more small arts organizations in underrepresented communities. It will also be used to create a professional development program for minorities who want to join the cultural workforce, as well as a new fund to support translation services at institutions across the city, which will meet the needs of about 50 percent of New Yorkers who speak a language other than English at home. In addition, funds will be given to grant partners to increase monies available to individual artists, since the Department of Cultural Affairs finds that 75 percent of artists must resort to supporting their art practice with income from other sources.

Planning for CreateNYC first kicked off in the fall of 2016. City officials met with more than 30,000 residents who attended more than 400 events, and engaged with more than 150,000 individuals who participated online in order to assess the needs of New York’s cultural sector. Among the many organizations that submitted formal proposals for the plan are the NYC Artist Coalition, Dance/NYC, the Disability/Arts/New York Taskforce, and the Cultural Equity Group.

“Getting out to communities in all five boroughs for CreateNYC has been a transformative experience for my agency, and we are so grateful for everyone who contributed their time, voices, and efforts to creating this groundbreaking plan,” said Finkelpearl. “With our colleagues throughout the de Blasio Administration, our most pressing priorities are increasing support for culture communities that have for too long have gotten less than their neighbors, and ensuring that the staffs and boards of our iconic institutions reflect the diverse and vibrant public they serve. We have our marching orders from the residents of this great city. Now it’s time to get back to work.”