Jul 25, 2008

Arts funding

Arts organizations are struggling to stay in NYC. Many arts organizations and artists speak of a "crisis in the arts", with artists leaving New York to move to more affordable cities. I know of artists who have moved to Berlin and to Philadelphia because they can no longer afford NYC.

Yet, according to Borough President Scott Stringer, tourists say art and cultural institutions are the number one reason why they come to NY. Tourism generated $28 billion in revenue for NYC last year (here, page 8). In the UK, the Tate Modern is the second most visited attraction in the country. Like sports and entertainment, the arts generate huge secondary and tertiary revenue streams.

People want to visit cities that have a vital and diverse cultural scene. New York was once such a city. But with the brain-drain of artists leaving the city, it looks more and more likely that New York (and especially Manhattan) will become a place where art is seen, but not made.

Meanwhile, New York City gave 9.6 million dollars of public ICIP subsidies to chain retail stores like The Gap, and $350,000 to fast food restaurants like McDonalds. Not one tourist came to New York because of McDonalds or The Gap. Yet we subsidize these large corporations to the tune of millions of dollars. At the same time, the US consistently sits at the bottom of the charts in terms of public funding of the arts.

I believe the case for government support of the arts here has never been stronger. We must invest in the arts if we want to keep NY as a cultural capital.

However, such funding must also reach the broadest range of art forms. All too often, any government of the arts is linked to a social agenda. Arts are expected to be able to show a direct impact. This kind of approach to arts funding is fundamentally wrong. It is flawed reasoning to argue that the arts must show some kind of direct economic, educational or social benefits. Secondary and tertiary revenue streams already justify investment in the arts.

I believe we need to increase government funding of the arts in New York. In addition, arts funding organizations should drop social agendas, and instead rely on peer review by a diverse group of art experts to identify what arts should be funded.

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