In 2021, as the pandemic rampaged all economies, New York City’s arts budget was slashed by 11% for the 2021 fiscal year, bringing 2020’s record-high budget of $212 million for the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) down to $189 million. This April, that number came down even lower, with just $170.2 million allocated to the DCLA for Fiscal Year 2022. Meanwhile, the city has lost two-thirds of its arts and recreation jobs, according to a report in February by NY State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
Against this backdrop, the recovery challenges facing New York’s next mayor are immense. As the June 22 primary draws near, we rounded up the top six contenders and summarized their priorities for the sector if elected. (While absent from this list, also in the race is Brooklyn rapper Paperboy Love Prince, the only artist of 15 candidates on the ballot, who is not among the six front-runners.)
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In his role as Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams allocated a total of $32.3 million in capital funding to various arts and culture projects in fiscal years 2015 through 2020; he also approved an $8 million windfall for local cultural institutions in 2016, including the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Public Library, and called for more federal support for the arts at the height of the pandemic.
In his bid for mayor, he’s making big promises for the sector, in particular for hard-hit small organizations. Like other candidates’ post-pandemic recovery strategies, Adams’s “Reviving the Heart of the Arts” plan focuses on repurposing the city’s untapped spaces: transforming storefronts into free studios and co-working hubs; expanding access to school facilities for smaller and community-based orgs; and getting NYC Parks and the DCLA to greenlight more open spaces for use as stages, art installations, and cultural events.
Other notable points from the proposal include extending the eviction and mortgage moratorium for cultural institutions and creating a mortgage subsidy for landlords of arts organizations, both incredibly ambitious goals. Adams also wants to invest in “green art” by commissioning artists to create murals with “paint that turns pollutants and harmful compounds into harmless nitrates and carbonates in the atmosphere,” and supports private-public partnerships to put up murals on blighted properties.
Recently, though, the mayoral hopeful faced backlash for his comments on the “ugly rise in graffiti,” adding that the ubiquitous tags adorning the city lead to “lawlessness” and criticizing Mayor De Blasio’s move to cut graffiti removal from the budget last year. Some have lambasted this perspective and said it is at odds with his stated commitment to helping artists working outside of the traditional art world. —Valentina Di Liscia
Throughout her career, the lifelong Brooklynite and New York Times-endorsed candidate has tackled a range of large-scale catastrophes, from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to hunger during the pandemic. When it comes to leading the city in the post-pandemic era, she believes economic recovery is “dependent on the revival of art, music, dance, theater,” a campaign spokesperson told Hyperallergic.
Inspired by successful outdoor dining models improvised by restaurants in the last year, Garcia’s strategy for the cultural sector centers on unlocking the full potential of public spaces. By reforming the concessions and public art permitting process, she says she’ll make hundreds of thousands of square feet available for pop-up theater performances, art installations, and commercial markets.
Garcia’s “Reopen to Stay Open” plan stands out for its highly specific promises: giving local businesses a full year of fine and fee relief during the first year of her administration, for instance, and “fixing the broken process” for funding capital projects at arts institutions so they can receive down payments without going into debt when accepting city funding. Other arts-adjacent targets include securing 10,000 paid internships for students through private sector partnerships — sorely needed in NYC, where unpaid internships are still legal and prevailingly common in the art world.
And a fun fact: in her former role as New York City Sanitation Commissioner, she helped launch the quirky “Trucks of Art” project in 2019, commissioning artists to hand-paint murals on garbage trucks that remind New Yorkers to “keep New York City healthy, safe, and clean.” — VD
For a decade between 2010 and 2020, Morales led the Bronx-based Phipps Neighborhoods, a social services organization in the Bronx — making her the only candidate with significant, long-term experience running a nonprofit. On the flip side, her campaign has also suffered the fate of many arts nonprofits, with workers going public to allege a toxic work environment last month. Morales, considered the furthest left option on the ballot, proceeded to fire several employees involved in a unionizing effort, a move that has been questioned by her fellow progressives.
The Morales Campaign did not respond to Hyperallergic’s requests for information on the candidate’s arts track record or priorities, but she has stated a commitment to expanding funding for arts organizations in the city, primarily groups that serve communities of color hardest hit by the pandemic. Rather than “developing a list of arts groups in a silo,” her administration would consult with those communities to determine which institutions to support.
Her platform for small businesses also includes advancing municipal full employment through a “Jobs and Justice Program” focused on local artists, public works, and ecological conservation efforts, among others. In a recent mayoral forum on the arts hosted by Lincoln Center and New Yorkers for Culture and Arts, Morales said she strongly believes in art’s role for “healing and learning” and shared that her daughter, who has a disability, discovered musical theater as a way to cope and thrive. — VD
While Scott Stringer’s campaign was unable to provide the candidate’s plan for the arts sector by press time, his public appearances provide some information about his priorities. In a recent virtual town hall meeting conducted by the nonprofit group New Yorkers for the Arts and Culture, the current NYC comptroller said that he would invest $1 billion in small businesses, including arts organizations. He also said that the city should purchase 250,000 tickets to arts venues and launch a “massive public works program for artists and public art.”
“There can be no economic recovery in our communities unless we come to terms with the challenges we face with arts and culture,” Stringer added.
In 2019, Stringer released a comprehensive report in his role as NYC comptroller on the significance of the arts to the city’s economy. The report, released before the devastation wrought on the arts sector by the COVID-19 pandemic, called to do more to strengthen and sustain the city’s “sprawling yet often fragile cultural eco-system.”
The report also urged the city to increase funding for cultural nonprofits, promote “cultural districts,” and utilize existing public space for cultural projects, among other recommendations.
“To fortify and grow the creative sector and expand access to New Yorkers of all incomes and ethnicities,” it reads, “the City must first and foremost treat the sector as the economic engine and resource that it is, and at the same time tackle the challenge of making the City more secure and affordable for creative workers.” — Hakim Bishara
“Any discussion of our economic recovery — not to mention our moral and cultural recovery — must begin with supporting the artists and arts work in our city,” says Maya Wiley on her website.
The civil rights lawyer, who was recently endorsed by Congress members Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Hakeem Jeffries, proposes $1 billion in capital spending to support the arts and culture in NYC.
Among her pledges is a $100 million “Creative Economy Recovery Program” to put arts and culture workers back to work and help cultural institutions get back on their feet. The program would provide direct grants to struggling artists and small arts organizations in the city.
Wiley’s progressive agenda also includes protecting performing artists against “wealthy venues and artistic institutions attempting to scale back wages,” and increasing opportunities for women and artists of color.
The former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio also wishes to stage a citywide “Grand Re-opening” festival to celebrate the city’s comeback. According to the plan, the arts and entertainment festival will take place throughout the week of Labor Day and will incorporate elements of San Genaro, Mardi Gras, and the World’s fair. — HB
The former presidential hopeful wants to invest in vaccine verification tools, namely vaccine passports, as one of the ways to facilitate the recovery of arts and entertainment venues. And to bring tourists back, he proposes launching the “largest marketing campaign in NYC history.”
Yang gained popularity during the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries for proposing a universal basic income (UBI) of $1,000 a month to every American adult. For New York, he proposes a different basic income program that would give $2,000 a month to about 500,000 people living below the poverty line. Along with this program, Yang proposes a “universal portable benefits fund” to support healthcare benefits for artists and art workers who are not covered by their employers.
A significant chunk of Yang’s plan to revive the arts sector is dedicated to Broadway theaters. A major part of the plan is to partner with the private sector to buy blocks of theatre tickets in a program he calls “Always New York.” — HB