People of Color Fight for a Place in New York's Money-Driven Arts Ecosystem

A small number of legacy arts institutions are sweeping up vast shares of public art funding, while newer immigrant and ethnic arts groups in New York City are clamoring for the remaining resources.

A new coalition of artists and advocates is pushing the city to increase access to arts dollars for those who have been left out.¬†The group has put together a 17-page document called the People’s Cultural Plan to serve as a set of policy recommendations for the city government which, if implemented, would more definitively benefit smaller arts groups — often grassroots organizations run by immigrant or minority artists.

The document comes in response to a cultural plan unveiled by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in July 2017. Called CreateNYC, the plan aims to “serve as a roadmap to a more inclusive, equitable, and resilient cultural ecosystem, in which all residents have a stake.”

Those behind the People’s Cultural Plan argue that CreateNYC isn’t doing enough. And access to funding is where smaller groups suffer. According to CreateNYC, in fiscal-year 2017, $111 million of the $177 million Department of Cultural Affairs budget was granted to just 33 large institutions. These organizations are members of the Cultural Institutions Group, made up of culturally significant, generally well-established public institutions. This imbalance of funding comes at the expense of smaller, often immigrant or minority-run arts groups, which then face stiff competition for the remaining resources.

Nicole Reiner, an organizer of the People’s Cultural Plan, noted that there are about 1,000 smaller and often less established organizations that then must compete for what is left of the budget. Manhattan receives “ten times the funding per capita compared to Queens,” she said.

Reiner believes the problem persists because people are “stuck to a definition of artistic quality that’s grounded in elite Eurocentric norms” that advantage already-privileged organizations.


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