Very smart of Alliance for the Arts to jump into the fragmenting fiscal fray by issuing a report — the full title of it is “The Recession and the Arts: The Impact of the Economic Downturn on Nonprofit Cultural Groups in New York City.”
Because of the depth of the crisis we’re in, let me skip to the basic findings of the report:
In December 2008, the Alliance for the Arts fielded a survey to nonprofit cultural organizations in New York City about the impact of the recent economic downturn. The responses came from a crosssection of organizations in all boroughs-reflecting the diversity of nonprofit cultural organizations in terms of audience, discipline and budget size.
The survey results capture a snapshot of the current climate of the cultural industry. Of the 100 responding organizations, 78 percent indicate that they have reduced their budgets or plan to do so; 50 percent plan to lay off employees; 69 percent will defer new hires and 45 percent plan to cancel or postpone programs within the next year.
Of the 18 organizations with budgets less than $100,000, 67 percent have reduced their budgets or plan to do so-some up to as much as 75 percent. The majority of these organizations are based in Manhattan (56 percent), 17 percent are in Brooklyn, 11 percent are in Staten Island, 11 percent are in Queens and 6 percent are in The Bronx. Of those organizations outside Manhattan, 75 percent have reduced their budgets or plan to do so; 50 percent plan to lay off employees as well as defer new
Eighty-one percent of the 32 organizations with budgets between $100,000 and $1 million report that they have reduced their budgets or plan to do so. One fourth of them plan to lay off employees and 69 percent plan to defer new hires within the next year. Forty-one percent plan to cancel or postpone programming and 47 percent plan to postpone moves or capital improvements. Sixty-three percent of these organizations are located in Manhattan, 16 percent are in Staten Island, 9 percent are in Brooklyn, 6 percent are in The Bronx and 6 percent are in Queens.
Seventy-nine percent of organizations with budgets between $1 million and $10 million plan to cut their budgets up to 30 percent over the next year. Among these organizations planning to cut their budgets, 67 percent are in Manhattan, 15 percent are in The Bronx, 11 percent are in Brooklyn and 7 percent are in Staten Island. Fifty-six percent of organizations within this budget range plan to lay off employees and 27 percent plan to defer new hires within the next year. Forty-one percent plan to postpone or cancel programming within the year.
Organizations with budgets over $10 million were similarly affected, with 80 percent indicating that they have reduced their budget or plan to do so-some up to 53 percent. Of the 15 largest organizations, 53 percent plan to lay off employees and another 80 percent plan to defer new hires within the year. Although 53 percent plan to cancel or postpone programming within the year, all of the organizations within this budget range intend to proceed with their planned fundraising schedule. Of the organizations planning moves or capital improvements, 36 percent anticipate postponing their plans. Sixty percent of the largest organizations are located in Manhattan; The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens each account for 13 percent.
My question: What does the president of Alliance for the Arts, Randall Bourscheidt (who I am told does not hate me, though he’s never contacted me as I was told he would), propose that the community do about the situation? Is it really as simple as saying to the mayor or the governor, “Look how you’re hurting us!” and will the usual sob stories really fly this time? Isn’t this really a fiscal impact question? In my new essay published in the Fox Forum, Do We Need a Secretary of the Arts?, I deal with this issue at the federal level from what I think might be an out-of-the-box point of view. I’m quite certain Mr. Bourscheidt will think me spiritually possessed by some kind of scary Jacksonian Democrat zeal if and when he should read my essay, but surely, as terrific as all of this information is (and it is), isn’t it true that we need new ideas to move us forward? Why aren’t we asking him and his colleagues, where are the new models? When will our esteemed and understandably respected arts advocates going to do more than blithely aggregate, publish and analyze data, or sit on committees that present recommendations to the president but provide an equal or greater amount of time formulating, articulating and, indeed, demonstrating new ways of dealing with these horrendous and cyclical issues? Isn’t that what they’re paid to do?