Clashes between chief executives in government, state and local legislatures, and arts advocates are an annual ritual of the budget process that resembles lemmings leaping off cliffs and wiser species trying to pull them back from the brink. It’s not a pretty dance. One of the problems as I see it, however, is that some arts advocates’ issues warning every year that sound more dire than the last. There is a real danger of a “boy who cried wolf” mentality. I believe that the nonprofit business model for theater is on life support, but that doesn’t mean we should be unwise in our baseline desire to aid the patient.
So I applaud what the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York, which represents roughly 500 small, midsized and large nonprofit theater companies, is doing right now to fight Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed cuts in city funding. Executive Director Ginny Louloudes recently sent out an email to her constituents that, yes, lays out the peril in alarming detail, yet without melodramatic apocalypse talk.
Louloudes divides the drama into three acts. In the first section, the exposition:
Mayor’s Proposed Executive Budget recommends $39.2 million cut to Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA). Since the FY 2010 DCA budget was adopted last June, Mayor Bloomberg further reduced DCA funding by about 3.4 % and is proposing another 8% cut to baseline funding.
Last year, the City Council provided an additional $27 million to the DCA budget (including $5 million for Cultural After School Adventures (CASA)), which resulted in a much larger adopted budget of $158,993,895. Since we have no way of knowing if the Council will renew this year’s restoration, we have to work hard over the next few weeks to meet with our Council members (who represent where we live, rehearse, have offices and perform). Without the City Council’s full restorations to the DCA baseline, CASA, and other discretionary funding, the size of the cut will be closer to 40.6% for the Program Groups and 20.7% for the Cultural Institution Groups (CIG).
The Mayor is also proposing a contingency plan budget in the event that Governor Paterson’s proposed budget is approved by the Legislature, resulting in an additional cut of $9,461,000 from the DCA budget. It is unclear how these cuts would be applied to the CIG’s and the Program Groups. However, given the fact that the deficit in Albany is already $8.2 billion, there is reason to be concerned that the Mayor’s Contingency Plan may become reality.
This is excellent, straightforward information that should drive home the seriousness of the situation, not unlike the recent awareness-raising of Norma Munn of the New York City Arts Coalition, which suggested that funding for the New York State Council on the Arts could very well fall to a level last seen in 1985.
Louloudes devotes her second act to a climax — crystallizing the theater community’s predicament:
Last year the Mayor was able to use his “rainy day” fund to help fill the deficit. This year, no safeguards exist, so he is forced to propose deeper cuts to balance the City budget. Nevertheless, the Mayor’s preliminary budget proposes deep cuts to a sector which is suffering potential cuts to the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) not to mention cuts from foundations, corporations and individuals. Because Gov. Paterson is facing his own budget nightmares, he is delivering a particularly harsh budget to the City, making it that much harder for the Mayor to propose a budget that doesn’t cut every agency. In order to prepare for this eventuality the Mayor is also proposing a contingency plan. In fact, the Mayor is already meeting with Council members to prepare them for what some see as even deeper cuts.
Finally, Louloudes turns the denouement into a call to action — and frankly, it’s time somebody in the industry did this.
In fact, there are two calls to action.
The Arts are also $25 billion industry in New York State! Why make a 40% cut to one of the City’s and State’s greatest assets? While this cut to DCA will play a tiny role in balancing the City budget, it will have a major impact on an industry that is one of the jewels in the Crown of New York City.
DCA-funded arts organizations employ tens of thousands of people throughout New York City and its surrounding area. What is more, our audience members and staff dine at neighborhood restaurants; park their cars in neighborhood parking garages, and shop in local stores. In fact, it is safe to assume that a couple attending a performing arts event will easily spend at least $50 on dinner and $10-$30 on parking or taxi cabs. When there are no performances at these institutions, these businesses experience a considerable loss of income.
The largest growth in employment in the United States over the past decade has been in Small Businesses. And there of hundreds of local small businesses whose livelihoods depend upon the success of their local arts organizations. For example, DCA-funded theatres create business for local hardware stores, lumber companies, dry cleaners, printers and graphic designers, public relations and advertising agencies, photography studios, to name just a few.
Louloudes asks ART/NY members, including staffs, boards and audience members, send the letter to their appropriate representative on the Council (and borough presidents, too).
Personally, I think that’s insufficient — the letter should be emailed to all members of the Council en masse. Flood the living daylights out of them. The theater community is not only one being threatened by a massive budget cut. To be heard, raising the volume is going to be key.
The second call to action is also a letter, this one to be given to vendors and business operators, small or large, in the areas where nonprofit theater companies work, live and especially perform. This letter reads, in part:
My name is _______ and I am the Owner/Manager of _________, I understand from my colleagues in the arts that the level of DCA funding proposed in the Mayor’s FY 11 Preliminary Budget is $39.2 million less than funding levels in the Adopted Budget. I am writing to urge you to restore the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) Cultural Affairs baseline, CASA and other discretionary money so that our arts organizations can survive. Their success plays a key role in the success of my business and other small businesses in the neighborhood.
I can honestly say that patrons of ____ theatre represent approximately __% of my customers . What is more, our customers don’t just spend their money on dinner or lunch; they park their cars in neighborhood parking garages, and shop in local stores. When there are no performances at our local arts organizations, I can tell. Business goes down.
If the Mayor’s proposed funding cut goes through the above mentioned theatres will have to trim their budgets. Perhaps the theatre will have to run their shows for fewer weeks or produce one less play. Every lost performance is a serious loss in income for my business.
The largest growth in employment in the United States over the past decade has been in Small Businesses. And there of hundreds of local small businesses whose livelihoods depend upon the success of their local theatre, dance company, art gallery, museum, opera company or media center. For example, DCA-funded theatres create business for local hardware stores, lumber companies, clothing stores, dry cleaners, printers and graphic designers, public relations and advertising agencies, and photography studios, to name just a few. Connect the dots to all of these industries, and you can begin to get the picture: less arts funding = cuts in expenditures at hardware stores; dry cleaners, printing companies, advertising agencies and print and radio advertising. In fact, the economic impact of the arts goes so far beyond what we consider to be arts support industries — especially in New York City — where the arts are a primary tourist attraction.
Louloudes notes that ART/NY is “arranging for visits with key Council members and their staffs” and we hope they are equally aggressive in this effort.
Again, I believe the nonprofit business model for theater is fundamentally dysfunctional, reactive and unsustainable. While I and others make the case, it’s important that the hundreds of nonprofits theaters operating in New York City be able to produce — which is to say that I’m not in favor of hurling tens of thousands of people out of work or closing too many businesses to count. Therefore, there is tremendous importance to be placed on ART/NY’s campaign. And if the community cannot get its act together immediately, who will it blame if Bloomberg wields a scythe and guts the living heart out of culture funding?
So get moving. Now.