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Let’s Fight for Arts Funding:

April 1, 2017

In the federal executive branch’s budget proposal released March 16, the National Endowments for the Arts (NEA) and Humanities (NEH) as well as the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) are marked to be completely eliminated. Together last year, they granted $29.5 million to New York City. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, also under threat, provided another $28.4 million for public media programming in the five boroughs. Losing these essential institutions would be devastating for hundreds of New York City cultural organizations. The proposal is also shortsighted at the national level.

After the federal government, New York City is the next-largest public funder of culture in the nation. Far from being under threat, our Department of Cultural Affairs expense budget has increased under each of our last three mayors. In inflation-adjusted dollars, Cultural Affairs averaged $162.3 million during Rudolph Giuliani’s tenure, $170.4 million with Michael Bloomberg, and $171.2 million under Bill de Blasio. Sure, there was a rocky moment with Mayor Giuliani regarding an exhibition his administration found offensive, but even then there was no public discussion of abolishing the agency. Under conservative, moderate, and progressive mayors, and working with a series of pro-culture City Councils, this funding has remained the bedrock of our budget.

One good reason for this is that New Yorkers and our elected officials clearly see the value of investment in culture. On an individual level, people point to the transformative experiences that can bring joy and enlightenment while building empathy. Museums connect us to history. Gardens and zoos connect us to nature. Live performance connects audiences with each other and the imaginations of the artists, performers, and authors involved. Literature can draw us into experiences that transcend boundaries of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and disability.

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