Leaders from over 30 arts institutions across New York City are urging Mayor Eric Adams to restore funding to the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA). The coalition published a letter to the mayor this Tuesday, January 16, hours before he released his preliminary 2025 budget, which maintained the DCLA cuts announced last fall. City Council will approve a final budget by the end of June.

“A cut for culture deals a blow to the millions of New Yorkers who walk through our doors annually, 2.5 million NYC students, and more than 6,000 citizens that benefit from our workforce development programs,” reads the missive, signed by directors of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY), among others. 

The represented organizations are all members of NYC’s Cultural Institutions Group (CIG), comprising 34 arts centers located on city-owned land that maintain special private-public partnerships with the city. They receive capital and operational funding from NYC and remain accessible to all New Yorkers in exchange. 

In November, Adams slashed DCLA funding by $9.3 million, the majority of which directly affected CIGs, in his “Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG).” This savings plan also reduced DCLA spending by around $8 million annually until 2027. The now-infamous round of cuts drew widespread media attention when libraries were forced to close their doors on Sundays. Despite museum leaders’ outcry, Adams slashed DCLA spending again on Tuesday, shaving another $11.6 million from the agency’s 2024 fiscal year budget and posing a $5.4 million reduction for 2025. Once again, most of that money will affect CIGs, according to a spokesperson from the cultural group.

The letter points out that while the DCLA’s $222 million budget constitutes just 0.2% of the city’s spending as a whole, the recent funding pullbacks pose significant threats to CIGs and other cultural institutions. The missive describes them as “pennywise and pound foolish.” 

A Mayor’s Office spokesperson told Hyperallergic that the Adams administration has “championed the city’s arts and cultural institutions,” describing these organizations as “our partners in bringing New York City back.” 

However, the spokesperson added, “Facing unprecedented financial challenges, we must make difficult decisions to balance the budget, as required by law — and we continue to urge our state and federal partners to do their part and provide New Yorkers the resources they need.”

A site-specific dance performance at Snug Harbor (photo by Lance J. Reha, courtesy Snug Cultural Center and Botanical Garden)

Many institutions have already felt the effects. In Uptown Manhattan, the Museum of the City of New York shortened its evening hours and limited free professional programming. Director and President Stephanie Hill Wilchfort told Hyperallergic that city spending allows MCNY to offer pay-what-you-wish admission, free field trips for NYC public school students, and events such as free summer parties. Wilchfort explained that the museum is now “anticipating further contraction of programs and operations.” 

Cultural spending also benefits NYC’s economic health, museum leaders argue. 

“Simply stated — culture delivers,” the missive reads. Between 2022 and 2023, the number of NYC tourists grew from 57 million to 62 million and arts and culture jobs increased by 7%. 

The letter asserts that public spending on cultural organizations attracts private donations, stating that for every $1 of city funding, CIGs receive at least $3 in philanthropic contributions.

“Culture in NYC is the only (partially) City-funded service that generates a significant return-on-investment,” the missive reads.

Jessica Vodoor, the president and CEO of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanic Garden in Staten Island, spoke to Hyperallergic about the decreased city spending’s impact on her small institution.

“The funding cuts directly reduce our ability to invest deeply in artist support programs, our youth workforce programs, and the care and maintenance of an 83-acre city-owned site that we are charged to steward for the public benefit,” Vodoor said, adding that the cuts would also affect the educational, farming, and career programs that Snug Harbor offers to local artists and community groups. 

“Additionally, cuts of this scale will negatively impact our ability to maintain the treasured collection of historical New York City buildings and the incredible botanical gardens, which are provided to visitors free of charge,” she said.

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