We’re a Team … Aren’t We?

It’s the holiday season and so I, like many of you, have been getting hundreds of requests for donations from cultural groups. This got me thinking about money and funding and NYC and Wall Street and Occupy Wall Street and the arts (hereafter known as The Arts). 

You might wonder – how is she going to link all of these together? Well, I just read Diane Ragsdale’s latest blog about arts institutions and artist’s pay, and then happened to see a post in the LA Times about the latest NEA cuts (there have been two this year, totaling 12.7%). Then I began thinking about NYC and the question “what are the engines that drive the NYC economy”? I think we know that two of the most important engines are Wall Street and The Arts. How does Wall Street support NYC? They pay taxes, invest in businesses, buy real estate, luxury goods, eat in restaurants, and attend concerts and plays, among other things. How do The Arts drive NYC’s economy? They are a magnet for tourism, which support hotels, restaurants, stores, Broadway and concerts. Add to that all the New Yorkers who also spend money on all of these things and you’re looking at around Six Billion Dollars a year!

Why would anyone want to live in this crowded, noisy, expensive place, where they probably can’t afford a large apartment or a house?? It’s all the great stuff that The Arts provide!!! And how could all those great restaurants, bars, jazz clubs, concert halls, museums, galleries, theaters, etc survive here without the critical mass of Artists to create all of this great art?? A Chronicle on Philanthropy article says that the cultural budget from the city to arts groups is down to about 100 million dollars for this year. For more information read this Crain’s New York Article.

“Where is she going” you wonder? Hmmmm?? Several places it turns out. While we bailed out Wall Street when they were about to fail, and we pay bankers an obscene amount of money, we continue to grossly underfund and underpay The Arts and The Artists. In the same city where those bankers were saved, we argue about saving The Arts and paying the artists. Check out this article in the New York Times that compares bankers salaries with everyone else in the private sector. The average artist’s salary is about $46,000 a year! 

Why are we are willing to lose the NYC Opera, the Brooklyn Phil, and many other important arts groups, but not willing to ask the banks to give back to the community by keeping these and other groups alive in these times? If we funded our cultural treasures at a small percentage of what we were willing to give Wall Street in the bailout we would be talking expansion of The Arts. At the national level the NEA is barely a tenth of one percent of our federal budget (which we just cut again). Why are we so unwilling to fund this engine of growth and subsequently pay artists a living wage? Why is government so unwilling to see The Arts as both an engine of economic development (Rocco Landesmann our NEA chief understands) and as important for the well being of our communities?

Clearly most artists are a part of the 99%. If the 1% would like all those people to keep eating, drinking, buying and investing in NYC then they need to find a way to keep The Arts healthy. NYC has a symbiotic relationship with its artists and moneyed class, we all have to work together to create, fund, and support our great city. 


Barbara Siesel

(Source: greengolly.com)

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