Tuesday, August 14, 2007

New Formula for NYC Arts Funding

I hope everyone has had an opportunity to read and digest Robin Pogrebin's customarily good reporting in The New York Times on the new economic formula for nonprofit arts funding in New York City. This is absolutely a welcome -- and long overdue -- development. I'm pasting in the text of the piece below -- you should all read it and understand all of its implications and realize that, good as it is, it's no solution to the larger problem of arts funding and the various dysfunctional by-products of the nonprofit business model.

The one thing, however, that makes me wince/guffaw/roll my eyes is the subtextual wheezing and carping of Karen Brooks Hopkins of BAM. I mean, BAM has more money than most of the performing arts presenters and organizers in town, and it has all the prestige, board members, marquee names, connections, too, and what does she do? She grumbles, "The real question is, in this new world where we don’t have a budget dance, what can we do to not lose ground?"

Perhaps understand that your organization is not the center of the performing arts universe and that perhaps now your ability to hire lobbyists isn't going to be the one-trick pony that'll keep you fed and funded?

Perhaps understand that your organization was hitherto benefiting under a system that was punishing -- starving, ruining, torturing -- smaller organizations?

Anyway, here's Robin's story:

August 13, 2007
New Formula Means More Money for Arts Groups in New York

Correction Appended

The Mark Morris Dance Group got $80,000, up from $12,000 last year. The Flux Factory, an arts center in Long Island City, Queens, got $20,000, up from $3,000 last year. And the Mama Foundation for the Arts, which teaches gospel music, jazz and R&B in Harlem, got $12,500, up from $5,000.

These groups, which learned of their allotments on Aug. 3, are among the beneficiaries of the city’s new formula for allocating money to cultural organizations. The sums are appropriations for fiscal 2008, which actually started on July 1.

In the timeworn budget dance, the mayor made cuts to the city’s cultural budget and the City Council then restored various amounts. Some arts organizations received fixed allocations in the budget and lobbied City Council members for additional discretionary funds.

But this year, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the City Council announced that they were breaking with that system. Arts groups that are not on city-owned land competed for $30 million in financing from the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs. And the 34 arts organizations on city-owned land, known as the Cultural Institutions Group, were allotted a total of $115.3 million, with an additional $4.4 million for “new needs.”

Last week arts organizations found out what those changes actually meant for them. It is the non-city-owned institutions — known collectively as the programs group — that saw the most striking improvement. These institutions used to compete for money from a $3.8 million fund established in 2003 by the Department of Cultural Affairs. Now that fund has been increased to $30 million, and it is allotted by peer-review panels. Between March and June these panels evaluated the applications on a range of criteria, from education programs to management and financial stability.

Three-Legged Dog, a media and theater group in downtown Manhattan, was one of the many groups large and small that reaped benefits from the new system. The organization received $28,500, its first operating stipend from the city.

Other non-city-owned institutions did similarly well. The Joyce Theater, which presents dance in Chelsea and SoHo, saw its city financing rise to $155,000 from $45,000 last year. The Queens County Farm Museum got $245,000, up from $76,000. The American Folk Art Museum received $225,000, compared with $6,000. The Noguchi Museum in Long Island City got $200,000, up from $140,000. The Roundabout Theater Company received $163,000, up from $134,000.

“On the program side we were really trying to reform a funding process — it was unclear, it was unpredictable, it was unfair,” said Kate D. Levin, the cultural affairs commissioner.

“In the past, dollar amounts were dependent on lobbying — people didn’t have equal access,” she added. “When you move to a merit-based process, you start being able to get more money to more organizations and reflect the strength and diversity of the field.”

The money going to the Mama Foundation, which has a school as well as performing programs, will enhance the organization’s efforts to teach gospel music and its history to teenagers, a program that now involves about 300 students, up from 70. “So much music has been taken out of the schools that we thought it was necessary to supplement it,” said Vy Higginsen, the foundation’s chief executive and executive director.

For the members of the so-called Cultural Institutions Group — including organizations like the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Queens Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art — the increases were not as large, and some were worried that their allocations were limited to one year. “We were generally pleased,” said Tom Finkelpearl, the chairman of the Cultural Institutions Group, but he added: “We’re concerned about the next fiscal year. A lot of funding was one-time funding.”

The Brooklyn Academy of Music received about $4 million, close to what it got last year. “We didn’t really gain, but we didn’t lose,” said Karen Brooks Hopkins, the academy’s president. “The real question is, in this new world where we don’t have a budget dance, what can we do to not lose ground?”

Starting in the 2009 fiscal year, which begins in July 2008, the 34 arts groups will be guaranteed 90 percent of their funds. The rest will be conditioned on their performance through a new evaluation and accountability process called CultureStat. City-owned arts groups will be reviewed in areas including board governance and financial management and may receive a portion of the 10 percent balance even if they do not qualify for the whole amount.

Because of the push and pull between the mayor and the council that was normal in the past, arts groups often did not learn how much they were getting until February. In the future, Ms. Levin said, 75 percent of organizations will receive word by July and will get payments by August. Elizabeth Egbert, the president and chief executive of the Staten Island Museum, said that this was a significant step. “This year, for the first time, we received word of the final budget number in time to include an accurate number in our own budget, which helped tremendously in planning,” she said. “Since our board votes on the museum budget in June each year, knowing the city allocation in advance, rather than in January, six months into the fiscal year, is obviously a better situation.”

In addition, groups with budgets of $250,000 or more will eventually be accorded three-year figures, so they can count on a certain level of funding. Organizations with smaller budgets will continue to receive annual appropriations.

Some 170 groups also used to get a fixed amount of money every year as “line items” that were written into the budget and have been frozen since 1989. Those have been eliminated.

Instead arts groups have to make a case for themselves based on the work that they do and the public service they provide. “We’ve been able to be more responsive to the needs of organizations that are extremely different,” Ms. Levin said.

She said the city was now essentially able to say: “We hear you. We hear you have this particular need at this particular moment.”

Correction: August 14, 2007

An article in The Arts yesterday about grants awarded to arts organizations by New York City under a new formula misstated part of the name of a dance company receiving a grant. It is the Mark Morris Dance Group, not Company.

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