Thursday, January 15, 2009

Alliance for the Arts Releases New Study: "Culture Builds New York"

Into the dismaying sea of relentless bad news for the arts comes an interesting and -- dare we say it -- encouraging new report from Alliance for the Arts. Culture Builds New York: The Economic Impact of Capital Construction at New York City's Cultural Institutions, 2003-2010 examines the many construction projects initiated by New York City's creative sector over the last few years from the key viewpoints of job creation and economic impact. And while I strongly suspect that the organization's president, Randall Bourscheidt, very actively doesn't like me (I should ask the Alliance's always-terrific director of marketing and product management, Joe Harrell, about that), I'm reprinting the press release I received yesterday because the numbers and the analysis is essential reading for arts advocates. True, many of these numbers were first crunched in 2007 and thus may prove somewhat out of date. The greater point is how essential construction projects have been to the sector, regardless of the vagaries of the economic climate.

While my posting this information doesn't mean I am stepping away from my post in which I seriously question whether arts advocates begging Governor Paterson not to cut funding for NYSCA is the smartest way to handle our economic downturn, I do feel that maintaining funding for construction projects is arguably more essential to the sector's survival.

I heartily encourage you to please download the entire report (21 pages) by clicking here.

And now, the press release (with thanks again for Joe Harrell!):

Building Projects at Cultural Institutions Buoy New York City Economy

Construction spending and related development undertaken by cultural institutions in New York City will have an economic impact of $2.2 billion and create 2,500 full-time equivalent jobs per year in the period from 2006 to 2010, according to CULTURE BUILDS NEW YORK: The Economic Impact of Capital Construction at New York City's Cultural Institutions, 2003-2010, a report released today by the Alliance for the Arts.

The Alliance for the Arts, a nonprofit advocacy and research organization, also determined that construction activity will result in $670 million in construction-related wages over the five-year period from 2006 to 2010 and generate an estimated $28.5 million in local taxes for New York City.

"With ambitious projects like the redevelopment of Lincoln Center, the expansion of the Queens Museum of Art, the renovation of El Museo del Barrio and the expansion of Museum of the City of New York going forward, our cultural institutions are playing an especially important role in today's construction market as well as making a major investment in the future of New York," said Randall Bourscheidt, president of the Alliance for the Arts.

The study also reports that 94 projects completed from 2003 to 2005 had an impact of $1.85 billion and generated 3,460 jobs, $560 million in wages and $40.6 million in City taxes.

"Arts and culture continues to be a pillar of economic strength in New York City and a leading driver of activity for the building industry," said Richard Anderson, president of the New York Building Congress, a co-sponsor of the study. As this report demonstrates, the City's cultural institutions will be a major source of construction spending and employment over the next two years, which will help counteract the current downturn and ensure that these institutions are poised to accommodate future growth as the regional and world economies rebound."

The report, prepared by consulting economists Rosemary Scanlon and Catherine Lanier, cites examples of new construction already completed, including the New Museum on the Bowery, the Brooklyn Children's Museum in Central Brooklyn and the Museum of Arts and Design on Columbus Circle. The list of projects currently under construction includes the billion-dollar renovation and expansion of Lincoln Center, a new visitors and education center at the Weeksville Preservation Society in Brooklyn, a new parking garage at the New York Botanical Garden, fa├žade restoration at the Public Theater, renovations at the New-York Historical Society and the exterior restoration of Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center.

The report cites the critical importance of capital funding from the City of New York. The Department of Cultural Affairs currently has $1 billion planned for capital construction at more than 200 organizations through 2013, making it the single largest funder of this activity. City investment also helps attract private-sector funding for capital projects at cultural institutions.

"Over the past seven years, we have significantly expanded City funding for cultural capital projects, supporting an increasingly diverse array of organizations across the five boroughs," said Kate D. Levin, Commissioner of Cultural Affairs. "Our efforts have catalyzed major private-sector support. During tough economic times, this public-private partnership becomes even more important, helping to strengthen our economy, provide employment, boost tourism, and improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods."

Despite the importance of local government funding, this building activity is primarily being paid for by private contributions, by individual philanthropists as well as corporations and foundations. This combination of private contributions--much of it already pledged or received before projects begin construction--and the City's capital support, makes it possible for most of these projects to go forward despite the economic downturn. This is good news for neighborhood stability and the city's ability to attract cultural tourists.

"This decade and the 1990s will be seen as a period of major expansion of New York's cultural infrastructure, with benefits not only during the construction phase but for years to come," said Mr. Bourscheidt.

In addition to the NY Building Congress, the report was made possible by funding from the Empire State Development Corporation, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, American Express, the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the New York Community Trust, F.J. Sciame Construction, Time Warner, Consolidated Edison, the Loews Foundation, Christie's and Martin E. Segal.

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