Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Perils of Reflexively Begging Governor Paterson Not to Cut NYSCA

I suspect this post may get me into a certain amount of trouble, especially since it is assumed that I support maintaining the current appropriation for the New York State Council on the Arts. But I have to say that as a result of reading, research and much internal thought, I believe that the nonprofit arts community in New York State would be wise to face the fact that things are fiscally over the abyss, that some cut to NYSCA, perhaps one of frightening and disheartening magnitude, is probably coming and may in fact be, unfortunately, in order.

There is no lack of recognition on my part regarding the economic impact of the arts in our state. During my years at Back Stage, particularly during in the first few months and years of the post-Sept. 11 period, I reported extensively on the economic impact of the arts, and also how vital it is for high-profile stakeholders and arts advocates to make the case loudly and repeatedly to our elected officials that arts funding exists as a fiscal generator, not a monetary sinkhole. Whether each state-appropriated dollar yields $2 or $3 or $12 of impact isn't the point. It's essential that our elected officials know what those numbers are and know that the community possesses the wherewithal to increase them under the right economic conditions.

Today, forwarded to me from several friends, came the latest in a long string of emails imploring me to contact elected officials, including the governor, asking/demanding/begging for NYSCA's appropriation to be preserved at last year's level or at least cut minimally.

Here, it pains me to say, is that my problem with that: New York State faces a $15 billion deficit in the budget. By law, moreover, the state budget must be balanced. Failure to balance it would, at minimum, jeopardize the state's credit rating, something that has taken several gubernatorial administrations, and indeed several generations, to raise. The higher the cost of doing business, the more difficult it will be to restore ourselves to fiscal health.

So it seems to me that in this moment of socioeconomic peril, everyone must be asked to give a little. The question is what is fair to ask of the community? True, the slice of the arts community that directly benefits from NYSCA funding, which was $49 million during the last fiscal year, is not insubstantial. It's also not life support. What's really happening is that arts advocates know that forces less vulnerable to high-volume public pressure -- corporate philanthropy, personal philanthropy -- will be cutting back dramatically in the next one to three years based on the returns of their investments in the market. (In many cases, foundations run on two- to three-year rolling averages, so depletions in investment returns today tend to show up tomorrow or the day after that.) Arts advocates thus believe that a brew of grassroots outcrying will place enough pressure, if not guilt complexes, on the increasingly besieged Governor Paterson, to force an easing up of cuts to the NYSCA appropriation.

But is this right? And is there risk in the long run in our community not fully understanding or fully appreciating that everyone must sacrifice something in a moment of such monumental uncertainly. If and when we survive this crisis --and don't be sure we will -- what will the arts' part have been? If it isn't the $7 million in NYSCA funds suggested by the governor (on top of other cuts), what is? Is there give on this? For example, why are our arts advocates so low-volume with regard to developing, suggesting and promoting alternative funding mechanisms? I think, for example, that our leading arts advocates are imbeciles not to look seriously -- and I do mean seriously, not dismissively-seriously, at Denver's Scientific Cultural and Facilities District.

If not that model, what are our arts advocates doing so that our community may in the future be shielded from extreme market gyrations? Might New York State, just to put another idea on the table, derive benefit from creating, over a period of several years, a public-private endowment that would remove arts funding from the vagaries of legislative action? (I favor doing precisely that with the National Endowment for the Arts, which is not, in fact, an endowment.)

As I indicated at the start of this piece, these questions and positions will surely earn me little favor with the entrenched arts advocates with whom I almost otherwise side. But I truly believe we are at the precipice in this state economically, that we are well beyond the tricks and begging so successfully employed during prior downturns. For this is no ordinary cyclical downturn. It is my belief that those who work creatively in this moment will earn chits, political and otherwise, worth cashing in tomorrow. Those who simply howl at cuts without offering creative solutions, their hands outstretched like screeching beggars, will not.

I'm not saying don't take action! I'm simply saying that we should consider whether screaming is the most progressive way to function in this tough environment. I'm also saying -- and this is key -- that if the arts sacrifice, the arts must make sure that everyone sacrifices. If we know that all areas are sacrificing, we must do our part.

So here, then, is the email I received:

Paterson Proposes Cuts to NYSCA
On Tuesday, December 15th, Governor Paterson released his FY 2009 - 2010 budget proposing a $7 million cut to the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA). In addition, Governor Paterson reintroduced his plan to implement an FY 2008- 2009 mid-year budget cut of $7 million for the current fiscal year. As a result of this plan, there would be a 20% cut in grant dollars available to the arts community.

A.R.T./New York has been lobbying the governor and the legislature on behalf of the arts community. On Friday December 19th, Executive Director Ginny Louloudes and members of A.R.T./New York met with State Assembly Members Linda Rosenthal and Daniel O'Donnell. We need your help and your voices to strengthen our advocacy efforts.


To find out who your State Assembly Member is, visit the New York State Assembly website.

To find out who your State Senator is, visit the New York State Senate website.

In the meantime, you should make it a point to try to get out and see your State Senator and State Assembly Member during their break or in January when they are in town (Thursday and Fridays).

Arts & Culture is a $25 Billion Industry in New York State - and that's with a $55 million investment.

There are two industries that drive New York City and help generate tremendous revenues for New York State: Finance and Tourism. We've seen what the collapse of the Finance Industry has done to the economy of New York City; New York State and the Nation. We cannot afford to see New York State Tourism drop - and one of the biggest tourist draws to New York State is the arts.

The Governor is proposing a $121 Billion FY 09/10 budget for New York State. Reducing the New York State Council on the Arts over two years by $14 million will not make tremendous inroads into his planned deficit reduction. However, it will go a long way towards damaging our already weakened economy, by denying the arts the support they need to remain the county's pre-eminent entertainment capital; reduce incentives for corporations to relocate to New York City; and bring greater harm to New York City's public schools, youth programs and senior centers (with whom we have such strong partnerships).

$55 million is not much to pay for $25 Billion! By cutting NYSCA, the State will lose much more than $25 Billion, it will lose the very heart of what makes everyone in the world love New York!

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Anonymous said...

OMG ! Leonard's been spending so much time over at Fox News, he's turned into a bloody fiscal conservative !

What's next ? Pearls ?

Leonard Jacobs said...

And swine!

Tom Loughlin said...

Hi Leonard,

I had pretty much the same thoughts back in November. See


for further thoughts. -twl

Leonard Jacobs said...

Hi Tom -- I just read your post. It made me sad -- just as it made me sad to write what I wrote. Thanks for making sure I knew about it.

Rosemary Open Air Theatre said...

I wanted to chime in that I support your position on reflexively asking the governor not to cut arts funding. We're in bad shape and things have to be cut back - period. We don't have a military in NY - so what else are we supposed to cut? More funding from schools? Homeless shelters? Breakfast for kids? Headstart. Etc. I saw the woman at A.R.T. on NY1 on Sunday and I really wanted to tell her to get over it. I have to cut all kinds of valuable things from my life all the time. I don't cry about them. I plan for a future when I can get them back. Anyway, right on.

Tom, thank you too for pointing out your post. I've already been thinking how to capitilize on some of the points you make.