NYC Cultural Organizations Launch 1% for Culture Coalition

by Erin Eisenberg on September 15, 2010

August 30, 2010 10:44 AM
Culture Chronicle

Arts Biz Pitches 1% Solution
NYC cultural groups to launch campaign on Labor Day.

Crain’s New York Business – August 29, 2010
By Miriam Kreinin Souccar

Stung by the recession, budget cuts and a drop in charitable giving, New York City’s cultural institutions are launching a major campaign to convince the city to allocate 1% of its annual budget to arts funding.

The groups will announce the three-year effort, called the “One Percent for Culture Campaign,” on Labor Day at the West Indian American Day Carnival parade, one of the city’s largest parades.

Arts executives say city funding has been declining for years, even before the recession. This year, the cultural groups–of which there are around 1,200 throughout the city, ranging from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Staten Island Children’s Museum–received about $149.5 million, just 0.23% of the municipal budget. Last year, they received around $158 million, or 0.26%. Their goal is to prove to both elected officials and the general public how important the cultural industry is to the city. Recent reports show that nonprofit cultural groups attract 26 million tourists and generate $5.8 billion in economic impact each year. Not keeping up with inflation

“We need to communicate to current elected officials and future ones and to the public that the funding is abysmally low and it has not kept up with inflation for two decades,” says Norma Munn, chairperson of the New York City Arts Coalition.

The first step of the campaign will be a grassroots effort to generate public support. Over the next two years, volunteers will canvas the five boroughs to collect signatures in support of the “One Percent for Culture” idea. Their goal is to get 5,000 signatures in each of the 51 council districts in the city. After that, the group will start an aggressive lobbying effort ahead of the 2013 elections.

The idea for the campaign came from John Calvelli, executive vice president of the Wildlife Conservation Society. He’s formed a committee of seven executives who are putting the campaign together. They include Arnold Lehman, director of the Brooklyn Museum and chair of the Cultural Institutions Group; Voza Rivers, chairman of the Harlem Arts Alliance; and Ms. Munn, whose organization represents more than 200 arts groups.

Mr. Calvelli says the committee is taking a page from a similar effort made by parks advocacy group New Yorkers for Parks in 2001, “One Percent for Parks,” although he hopes for better results. The parks agency launched a massive media campaign and worked to lobby candidates during the election season. The campaign was successful in increasing awareness, but it unfortunately culminated with a big rally three days before Sept. 11. Park maintenance still receives about 0.48% of the city budget, the same percentage it did six years ago, according to Cheryl Huber, deputy director of New Yorkers for Parks.

Looking beyond financial crunch

Cultural executives say they understand the city is in a financial crisis now, and their goal is to reach 1% in 2015. “As the financial position gets better, we want to make sure culture is not forgotten,” Mr. Calvelli says.

Leaders of nonprofits in other sectors like social services applaud the cultural groups’ plan but say the entire industry should band together.

“There needs to be a broader campaign that speaks to government leaders in a bigger way that the entire not-for-profit sector in New York is suffering right now,” says William Rapfogel, chief executive of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.

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