Each year, the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) provides grants to as many as 2,500 arts groups across the state. To many, the funding is critical to survival as entry prices and ticket sales often do not cover costs, even as arts groups play an integral role in the communities they serve.
NYSCA is funded through the state’s budget, and as with many agencies come budget time, funding is often in question.
In February, a coalition of New York City arts institutions rallied in Albany for more state funds for the arts. NYSCA’s budget was maintained at $31.6 million for FY 2013, but the coalition stressed the point that in 1985, its budget was $4 million more than that.
These arts advocates got their $4 million back, sort of. In April, an additional $4 million was earmarked for NYSCA by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s newly established Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC). While more funds for the arts is reason to celebrate, sources say, the scope of eligible projects for this pool of money is different than NYSCA’s. The additional funds, administered by NYSCA on behalf of the REDC, requires a separate and different application, due by mid-July.
The NYSCA application is about the art, this application is not.
Both the size of the grants and their purpose of supporting communities have cultural group leaders wondering who will benefit. NYSCA awards grants starting at $2,500, for example, and the REDC arts project grants start at $50,000. Arts organizations are permitted to team up and apply for grants together.
“That’s going to leave smaller groups out of the running,” said Kathryn Giaimo, administrative director of Thalia Spanish Theatre in Sunnyside, Queens, which has been receiving grants from NYSCA since it was founded 35 years ago. “It’s going to be a problem. It makes more sense to support the work that’s already being done than to dream up new projects just so they can qualify for the money.”
In addition to applying for NYSCA grants this year, Thalia hopes to win one from the REDC as well for a big website project that meets the requirements, Giaimo said.
The REDC grants are matching grants, meaning the organizations that receive the funds must also then “match” the grant amount, whether through in-kind donations or other revenue. According to sources, $100,000 is a huge amount when you take into account all the smaller arts groups that have budgets that are less than that amount.
“I don’t understand the logic behind this because bigger is not always better, ” said Giaimo. “$5,000 can do so much for a small group.”
Of the 1,133 New York City organizations that applied for NYSCA funding in 2011, 511 had budgets under $250,000 and roughly 300 of those had budgets under $100,000, according to a 2011 report by the Alliance for the Arts, “The State of the Arts.”
In FY 2012, the overwhelming majority of grants awarded to arts groups in New York City through NYSCA were under $50,000, with many in the $3,000 – $10,000 range. Groups that won large grants were, for the most part, well-known cultural institutions like the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, the American Museum of Natural History, the Carnegie Hall Corporation, the New York City Ballet and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.
Arts organizations with small operating budgets still contribute greatly to an innovative arts landscape. According to a report released last year by Dance/NYC, a dance advocacy and research organization, smaller companies tend to be the most prolific. The smallest dance groups, with budgets of $25,000 to $99,000, performed the most new works. “Nineteen percent of all premieres and 22 percent of all commissions came from companies with budgets in that range,” reported The New York Times. “Companies with budgets of more than $5 million were responsible for 15 percent of all premieres and 31.3 percent of all commissions.”
In addition to the size of the grant, the eligible projects outlined by the REDC (see specifics beginning on page 51 of the REDC report) are heavily focused on economic development and community building. Projects seeking funding must: encourage participation in the arts through promotion, revitalize and improve neighborhoods, strengthen the role of arts in a community, create or retain jobs and expand business opportunities or develop cultural tourism initiatives.
In comparison, criteria for NYSCA funded projects are: service to the public, promotion and outreach, audience development, audience/visitor participation, safety and accessibility, diversity of programming and community service.
“The NYSCA application is about the art, this application is not,” said Giaimo.
A spokesperson for NYSCA said the new REDC grants would benefit the arts across the state.
“The $4 million in funding that will be used to award arts-related grants from the Governor’s Regional Economic Development Councils will provide tremendous statewide benefits to arts organizations and any partnering entities,” the spokesperson for the agency said. “In turn, the communities in which the Regional Council art project grants are made will experience positive benefits.”
Anne Coates, vice president of arts and cultural development at the Municipal Art Society, said she was excited to see an investment in economic activity and the arts.
“At the Municipal Art Society, we believe culture can be a tremendous catalyst in a community in terms of vibrancy and economic development,” she said.
Lane Harwell is the director of Dance/NYC, which has also been receiving NYSCA funding since it was founded in 2002. Harwell also said he was pleased that there was more money for the arts.
“Any new investment from the state is a positive sign for the arts community,” he said.
But Harwell did acknowledge that the REDC grants would benefit a specific type of arts organization.
“The state has a strong history of supporting the arts, and its commitment to smaller groups and encouraging growth is key,” said Harwell. “These new grants are trying to do something different.”
Norma Munn, president of the New York City Arts Coalition, which rallied for more NYSCA funds in February, said the new grants process was “frustrating.”
“This is a missed opportunity,” she said. “Economic development within the cultural sector is possible, but the majority of arts groups do not have budgets large enough to put together $100,000 projects, nor are most foolish enough to try on such a short time line with no promise of future sustainability.”
A representative for NYSCA did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
The application process is also new to grantees. Each proposal must first receive approval from NYSCA before being reviewed and rated by the REDC. Applications are due July 16 and funding recommendations will be announced in the fall.