Boro Institutions Fear Arts Funding Cuts


Photo courtesy of JCAL
An exhibition from the Jamaica Flux project.


If funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is cut by President Donald Trump’s administration, Queens institutions will lose more than just financial assistance, City Comptroller Scott Stringer said last week. 

According to Stringer’s office, funding for the NEA is currently just 0.0037 percent of federal spending, far lower than its 1979 peak of 0.03 percent.

“While the NEA is just a small share of the federal budget, it has an outsized impact, especially on smaller arts groups for whom these dollars are critical lifelines. We need to stand up for those that receive dollars from the NEA—and the kids they serve,” Stringer said.

Stringer pointed out that, in 2015, city residents and tourists spent $4.2 billion on arts, recreation and entertainment. He stated that tourism sustains more than 375,000 jobs.

“If the city’s arts organizations suffer, so too will the tourism industry,” he said.

During the past 16 years, Queens institutions have received approximately $3.3 million in grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.

“We’ve gotten funding for a number of years,” said Roseann Evans, who is the director of development for the Jamaica Center for the Arts and Learning (JCAL). “Many of our signature programs would not be funded if not for the National Endowment for the Arts.”

She noted that if not for the NEA funding, the group wouldn’t be able to offer many of its services to residents.

During the past year, the council received $10,000 from the NEA, which went toward funding its Making Moves Dance Festival that ran last September. She said that the money allowed them to give stipends to various dance groups and commission choreographers to create performances for the festival.

In 2015, the center was able to fund the Jamaica Flux art exhibit, a triannual event for JCAL, which pushes the boundaries of visual and performance art. The center used local banks, parks and streets as a stage as a means of strengthening its relationship with the community.

Evans said that the funding “goes up and down, from $10,000 to $20,000 a year, depending on the year and the project.”
“It would impact our programs because they’re special, they’re outside of our regular services, she said. “And in the climate we’re in, it’s hard to get arts funding since 2008.”

Ruth Kahn, the founder and director of Outpost Artists Resources in Ridgewood, said that the nonprofit arts organization aids artists by giving them access to video, sound services and new media assistance at below-market rates, partially through funding from the NEA.

“It’s certainly a grant that we apply for every year,” she said, although she added that the group didn’t rely solely on NEA funding. “It certainly is a larger proportion for larger organizations. It’s always proportionate to your budget.”

But although it is not the only source of funding for the group, Kahn said that not being able to get assistance from the NEA would be a challenge.

“It would be terrible not only for us but for the city,” said Khan. “New York City is a huge cultural producer. It is the cultural capital of the world, especially for the visual arts. It is part of our identity [and] part the economy.”

Kahn said that Outpost Artists Resources has a residency program for artists that allows them to work with top-of-the-line equipment on postproduction and sound design.

“It is out of reach financially for a lot of artists, professional editors and sound designers,” she said. “It’s an important thing to offer, especially artists in the lower income bracket. Video artists are not exactly rich. It’s a valuable service.”

She is hoping that the NEA’s funding is not cut.

Photo courtesy of Calpulli Mexican Dance Company
NEA funded part of The Calpulli Mexican Dance Company’s “Boda Mexicana.”

“It is one of the top-three grants that we apply for and really, really count on,” she said. “[An absence of grants] makes organizations rely more and more on wealthy donors and private foundations who have agendas; the corporate world follows a different model than those who fund the culture of art.”

Juan Castano, managing director of the Calpulli Mexican Dance Company in East Elmhurst, said that during a recent conversation with NEA representatives, he found out that his company would have funding for at least another year.

“We started in Queens,” he said. “Our first couple of years focused on local funding.”

Castano said that after building up the dance company, the organization finally became large enough to be eligible to apply for NEA grants. Calpulli has only been receiving the grants for three years, so Castano believes that the company would survive if NEA funding dried up.

“We think we’re going to be OK since we haven’t gotten used to the funding,“ he said.

Castano noted the grants have been a reliable source of funding for the company to use for new projects and to pay dancers, but knows that as an institution grows in size the grants get more competitive.

“It is worrisome,” he said. “We’re not devastated because it is new funding for us. The truth is, we’ve only pursued smaller funding sources. The most recent application requested more funding.”

He paused and conceded, “I’m already talking like it’s gone.” Castano noted that in the absence of assistance from the National Endowment for the Arts, city funding would be critical to enable the company to continue offering free dance and music classes.

“We are relying on that funding,” he said. “It is our core funding.”

Reach Jon Cronin at 718-357-7400 x125, or @JonathanSCronin.

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