Published as an op/ed in NY Daily News - June 22, 2010
It’s no secret – New York City is facing a very difficult budget year, with record deficits. The administration and the City Council are balancing multiple priorities and one idea remains constant: no budget cut is a simple reduction. The repercussions of our choices are heavy, and we need to remember the true value of arts and cultural organizations to our city.
As chair of the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations, and as an actress who is native New Yorker and avid supporter of the arts, we are both very aware of the benefits these institutions provide for our city, especially during an economic downturn. From the multitude of museums to the unique galleries and performance spaces, cultural institutions in all five boroughs embody the vitality of New York City.
Artists and art lovers flock here from all over, making our cultural institutions an economic powerhouse – driving tourism, creating thousands of union jobs, and providing educational opportunities for our children and adults alike. The arts cannot be considered a luxury – they make New York the destination of choice of people all over the world.
Our cultural institutions provide critical revenue to help balance the budget. The investments we make in culture and the arts create a ripple effect throughout our economy, generating revenue that keeps our city strong. According to the Alliance for the Arts, the arts industry in New York City generated an estimated economic impact of $21.2 billion in 2005, the equivalent of 160,000 fulltime jobs, $8.2 billion in wages and $904 million in taxes to the city.
But now the arts – the pulse and life stream of our city – are in danger. Anytime we reduce funding for the arts, we undermine our ability to stimulate our economy. The proposed 40% reduction in funding for culturals will have serious effects. Many of our smaller community-based institutions, including neighborhood theatres and performing art venues, will face extinction. And other institutions will be crippled by this loss in needed funding.
The city’s Executive Budget pointed out that tourism is one of the few success stories in what is a bleak economic portrait. However, it is important to note there would be far fewer tourists currently if there were no attractions to draw them here – like the Broadway shows and the multitude of museums that have made New York City a metropolis of culture and art. In addition to the crowds that these institutions attract, they also provide business for other sectors of our economy like hotels and restaurants. Can we really afford to cut back in an area that fiscally and culturally stimulates our economy?
While we can numerically measure the economic impact of cultural institutions, the less tangible effects that these cultural institutions have on our society are truly priceless. The loss of inspiration for a child who will be deprived of these experiences cannot be ignored. The cultural institutions, which embody and promote this creativity and empowerment for our youth are in danger. By making concessions that deprive the arts, we undermine the future and stability of our city.
We must make sure that New York City remains a place where the arts thrive. This is how the city will weather this economic storm, and it is the only way that New York City can ensure its place as the cultural and financial capital of the world.
Jimmy Van Bramer, represents the 26th District in the New York City Council and chairs the Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations Committee. Sigourney Weaver is a three time Academy Award-nominated actress and New York City native who co-founded The Flea Theater in New York. Both are enthusiastic supporters of theater and culture in New York City.