CITY CAPITAL FUNDING FOR CULTURALS | Preface: Schist Gets Real Under Carnegie Hall, A Tactile Experience

From the balcony, I listened to a piano tuner work on the Steinway sitting on the same stage that had welcomed the Beatles, Judy Garland, Charles Mingus and had premiered the works of Bartok, Gershwin and countless others. The acoustics in Isaac Stern Auditorium were perfect. As a new ticket sales representative at Carnegie Hall, I continued along an orientation tour of the facility that ended in the basement where we placed our hands against the cold, exposed bedrock (Manhattan Schist) that permeated the foundation of the building.

Manhattan Schist is part of the geological foundation of the borough, and for centuries, has supported the development of streets, buildings, water supply systems and – cultural facilities? A concert hall is a place where people gather, work and perform but it wasn’t until I touched the bedrock underneath Carnegie Hall that I started to think of this facility as part of vast network of cultural infrastructure from which arts and other experiences are delivered to the public.

Had the infamous city planner, Robert Moses, also thought of cultural facilities as infrastructure akin to parks, schools, bridges and tunnels when he virtually razed an entire neighborhood to make way for the Lincoln Center campus? How can cultural facilities anchor and stabilize communities? How do they contribute to surrounding development interests and impact property values? Does location matter? What role does the city play in supporting cultural facilities? These were all questions that bounced around my head over the past few years as I completed my masters in urban planning at Pratt Institute.

I moved to New York City in 2002 as a musician and my work at Carnegie Hall was a brief stint in my career as an arts worker and more recently, urban planner. As Director of Programming with an arts and education organization during the economic crisis of 2008, I witnessed nonprofits scramble to weather the storm. Those organizations that stayed afloat were forced to shift practices and plot a new course towards resiliency. Out of this experience, I became particularly interested in looking at the arts in New York City as an ecosystem (a complex network or interconnected system) and figuring out ways to improve access to the arts – How can this system better serve arts workers, artists and the public alike? For me, planning is about examining systems in our city, identifying what works, what is dysfunctional and developing solutions to better serve users of the system – people.

FAB plays a vital role in supporting our cultural ecosystem and the East 4th Cultural District is home to more than a dozen arts groups, 10 cultural facilities and 17 performance and rehearsal venues that attracts an annual audience of 250,000 and serves 1,500 artists. These facilities are supported by a combination of public, private and corporate funders that all contribute to capital projects citywide. According to a report released by the Alliance for the Arts in 2007; Over the three-year period between 2003 and 2005, New York City funded approximately 30% ($427.6 million) of total capital spending on cultural facilities that totaled $1.4 billion. Not exactly chump change! This statistic was the impetus for my recent research on the geographic allocation of city capital funding for arts and cultural facilities across the five boroughs.

Beginning Sunday night, we’ll be posting a series that will look at how our city funds capital projects for cultural facilities. My goals are threefold.

·       help to explain and demystify the city capital funding process

·       share some of my research and provide a geographic snap-shot of
current city capital funding

·       hear from you with questions, insights and/or to share cool stuff
we’d all like to know

Oh – and did I mention
there will be maps? Stay tuned!

Daniel Arnow is a Brooklyn based musician, arts worker and urban
planner.

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