CITY CAPITAL FUNDING FOR CULTURALS | Part 1: Demystifying How New York City Supports Arts and Cultural Facilities

City Capital Funding for Cultural Organizations Part 1

1. In a small lot wedged between the neighborhoods of Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights, four wood-framed cottages that date back to 1870 are preserved. They represent the last remains of old Weeksville – one of America’s first free black communities.

2. Up in Central Park, thousands of visitors swarm the cavernous halls and galleries of this cultural mecca as roof repairs are made on wings A and C of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

3.  The Staten Island Museum breaks ground on the construction of a new, fully climate‐controlled facility that will be housed in a 19th century landmarked structure that dates back to the 1870’s. What’s with the 1870’s?

4. The Louis Armstrong House in Corona, Queens completes the first phase of design for its new visitors center.

5. The façade of the reptile house at the Bronx Zoo gets a face-lift – but it still smells weird.

What do these 5 things have in common? They are all publicly funded capital projects at art and cultural facilities in New York City. They represent a very small sample of the diversity that exists in our city’s cultural ecology and they are all a part of a larger network of cultural infrastructure from which arts and other experiences are delivered to the public.

In this post, I’m going to break down how the city funds these projects and start by defining a few terms so we’re all speaking the same language. When people think of city capital projects they usually think of roads and bridges and other urban infrastructure. For our purposes, we’re just looking at capital projects for what I’m going to call “culturals” – facilities for cultural organizations involved in the visual, literary and performing arts, public oriented science and humanities institutions including zoos, botanical gardens and historic and preservation societies. So keep in mind that cultural facilities are broadly defined by the city and are not exclusively arts specific. Figure 1 explains exactly what capital projects are for culturals.


Fig 1. Capital Projects Chart by Type

What does the process look like?

Each year the city allocates capital funding to cultural projects. The funds are appropriated [1] by the mayor, city council members and borough presidents. Once these appropriations are made by elected officials and become part of the city’s annual adopted capital budget, the funds are then administered by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA).

As many of you know, DCLA is our city’s arts agency and is broken up into three primary funding  divisions; Program Services Unit, Cultural Institutions Unit and Capital Projects Unit. DCLA’s Capital Projects Unit works with organizations and other city agencies to plan and implement capital projects at cultural facilities.

Over a four-year period between fiscal year 2013 and 2016, the city will allocate $685 million for 427 capital projects at 198 arts and cultural organizations citywide.[2]

Who and what is eligible?

If you’ve read this far you know a little more about what these capital projects are and how the city helps to fund them. Now you may be wondering who and what is eligible for this support. Figure 2 explains some baseline requirements for eligibility.


Fig 2. Capital Projects Eligibility Chart

Any caveats?

While there are a few more technical and legal requirements than listed in Figure 2, there is one caveat that is worth noting here. All capital projects for culturals must fall into two buckets; those that take place on city-owned properties and those that take place on non-city owned properties. If the project is at a non-city owned property, the applicant organization is required to enter into a restrictive covenant that runs with the property and ensures that the city has first lien rights on the property. In other words, you must ensure that the funds are being used for the agreed upon purpose; a capital project that provides a public benefit for the improvement’s or equipment’s useful life. If your organization rents your space, your landlord might not be crazy about the idea of entering into restrictive covenant with the city.

What’s the timeline look like?

As with any large construction project, everything takes a long time. Throw multiple city agencies into the equation and it takes even longer. In addition to confirming a project’s eligibility and scope, DCLA acts as liaison between other city agencies and helps to oversee project planning and implementation to ensure that everything is in compliance with city rules.  Figure 3 explains the capital construction process and breaks down the roles of different city agencies.


Fig 3. Capital Construction
Process by Agency


I’ll pause there. Since, I’m neither a city employee, a lawyer or a cultural organization who has gone through a capital project from beginning to end, this is my best attempt at covering the nuts and bolts of how the city funds capital projects for culturals. Thanks to DCLA for making all of this information publicly available. I hope it sheds some light on the process and also provides some context for my next post: “Where’s the money going? A snapshot of city capital commitments for culturals from 2009-2014”

In the meantime, please checkout the interactive map below to see the location of culturals that received city capital commitments between fiscal year 2009 and 2014. Click on the dot to see the organization’s name. (please forgive me if any of the locations are wrong as there may have been some glitches in the geocoding 🙂

Did you visit any of these cultural facilities this summer? What were your top 3 favorites? Let us know in the comments section below along with any other questions or insights you may have.

Check back next Sunday night to nerd out on some stats and more fun maps!

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

[1] The amount of
money allocated to a budget line in the Adopted Capital Budget.

[2] New
York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Capital Funding Overview:
Participatory Budgeting Presentation, 2012

[3] Equipment = 5 to 10 years, Construction/Renovation = 10 to 30

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