CITY CAPITAL FUNDING FOR CULTURALS | Part 2: Where’s The Money Going? A Snapshot of City Capital Commitments

City Capital Funding for Culturals Part 2: City Capital Commitments for Culturals from 2009-2014

Over the past two years, I’ve been doing some research on NYC capital funding for arts and cultural facilities (culturals). Today’s post will share some of my findings and will aim to provide a snapshot of WHERE the monies have been going. After last week’s post, Demystifying How The City Supports Arts and Cultural Facilities, we should have a better understanding of the nuts and bolts of HOW the city funds capital projects for culturals.

Here are the cliff notes from last week:

  • NYC’s arts ecosystem includes a wide variety of arts and cultural facilities that make up a vast network of cultural infrastructure from which arts and other experiences are delivered to the public.
  • “Culturals” can be defined as 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.
  • These facilities are supported by a combination of public, private and corporate funders that all contribute to capital projects citywide. The city funds two types of capital projects for culturals: equipment purchases and construction, and renovation projects.
  • Each year the city allocates capital funding to cultural projects – the funds are appropriated by the mayor, city council members, and borough presidents.
  • The Department of Cultural Affairs’ “Capital Projects Unit” works with organizations and other city agencies to plan and implement capital projects for culturals citywide.

Notes on the data:

Good data is (at least) half the battle! While data on city capital funding is publicly available, it lives in massive PDF’s that are not easily machine-readable for the purpose of analysis. I owe a HUGE thanks to my contacts at the Independent Business Office for providing data on city capital commitments for culturals that came straight out of the City’s Financial Management System. A few quick notes on the data before we move on.

  • The data represents Adopted Capital Commitments and does not report on actual capital expenditures. A capital commitment officially happens when the Comptroller registers a contract for a specific project as apposed to actual expenditures or cash outlays.
  • The five-year study period that I looked at was fiscal years 2009 – 2014.
  • The data frequently reported multiple projects under a single organization over the five-year study period. For example the Queens Museum of Art received city capital commitments for 10 different projects ranging from the installation of a water management system to the expansion of new exhibition and works spaces.

Here’s what I found out!

  • The city is committing hundreds of millions of dollars per year to capital projects at culturals. For example, in FY14, the city committed over $771 million to projects across the five boroughs.
  • As seen in Figure 1, of the 924 capital projects represented in the data, 505 of them were in Manhattan followed by 167 in Brooklyn. Less than 100 projects were counted in each of the other boroughs. As a whole, the city funded projects at approximately 254 organizations.


  • As seen in Figure 2, at the borough level, Manhattan led the group receiving more than half of all capital commitments citywide. Brooklyn accounted for 20 percent of all capital commitments while Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island accounted for 29 percent collectively.

Fig 2. Total Capacity Commitments for Culturals by Borough, FY09-14

  • As seen in Figure 3, Between FY11 and FY14 the boroughs of Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx either remained stagnant or experienced nominal declines in the percentage of total capital commitments while Brooklyn showed a steady increase between FY10 and FY14.



Fig 3. Percentage of Total City Capital Commitments for Culturals by Borough, FY09-14 

  • Over the study period, the largest (in number and size) concentration of capital commitments can be found in Manhattan and in downtown Brooklyn. Additionally, smaller cluster of capital commitments can be found in the outer boroughs including clusters in northeastern Staten Island, Coney Island, Long Island City, Corona/Flushing and Bronx Park.
  • As seen in figure 5, an analysis at the community district level found that over the study period, a total of 41 community districts received capital commitments while 18 did not.

Fig 5. City Capital Commitments for Cultural Facilities in NYC by Community District, FY04-14

What does all this mean?

The city is committed to culturals! My analysis helps to illustrate WHERE the capital commitments and projects are concentratd and where the gaps are. New York City’s cultural infrastructure has historically been concentrated in Manhattan and also serves it’s thriving tourist economy, the analysis shows a disparity amongst boroughs. Although not reported in this post, the data also reflects the breadth and depth of capital projects in communities across the five boroughs and represents a diverse mix of cultural products that are available to the public.

What do you think this means?

This research is far from comprehensive, but rather provides a
snapshot of the geographic allocation of city capital commitments at the
organizational, community district and borough level. It also leads to many more questions about funding by discipline and organizational size. Perhaps most importantly it brings me to the question – WHO is being served by this vast network of cultural infrastructure? I don’t have the answer (yet) but it points in the
direction of further research.

Last but not least…

Please check back next Sunday for the third and final installment in
this series. I’ll be offering some thoughts and insights on strengthening our
cities cultural infrastructure. Thanks for reading! 

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

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