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City Arts Coalition Pushes Pols for More Cultural Funding

LONG ISLAND CITY — A citywide coalition of arts and cultural groups is targeting the city's future political candidates, asking for their commitment to increase arts funding as part of a campaign launched Tuesday at MoMA PS1 in Queens.

One Percent For Culture, which represents 245 arts organizations across the five boroughs, is asking the city's current and future elected officials to pledge to allocating 1 percent of the city's annual expense budget to cultural funding.

"We're looking at it across the board — for the mayor, city council, the borough presidents races. We’re also going to talk to the comptroller and public advocate candidates, to really set a tone for the next administration so they are aware of the value of culture," said executive director Heather Alexa Woodfield. "So that we start to make changes in how we look at funding."

The current arts budget, doled out through the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, is about a quarter of the one percent goal the group is shooting for — $151.6 million, or .22 percent of the city's budget overall.

Woodfield says art groups have been struggling in recent years in the wake of budget cuts and a big drop-off in private funding revenues, forcing many organizations to lay off staff, cut community-based art programs and stop offering public perks, like free admission.

"The things that are really valuable to New Yorkers are the first things that get cut," she said. "For our big institutions, they're going to lose an educational program, and for our smaller ones, they’re struggling to keep the lights on."

The group argues that a greater investment in the arts will pay off for the city, citing New York's museums, theaters, zoos and cultural organizations as a vital economic engine, employing some 100,000 people.

Queens Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who serves as the chair of council's cultural affairs committee, credited such organizations as one of main draws for the record-breaking number of tourists who visited New York in 2012.

Nearly 24 million people take advantage of the city's cultural offerings each year, he said, an industry that generates $7.6 billion in economic activity. Cultural tourism alone increased by 11 percent between 2010 and 2011, he said.

"That’s not just good for the cultural institutions that they go to, it's good for the hotels that they stay in, it’s good for the restaurants and the cafes and the small businesses that they go to while they’re here," Van Bramer said.

"The truth is, the economy of the city of New York could not stand without culture and the arts. It simply could not."

The coalition is collecting signatures of support — they say they've garnered 25,000 so far — and will be looking for pledges from potential city candidates as the 2013 election season kicks into high gear in the coming months.

"I know we can make our case," Van Bramer said. "I know that we have friends in the administration, particularly Christine Quinn, who value the arts."

One Percent for Culture was founded in 2010 amid large scale city budget cuts as a way for cultural groups to band together and share resources. Its members include large institutions like MoMA and the Wildlife Conservation Society, as well as neighborhood organizations like Long Island City's Chocolate Factory Theatre and the Noguci Museum.

"Those of us in the arts business know that the arts make everything possible," coalition member Charles Rice-Gonzalez, executive director at BAAD!, the Bronx Academy for Arts and Dance in Hunts Point.

"Culture and community have a symbiotic relationship where one inspires and nurtures the other," he said.