The Playgoer: Arts Funding: Bloomberg-Style

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Arts Funding: Bloomberg-Style

Nice sounding lede in today's Times about Mayor Bloomberg's rollout of a "new & improved" method of grant distribution to NYC arts orgs:

Declaring that they had wearied of their annual dance over arts financing, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the City Council announced yesterday that they would make more money available to arts groups, award it on a merit basis and widen a peer-review process to level the playing field.

Basically they're increasing the pool and reforming the application process so that arts groups no longer have to agreessively lobby city council members piecemeal, as it were.

Sound good, right?

Maybe. And some artsy folks are quoted as saying much.

But why am I disturbed by statements like this:

“What this does is tell groups, ‘You’re going to move forward, or we’re going to take away funding and give it to groups that are moving up,’ ” said Dominic M. Recchia Jr., chairman of the City Council’s Cultural Affairs Committee. “It’s a sign that you have to produce”....

“They’ll have to keep proving themselves,” he said, adding, “It will give the city new ways to discover and reward excellence in our cultural institutions.”

Okay: "move forward," "moving up," excellence"... what does this man mean by these terms. Somehow, I don't feel he's talking about advancing the artform and being ahead of your time.

Bloomberg may sell himself as the "nice Republican." But here we see the ruthless and insulting logic of "No Child Left Behind" applied to the arts. Meet your target numbers (whether your test scores or your ticket sales) or lose your funding. Social Darwinism enshrined as social policy.

To make things worse, take a look at the incentives:
Organizations with large building programs will receive multiyear appropriations, the mayor said; smaller groups will have to apply on an annual basis.
Gee, who does this favor? The storefront theatre trying to finally pay their actors? Or Lincoln Center when they decide to do the next Stoppard Tetralogy?

I've always wondered why so many struggling theatre companies bankrupt themselves further by suddenly buying a new space or announcing a new building complex. Now I see. In grant-world, you have to spend more to get more!

And tell me if I'm wrong, but the $30 million quoted as the increased funding trough for all the arts org's to compete for, sounds like probably what any major European city gives its opera house alone.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said, Playgoer.