Three top-ranking members of the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) have issued a joint statement blasting New York Gov. David Paterson's plan to make a dramatic midyear cut in Empire State arts funding.
Part of what is driving Paterson to institute the whopping 40% cut is the terminally dysfunctional state legislature, which is more than one month late approving a budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year.
In a phone interview, NYSCA Chairman Danny Simmons, a noted abstract expressionist and brother of hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, told me that Paterson's cut -- knocking appropriations to $25.2 million from $41.6 million -- could force untold numbers of New York arts nonprofits to close, and will cost jobs both at the arts agency itself as well as across the state.
"Unlike other agencies facing cuts that have unions and can organize," Simmons said, "individual artists don't have unions -- they need to really speak out and let their voices be heard. Organizations need to come to the forefront -- they're the ones largely to be affected by the governor's cuts."
Also known as a co-founder of the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, which gives disadvantaged urban youth significant exposure to the arts, Simmons said he would not resign even if the embattled lame-duck Paterson went ahead and gutted NYSCA. "I don't think stepping down is the right thing to do -- Council appointments are made at the governor's discretion. But I do think all Council members need their voices heard on this." Simmons also said he would consider calling the governor directly if he thought Paterson might actually listen.
"I think the governor is in a hard place with the economy," Simmons added, "but I've also heard him speak many times about the arts, so this devastating cut confuses me," he said. "Two years ago, after I became NYSCA Chairman, he spoke at my fundraiser, Art for Life, in East Hampton. I see what he's doing now as diverging from all the things he said."
Two NYSCA vice chairs have joined Simmons in issuing a statement: Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, a legendary historic preservationist and cultural activist, and Jeff Soref, a PR consultant and Metropolitan Museum of Art trustee. The statement reads as follows:
We have just been made aware of another cut that Governor Paterson has proposed to make to the New York State Council on the Arts' 2011 grant making budget, and are coming forward to voice our strong opposition to this disproportionate cut, which will only make the State's financial woes worse. The arts provide over $25 billion of economic impact to our State, and are historically part of the solution when it comes to community and economic revitalization. Powerful examples of this fact exist in every county of New York State. From Brooklyn to the Bronx, from Lower Manhattan to Harlem, from Westchester to Schenectady, from the Hamptons to Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester, the arts drive tourism, enhance quality of life, and create economic stability. The rich diverse culture that NYSCA supports is what makes the state unique in the nation and is often cited as a reason why people and businesses locate in New York. We understand that the current state of the State's finances is dire, but cuts of this magnitude will severely impair the State's arts communities and dramatically reduce the general well-being and vitality of the State and all of its citizens. We are also extremely concerned about the proposed furloughs as they will cause economic distress to NYSCA employees and their families and further weaken the Agency's already small and overstretched staff.
We urge Governor Paterson to reconsider these dramatic proposals for the good of the State.