With no federal funding in the 2023 Budget Proposal, major cuts are inevitable
New York City artists learned some surprising news this week. A New York City Council Committee published a preliminary budget report on March 8 that revealed that millions in federal funding that went toward artists’ grants and libraries would be eliminated.
On Tuesday, the New York City Council Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations (DCLA) discussed the upcoming budget for the 2023 Fiscal Year, which will begin in June. According to the Preliminary Report for the Department of Cultural Affairs, there will be an $84.5 million, or 36.8 percent, decrease from last year.
“This decrease is a result of a reduction of $53.9 million in funding for Cultural Programs, $1.3 million in funding for the Office of the Commissioner and $29.4 million for the Cultural Institutions,” the Report said.
Of this $84.5 million, $25 million was federal funding. Half of which was dedicated toward fully funding the City Artist Corps grants. This program offered grants of $5,000 to over 3,000 artists throughout the city beginning in July 2021. This new budget will completely cut the program, according to data from the Report. This grant program is run through the New York Foundation for the Arts, which only offers $3 million each each in nine other grant opportunities.
The department's total budget for direct agency expenses
Department's budget Cultural Institution Groups and other arts organizations
Decrease in budget from 2022
Percentage of the 2023 budget funded by City Funds
For Hamilton Heights resident and artist, Maggie Stiggers, who professionally goes by Maggie Politi, this grant was life-changing. Without it, she said she would not have been able to produce a short film festival featuring only female and LGBTQ+ filmmakers. The festival, called “Reel Resiliency,” took place in October 2021 at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria.
“I really wanted to showcase films that were made during the pandemic, but never celebrated,” Stiggers said. “I knew so many filmmakers were at home, but they wanted to be creative so they made things at home that were super low-budget.”
When COVID-19 first hit in March 2020, Stigger said she and her husband, who was performing in “Lion King” on Broadway at the time, immediately thought of all the great art that will be produced by artists stuck at home. She applied for the City Artist Corps grants in order to help showcase this art.
“The application process was relatively user-friendly,” Stigger said. “You didn’t have to hire somebody to write this grant for you, it was like ‘speak from the heart.’ It wasn’t fancy or overly pretentious, which was really nice.”
Accessibility of the grant to all New York City artists was a highlight for Stigger. According to data from New York City’s Cultural Affairs Department, over 71 percent of successful applicants were from the “Weighted Criteria” category. This category included artists who were disabled, low income, from a zip code hit heavy by COVID-19 or any combination of the three. The data said 30 artists out of the 3,000 identified as all three.
For Long Island City-based Latinx artist, Juan Hinojosa, the grant meant being able to afford groceries and a new studio space, as well as to put on a collective show in Queens. Hinojosa said he’s been an artist for about ten years, “keeping his head above water.” Before the pandemic, he worked as a freelance art handler, a job he described as something that every artist has done at some point in their career.
“New York is a city about survival,” Hinojosa said. “There’s no other city like it.”
Once the pandemic hit, Hinojosa said it had a major impact on the arts scene as a whole, and on him.
“I lost everything, including my studio space. I had to move out in the middle of the night, it was embarrassing,” Hinojosa said.
The money Hinojosa received from City Artist Corps grants allowed him to stabilize himself mentally and financially. As a native New Yorker, Hinojosa said that grants from DCLA feel different than private grants because they feel like a gift from the city. Other than needing to present some of his work in a public forum, the money came with no contingencies, according to Hinojosa. “It also helped fund basic living and artist expenses,” he said.
One reason this grant stood out compared to others in New York City is because it was given to so many different artists, according to Hinojosa. Other grants are hard to attain and have a very limited number of recipients, he said.
Another artist who received the City Artist Corps grant, Priscilla Stadler, used to have her studio in Long Island City, just like Hinojosa, until she was priced out of the neighborhood last year. Stadler utilized the grant money to put on an interactive exhibition at the Queens Botanical Garden. She said she was able to hire an assistant, as well as pay colleagues to translate what visitors wrote about trees, both in the garden and elsewhere.
“It enabled me to do another iteration of a project that had been hampered by the pandemic,” Stadler explained. “It was a public engagement project that was supposed to take place in Flushing.”
Both Stadler and Hinojosa agree that cutting the City Artist Corps grants will be detrimental to artists across all five Boroughs. Hinojosa hopes that the DCLA will be able to find the funding from another source in order to continue to financially support New York artists. Stadler agrees, and believes these grants could help all New Yorkers, not just artists.
“Given the mental health issues that we are struggling with, I think that art has a tremendous power to help us get through these challenging times,” Stadler said. “I hope that our new mayor values the arts for that, if for no other reason.”