New York City is reexamining its allocation of cultural funds, considering a plan that more equitably considers smaller arts institutions that cater to underserved neighborhoods. This means that while in the past the majority of the money has gone to large institutions such as The Met and MoMA, smaller institutions in the outer boroughs may begin to see the much needed funding they have typically lacked.
Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced the city’s first “cultural plan,” which could entail a redistribution of previously inequitable funding. It could also mean that in addition to underfunded museums, money will also go towards analyzing the ways in which cultural activities are distributed across the five boroughs, how cultural activities relate to social and economic well-being, accessibility to artist workspaces, and increased funding towards arts education.
During a time when arts funding is being massively stripped on a national level, such a plan could be truly beneficial. The recognition that the arts play a vital a role in urban development is somewhat radical, especially regarding lower-income neighborhoods. Of course, de Blasio is not the first person to recognize this. Underfunded neighborhoods have been reclaiming artistic space for decades and acknowledging the importance it plays in community cohesion and construction. But, unfortunately, it’s uncommon for it to be officially and monetarily recognized.
New York has long been considered the cultural capital of the world, and people often make this association due to the large-scale museums catering primarily to tourists. However, there are hundreds of recognized cultural institutions in the city as well as various unrecognized sites of cultural exchange. And many of the smaller places fill a greater community need. While the MoMA costs $25 to enter, the Bronx Museum of the Arts is free. It retains its mission as a community based institution that showcases art important to the residents. The MoMA is incredible, but it doesn’t possess the same artistic urgency that a cultural center built for its specific community does. Some of the most well-known pieces in the world have been showcased at the MoMA, or the Met, or at the Whitney. But at those smaller, outer-borough spaces that few tourists frequent, they showcase art of political and social relevance made by and for groups that are not often treated as socially and politically relevant.
I’m not trying to say that one place is more important than the other. I’m not suggesting that we burn down Lincoln Center along with all of its bourgeois, sherry-sipping sentiments. I’m just saying that a little recognition for the vitality behind underfunded and unnoticed spaces could have practical benefits. Of course, increased arts funding across the board is essential. Despite the seemingly massive amounts of money poured into the most well-known cultural institutions, they aren’t exactly stable either. What this alludes to is a greater need for cultural prioritization. At least this plan may be a step in the right direction.