Bill de Blasio’s 2021 Budget Would See a Significant Decrease in Funding for New York’s Museums, Already Hit Hard by the Lockdown

Still, the cuts may not be as deep as some feared.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at a food shelf organized by The Campaign Against Hunger in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn on April 14, 2020 in New York City. Photo: Scott Heins/Getty Images.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at a food shelf organized by The Campaign Against Hunger in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn on April 14, 2020 in New York City. Photo: Scott Heins/Getty Images.

Museums and other cultural organizations in New York stand to take a significant hit next year from reduced city funding. As New York City’s months-long budget process enters its final stretch, the mayor’s office has made deeper cuts to arts programming as part of a broader effort to cut spending amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s executive budget plan for the next fiscal year, which was released last week, saw across-the-board cuts to municipal services as the city attempts to rebound from the economic crisis and continue to “fund life-saving measures,” the mayor said in a statement. The proposed financial plan is a revision of de Blasio’s preliminary budget proposal, which was issued in January, prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the latest proposal, the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA), which oversees the city’s creative organizations, has been allocated $137 million—$10.6 million less than the mayor’s preliminary budget accounted for in January and $7.3 million (or five percent) less than the executive budget this time last year

New York City’s cultural budget is the largest in the country, and often outpaces the National Endowment for the Arts, which last year boasted a $155 million budget. Although the proposed cutbacks are significant, they aren’t as bad as some in the sector feared they might be.   

“While we don’t take any reductions lightly, especially in the middle of this crisis when the funds are desperately needed, we have mitigated the reductions given the broader fiscal realities the city is dealing with,” a representative from the DCLA said in a statement to Artnet News. “We are committed to working toward an FY21 adopted budget that supports our constituents and accounts for the challenges this crisis continues to present to our city.”

The closed Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 1, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The closed Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 1, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The spokesperson said that the DCLA worked with City Hall and the Office of Management and Budget to come up with strategic savings strategies. Among these were reductions to the funding provided to DCLA-administered properties for heat, light, and power, which accounted for $2.7 million in savings, and the elimination or freeze of unfilled positions at the DCLA. Other reductions will be made in the form of cuts to CreateNYC, the city’s first comprehensive plan for overseeing the city’s arts and culture resources, and to emergency funds.  

Of the city’s major institutions, the Metropolitan Museum of Art—which has already stated it expects to lose $100 million as a result of the lockdown—was hit the hardest. De Blasio’s executive budget earmarked $17.87 million for the museum—$4.5 million less than the preliminary figure. Meanwhile, the allotment for the Brooklyn Museum was slashed from $8.03 million to $7.9 million. Neither institution immediately responded to Artnet News’s request for comment. 

One of the final steps in the creation of the yearly financial plan, the executive budget is a proposal and does not represent the actual budget for the city. There are extended negotiations still in store that are likely to result in a shift in the figures. Following the mayor’s submission of the executive budget, the city council will hold a series of public hearings to ensure that the plan represents all districts throughout New York. Through May and June, the two parties will negotiate the numbers before coming to a handshake agreement. The adopted budget for fiscal year 2021 will go into effect July 1, 2020.

Last year’s adopted budget for the DCLA came in at $212 million—a record for the city.


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