Cultural Equity Group (CEG)

We are in receipt of your letter dated May 16, 2008. We thank you for your timely response. Unfortunately, your letter indicates that the Department of Cultural Affairs continues to fail to understand the fundamental importance of the critical issues we presented at our last meeting and numerous City Council testimonies. Hopefully the following detailed letter will better assist the Department of Cultural Affairs in better understanding the points we made at the May 13th, 2008 meeting that are critical to our sustainability. We would also greatly appreciate a detailed response and status report on many of the following issues:

1: The Cultural Equity Group (CEG) defines organizations-of-color as institutions whose Board of Directors, Executive Director, staff, and audiences are predominately of color. Furthermore, the programs of these institutions are grounded in the artistic and direct socio-historic experiences of communities-of-color. Many of the listings of organizations-of-color provided by DCA do not fit this criterion. We would further contend that their targeted audiences frequently neither reflect nor share the day-to-day realities that inform the lives of the communities that their programs speak to. We are requesting DCA to utilize the definition of institutions of color put forth by the Cultural Equity Group in order to begin to have a realistic understanding of the impact that these institutions have on the City of New York aesthetically, culturally and economically. Moreover, it will give us all a better understanding of where the funding gaps exist.

2: While we commend expanded and increased funding to smaller arts groups, the problem is unresolved: funding levels remain comparatively low and are insufficient for small organizations of color to stabilize and expand their services. DCA's funding is directed to programs with little consideration for administrative and operating costs necessary to implement programs. We would like to know the status of DCA’s ability to secure additional funding to create a supplemental fund from existing initiatives that would offset the shortfall that small institutions will face during the recession and new funding reforms.

3: Although institutions-of-color service the general public, we focus on underserved communities; a taxpaying constituency whose numbers collectively make up the majority of the City. Yet DCA's funds are inequitably distributed among this sector of taxpayers. The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) submitted a budget summary to CEG that stated that 164 organizations of color (as DCA defines organizations of color) received $5 million of DCA’s total Programs Budget of $35 million, which is approximately 14.2% of the total Programs Budget. However, this does not take into account the fact that people of color comprise 62.5% of the total population of New York City.

In other words, communities of color, through their tax paying dollars, fund the further development of cultural institutions/communities that do not focus on their specific cultural/community needs. This is a practice that has been seen across the board throughout City agencies; it is directly linked to the devastating statistics that are rampant in communities of color. Given the funding disparity based off the numbers that DCA provided to CEG, we are confused and baffled as to how DCA and the City Council could be satisfied with this current process. We would appreciate a response as to how DCA plans to close this enormous funding gap.

4: The established Cultural Institutions Group (the majority of whose member organizations were founded prior to the civil rights era when people of color did not have the right to create institutions), which is located on New York City property, not only receives approximately 80% of the funds but also has its costs of utilities, maintenance, and security covered by taxpayers. CEG believes that what the CIGs are provided is fair and adequate and that the structure that has been created in order for them to sustain their institutions is an appropriate one for sustainability. CEG believes that a similar construct should be created for organizations-of-color that serve communities that have been under-funded and constitute the majority of the City of New York. We need assistance in order to meet basic security, maintenance, administration and energy costs. It is very difficult for small organizations to pay these rising costs without governmental assistance. We are asking the city and state to look at alternative methods, which do NOT include taking money and resources from the CIGs. We request that the Department of Cultural Affairs, the New York City Council, and the Mayor’s Office explore how added resources and services could be provided to institutions-of-color that have been historically under funded as was the focus of our presentation. Again, the CEG's recommendations include:

A) Exploration of a Health and Life Insurance Program for Artists and Cultural Arts Workers (Perhaps the Brooklyn Health Works model organized by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with Assemblyman Joe Lentol could serve as a productive model).

B) The creation of an Energy Savings Program for institutions of color that would provide essential financial relief for organizations that serve a constituency that is not characterized as having “deep pockets.” Perhaps the NYC Business Solutions program, which is an initiative of the New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS), could serve as an effective model; it reduces regulated electricity costs up to 45 percent and regulated natural gas costs up to 35 percent.

C) A One Percent [1 %] hotel tax to establish a Cultural Equity Fund similar to the San Francisco model. San Francisco has recognized the need for cultural equity for over ten years and has a functioning CEG program. Can New York State afford not to be a leader in this regard?

D) A Cultural Tourism Campaign focused on attracting tourists to organizations of color within the five Boroughs. Institutions-of-color have been historically regarded as the distant step child of the New York City cultural landscape. CEG is requesting funding for a major cultural campaign that would highlight New York City’s diversity and vibrancy. According to a May 29th New York Times article regarding NYC & Company’s recent “Go Ask a Local Campaign,” “27 people were chosen to participate in the campaign’s first two phases. Of those, six are black, one is half Korean and the rest — about 80 percent — are white (or, appear to be, anyway). That’s non-Hispanic white, by the way.” The article continued with responses from the community, “Latino culture is invisible in this city,” said Arlene Dávila, a professor at New York University who has written about the intersection of culture, ethnicity and the city. “You have this whitewashed city, a very upscale city, free of ethnicity. This is a city which is more than a quarter Latino, and you cannot find a celebrity who is Latino? Hello!” This recent NYTimes article demonstrates that there is a clear need for diversified tourism efforts that would bring increased revenue and vibrancy to the City.

As we noted in our presentation, the need to think "outside of the box" is essential if an intelligent and comprehensive approach to solving funding inequities to organizations-of-color is to be corrected. Your leadership in pursuing and more importantly executing the recommendations we outlined is essential to making the cultural life of the City reflect the racial and cultural diversity that makes New York an international destination point. If CEG groups cannot withstand the current crisis of gentrification, budget reform policies and the recession, then the neighborhoods of New York City may lose the cultural infrastructure that is the fruit of over thirty years. Youth may take its place, but then the government will have lost its opportunity to prepare for the new America that the demographics of diversity so clearly demand.

We look forward to hearing from you and your response to our critical needs,

The Cultural Equity Group Steering Committee

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