Albany and the Arts

There we were in Albany, us hearty few who care deeply about the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA). It was cold. The streets were icy. The halls were full of advocates for many causes. We were there to talk to legislators about the importance of the arts to New York State. Our group was more than 150 strong representing artists and cultural organizations from every corner of the state. This group calls itself the Arts New York State Coalition and has developed a website (www.ArtsNYS.org) to keep New Yorkers informed about issues surrounding the state budget.

Albany is not much fun at this time of year. It’s elevators and hallways are crammed with people from all walks of life, who value healthcare, education, scholarships, tourism, and of course the arts. Our Westchester delegation really gets it. Led by State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer, our legislators know too well the value of the arts to the state economy. Our spokesmen were eloquent. Neil Watson, Executive Director of the Katonah Museum, wore his beret and woolies and talked about the gap that arts organizations are filling by providing education programs in the schools. Wiley Hausam, Director of the Performing Arts Center at SUNY Purchase, warmed us up talking about the jobs supported by the arts community…in Westchester almost 4,000. Nancy Rubino explained “visual literacy” and how it helps kids learn at the Jacob Burns Film Center. Carol Hayward, President of RiverArts, the oldest and largest multi-arts organization serving the Rivertowns of Hastings, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington and Ardsley, bragged about the affordable after-school music lessons provided for 25 years to 200 families each year in Dobbs Ferry and Hastings. She let everyone know, including State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos that, “We make government dollars go very, very far.”

We were there because we care. On a purely monetary basis, we care because more than $1 million of the precious NYSCA local assistance (grant) funds go to Westchester organizations, supporting public programs and arts education in the county. Unlike other state programs, NYSCA has sustained cuts of 30% over the past four years and is girding for another 10% cut of $3.5 million. “We know that everyone must share the pain, but we’d like our share to be 2% ($2.8 million) like other similar local assistance programs,” says Norma Munn at a press conference at which Assemblyman Steven Englebright shook his head in recognition. Munn is the head of the New York City Arts Coalition, which has led the charge for the arts for the past quarter century. Englebright chairs the powerful Assembly Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development. At the press conference, Steven Kern, Director of the Everson Museum in Syracuse reported that “Across this great state, not just in New York City, the arts pump billions of dollars back into our economy and employ hundreds of thousands of people.” According to Americans for the Arts there are 53,085 arts-related businesses in New York State that employ 335,683 people. Makes one kinda wonder. The NYSCA budget is only .0003% of the $132.5 billion state budget. “To see a cut at a time when we should be investing into a proven method for successfully lifting the spirits of our citizens and heightening the vitality of all of our Main Streets just does not make sense,” concluded Englebright. I agree.

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