The Money Trail

Arts Groups Large and Small Suffer After September 11; Special Foundation Grants Kick In

Just how severely was the city's arts community hit by the September 11 disaster? The losses, both managers and artists report, are difficult to quantify. A report from the New York State Council on the Arts, documenting actual hardship in terms of physical damage and lost income, is due this month. A source close to the council's report estimates that nearly $30 million was lost between September 11 and October 31, based on 419 responses from arts groups in the five boroughs.

Box office income at the reporting institutions was down $11.6 million in that period, and they received $3 million less than anticipated from foundations whose resources were hard hit by the contracting economy. There was also less money forthcoming from the state government, where all agency budgets were cut by 10 percent.

Yet another meltdown came in the arts-in-education community, where the Board of Education had been gearing up to expand arts services—restoring district supervisors, employing more certified arts teachers in the system, and contracting for services with outside providers—using $75 million in government money for Project Arts, catalyzed by a grant from the Annenberg Foundation. Joan Firestone, special adviser to the chancellor for arts education, says the board has faced cuts at the city and state levels, and a lot of anticipated programming has simply not materialized. Out-of-borough field trips, and the buses necessary to make them, were canceled from September 11 through early November, so students didn't travel to museums and theaters, resulting in a considerable loss to these organizations and the umbrella groups that broker arts services to the schools.

Flight plan: Keely Garfield on her Battery Park City roof.
photo: Sylvia Plachy
Flight plan: Keely Garfield on her Battery Park City roof.

In the wake of September 11, Mayor Giuliani urged the public to head out and enjoy New York City's cultural resources: Broadway shows, museums, stores, and restaurants. But with tourism down, revenues are stalled. At the same time, the nonprofit organizations the city traditionally supports were told to trim their budgets, as funds were diverted to the emergency downtown.

Arts groups await the announcement of the new city budget in mid February, closely watching line items that could make or break their finances. Some emergency funding has been forthcoming from foundations; last week the Andy Warhol Foundation provided $600,000 to assist small and midsize arts organizations in Lower Manhattan.

On January 25, the Arts Recovery Fund of the New York Foundation for the Arts, charged with disbursing $2.65 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's $50 million award to cultural institutions, made available guidelines and application forms to individual artists and nonprofit organizations. Intended to "defray the costs related to physical loss or damage to property or health, poor air quality, relocation, or other specific economic harm suffered as a result of the World Trade Center attack," the ARF's purpose is to enable artists to "continue or resume working in the city." Parallel regranting processes are being administered by the American Music Center's Liberty Initiative for New York, and by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Arts Relief Fund for Theaters at A.R.T./ New York; groups may also seek assistance from the Nonprofit Recovery Fund at the Nonprofit Finance Fund. The deadline for applications to NYFA is April 30, with awards to be processed on a "rolling" basis.

In the immediate aftermath of September 11, performances nationwide were canceled due to grounded airplanes, and tours by Americans abroad were interrupted. Washington, D.C.-based Dance/USA estimates that its members, the larger American dance companies, lost $135,000 due to cancellations in the first two weeks after the attacks. Among New York City arts groups overall, 71 percent of performances scheduled in the first week and 54 percent in the second week were canceled, and 64 groups reported aggregate losses of nearly $500,000. As of early November, reported AMS Planning and Research Corp., 15 percent of arts organizations had canceled or postponed galas and special events, representing actual and potential losses of over $5 million. (At the same time, over a third of the groups reported collecting donations or dedicating a portion of revenues to disaster relief efforts.)

On January 17, 651 Arts, a Brooklyn-based presenter of performances rooted in the African diaspora, announced the delay of its traditional February season, due to stalled funding at foundations and government organizations. Three events scheduled for the BAM Harvey Theater, including the Bessie-winning Rome & Jewels by the Philadelphia-based troupe Rennie Harris Puremovement, are now scheduled for May. 651 has been unable to call down a "six-figure" grant promised by the former administration's City Council. In Los Angeles, civic funding earmarked for the Lula Washington Contemporary Dance Foundation's new headquarters in the city's South Central district has been diverted, and the opening of the center has been postponed, leaving the company without housing, and its large educational program without a base.

Ivan Sygoda, whose Pentacle provides accounting and booking services for dozens of small local dance companies, says that the national booking process has slowed—a regional conference in Pittsburgh was canceled, and presenters seemed to have the jitters at the big booking conferences, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters and the International Society for Performing Arts, in New York this winter. Sygoda has seen "relatively few canceled engagements. Things got postponed. We think they will still happen."

"Big companies have documented falloffs [in bookings and attendance]," says Sygoda. "They can count broken branches. But the small companies—I work with the reeds that bend in the wind—what's to count? When the wind stops, the reed stands up again." His organization facilitates the Help Desk, a regular gathering for directors of single-choreographer companies; a frequent comment at meetings since the disaster, Sygoda says, has been " 'My creative muscle withered.' But they put one foot in front of another, make a step. The creativity comes back."

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