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.
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.”
One local “reed” is choreographer Keely Garfield. If you called her in Battery Park City, the automated voice told you the number is not in service, and that no further information is available. Since that number is her business line as well as her family’s home phone, she’s sure she’s lost bookings, and other useful contacts, in the months since September 11, when she watched the planes fly into the towers right outside her windows. She knows she lost seven weeks of rehearsal time, her focus, and the yield of all the grant proposals she might have written if she hadn’t been caught up in the bureaucracy surrounding her dislocation.
Garfield, whose Sinister Slapstick troupe offers the new Free Drinks for Ladies With Nuts and two other works February 20 through 24 at the Duke on 42nd Street, has two young children and a husband who lost his job soon after the attack. Though she’s had assistance from the Red Cross and is registered with FEMA, she’s hoping the Arts Recovery Fund will reimburse her for the costs of many meals out, essential furniture—a bed, a table, a desk—and the press kits and videos inaccessible after the blast. “Money from my ‘dance pot’ went into my family’s ‘survival pot,’ ” she says. “How do you put a price on nearly two months of work that I missed doing, or on the yield of applications I wasn’t able to get to?” But she’s choreographing again, buoyed by an outpouring of support from the dance community.
“I’m not going to be making a September 11 piece anytime soon,” says Garfield. “But if my work is born of my feelings and my sensory perception of the world, what’s being expressed now has a lot to do with the urge to hike my dress up and head for the hills, the idea of fright and flight—a very personal response, looking for escape routes. I’ve been grateful that I’m an artist, that I have access to how I’m feeling and the means to express it. It feels right and good, feels healing.”
Experimental composer David First lives on Dutch Street, less than three blocks east of ground zero, and also witnessed the attack on September 11. He and his wife, painter and yoga teacher Patricia Smith, were “on the run” for two weeks, staying with friends, but then moved back into their loft. “At night, you can hear all the ominous crashing and banging and strange noises” still coming from the site, he says. “In a way, it’s sadder for me now.”
First wrote a song, “Jump Back” about September 11, cut a CD, and gave away 4000 copies of it, a process that occupied him almost totally until the end of 2001. Then, he says, “I sort of turned a corner. My denial went away. I’m trying to integrate [the destruction] into my life, where before it was my life.”
He’s finishing up another CD. “I ended up radically rewriting one of my songs to reflect things that have been going on since then.” He’s gratified that his guitar students have largely continued to come downtown, and is hard at work on music for a “new work with performing objects” with Theodora Skipitares, coming to La MaMa March 14 through 31. Called Tamburlaine the Great, it’s about the radical Islamic world conqueror, and concludes with a meditation on war.