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Create NYC’s Great Opportunity

The first comprehensive cultural plan is a chance to change the way we think about the arts in New York's culture

Christopher Carroll

From San Francisco to Denver, Chicago and Boston, major cities across the United States have enjoyed city-supported cultural plans, all of which have seen varying degrees of success and effectiveness. Following that example, Mayor de Blasio and the New York City Council tasked the Department of Cultural Affairs, the largest municipal government cultural agency in the country, with creating New York City’s first comprehensive plan. In 2015, Local 802 president Tino Gagliardi was asked by Mayor de Blasio to sit on the Citizen’s Advisory Committee, responsible for helping DCLA develop the plan and create a series of administrative, legislative and policy recommendations for the city that will benefit our cultural ecosystem.

Over the last year, DCLA and its consultant, Hester Street Collaborative, have developed and implemented a public engagement process designed to collect input and information from New Yorkers, artists, stakeholders and professionals across the city. These events have included over 180 meetings, workshops and panels, at which the city has learned about what artists need to thrive and what New Yorkers require to better connect our cultural environment with our day-to-day lives. This process is now transitioning into a drafting stage that will involve opportunities for the public to respond to recommendations. Ultimately, this will lead to a formal Create NYC plan, which will make legislative and administrative policy recommendations intended to create a stronger cultural environment for all.

“Arts and Culture” vs. “Arts in Culture”

The Create NYC plan offers an important moment for New York City. This is a unique opportunity for us to challenge the traditional awareness and discussion surrounding “culture” in our city. This is our chance to re-align our cultural values by acknowledging that “arts and culture” are not merely a part of New York City, but that the “arts” are part of New York City’s culture.

While the distinction may seem minor, it actually is fundamental to our understanding of New York city’s heritage and identity. The arts are part of New York City’s culture. Music is part of New York City’s culture. Transportation, food, education, writing, sports, drinking, bagels, hipsters, pizza, inclusion, acceptance, diversity, equality are all part of New York City’s culture.

Our culture is our identity, a manifestation of our diverse heritage.

If successful, the Create NYC plan will re-establish the social, political and legislative awareness of our diverse and vibrant artistic heritage, ensuring that our cultural priorities and values are reflected in the way we legislate, plan, and govern this city.

On Feb. 27, I delivered testimony to the New York City Council Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations (a name that is in of itself an example of the “Arts and Culture” vs. “Arts in Culture” issue!), explaining that this cultural plan must adequately support the artists who have driven our city’s diverse and vibrant cultural heritage. (See opposite page for my testimony.)

A successful process moving forward

The policies of the Cultural Plan must not solely focus on the “consumer” of performances, museums and our halls of science. Rather, it must place equal focus on the “producer” of our artistic and cultural environment. “Improving access” must not only mean that more New Yorkers can go to a concert or attend a museum or zoo, but that more New Yorkers can become musicians, curators and zoologists. “Affordability” must not only mean that housing and tickets are affordable, but that artists receive the fair wages necessary to pay for them and can afford to live in the same communities where they work. “Equity” must address not only the equitability of receiving services from the city, but also the creation of equitable opportunities for artists to survive.

Our cultural ecosystem, vital both to the health of our communities and the vibrancy of our economy, is made possible by the artists, performers and workers who contribute to it, and the cultural plan must adequately support these uniquely talented people.

Ultimately, that success will depend on whether the plan makes rational, achievable and impactful recommendations that will encourage financially viable and sustainable careers, implement incentive reforms that ensure taxpayer funded festivals and venues pay performers fairly, expand affordable artist housing and space, better fund our city’s cultural community and organizations, provide every public school with adequate funding for the arts, and better preserve our standing as a cultural capital of the world, where musicians, performers, writers, dancers, actors, stagehands, teachers and all artists, can afford to live, work and raise a family.

Get involved. This is a moment.

Musicians across the city are clamoring for ways to become more involved in our communities. Like our other priorities – defeating the Constitutional Convention ballot measure, electing representatives who support our values and the arts, encouraging employers to employ musicians fairly, among others – the Create NYC plan is an easy and important way to directly impact our careers and the wellbeing of our families and neighborhoods. Taking surveys, answering questions of the day, and making specific recommendations can provide valuable insight for DCLA. Public events and meetings will also allow for musicians across this city to interact directly with DCLA staff and leadership. All of this can be found online at createnyc.org.

This is a chance to change the way the arts are seen in our society. Are music and the arts just a supplement to our daily lives – a pleasant diversion or luxury? Or are music, literature, science, dance, theater and creative expression a vital part of our society’s success, indivisible from our identity and culture, a common heritage given to us by our ancestors, and our gift to our future?

O.K., what’s next?

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