Create NYC: A Cultural Plan for All New Yorkers

Guest Commentary

Volume 116, No. 12December, 2016

Tom Finkelpearl
Tom Finkelpearl is the commissioner of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs

Tom Finkelpearl is the commissioner of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs

NYC Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl explains what’s going into the city’s first comprehensive cultural plan and why it’s important for musicians to take part in the process

In October, the Department of Cultural Affairs kicked off the public input process for creating the city’s first-ever comprehensive cultural plan, CreateNYC. I’m writing in this month’s issue of Allegro to explain a little more about the plan and the process behind it, and to ask you to get involved.

Last year, Mayor de Blasio signed legislation requiring the city to produce its first-ever comprehensive cultural plan. With my agency leading the process, our hope is that CreateNYC will become a roadmap to guide the future of arts and culture in NYC.

What is a cultural plan? Cities across the U.S. have undertaken their own cultural planning processes, including Boston, Chicago and Denver. These plans employ different formats and approaches but they all provide a strategic vision for cities’ arts and cultural landscape. Typically they do this through a published document that collects a wide range of recommendations and benchmarks, holding local leaders accountable for progress toward a set of goals. These cities approach planning from a far different perspective than we do here in New York, where the Department of Cultural Affairs provides robust expense and capital support to around 1,000 nonprofit arts organizations each year, and we enjoy broad support for art and culture throughout city government.

One unifying feature to cultural plans is the imperative to seek the public’s input on what’s important to them when it comes to art and culture. Here in NYC, input from a broad cross-section of residents – which is where we need your help, but more on that later – will be baked into a document that is part policy recommendations, part visionary roadmap that will trace a path for achieving greater equity and access to our city’s unmatched cultural assets, including its world-class music scene.

CreateNYC’s intensive public input process includes workshops, surveys, events, open office hours, digital engagement, and whatever else it takes to hear from a critical mass of New Yorkers on the issues we’re examining in the cultural plan. I’ve even pledged to participate in regular matches of ping pong with anyone willing to accept the challenge, an icebreaker to get conversations about culture started. We hosted our first borough-wide workshop in Queens on Nov. 14 (and I had my first ping pong match against our host, Dr. Margaret Honey, president of the New York Hall of Science). Workshops in the other four boroughs are coming up. So here’s my first request: show up at any of these events and share your ideas, thoughts, concerns, and hopes for the future of culture in New York City.

New York City has a long history of planning how to support art and culture. The first “plan” stretches back to the middle of the 19th century, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art and American Museum of Natural History were established in a partnership between city government and private residents. These institutions – part of the Cultural Institutions Group, which has since grown to include concert halls, botanic gardens, performing arts venues, and more – today serve residents from all five boroughs and beyond with some of the world’s most extraordinary collections and cultural programming.

A huge body of literature consisting of research reports, economic impact studies, and policy recommendations has examined the value of arts and culture in New York over the last several decades. The Department of Cultural Affairs owes its existence as an independent city agency to this work. The CreateNYC plan will build on this extensive knowledge, with a major ingredient not included in past planning: public input. The backbone of CreateNYC will be feedback from residents from communities across the city telling us what is most important to them and how new policies and future investments could have the greatest impact.

And that’s where we need your help. Musicians set the soundtrack for our city and give voice to cultures from across the globe that find fertile ground for expression here. From Tin Pan Alley, to hip hop, samba, jazz, punk, classical, and more, music is tightly woven into our city’s cultural fabric. One of the issues CreateNYC will examine is how to keep New York City a place where artists can afford to live and work. We recognize that making and performing art are essential contributors to the vitality of our city. So speak up, however you prefer – send us a message online, show up to an upcoming workshop, or even host your own event for your audience, your constituents, your community. Your participation in the process will be essential to ensure that musicians –the cornerstone of our music community – are well represented in the final product.

What’s the timeline for all this? After all of the public input is collected, recorded, and analyzed over the next several months, a draft of the cultural plan will be released in spring 2017. Following another public comment period, giving residents the opportunity to read and react to the draft plan, the initial CreateNYC cultural plan will be released in July 2017.

For the last year, Local 802 president Tino Gagliardi has been a member of the cultural plan’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee. His perspective, along with the other members of the committee, has been crucial to shaping how we think and talk about CreateNYC, and what issues the public input process is focusing on. The next few months will be critical in making sure we create a document that includes voices from every corner of New York, and a plan that serves as a real point of reference for artists, audiences, advocates, and leaders for many years to come.

Without our vibrant music community, New York just isn’t New York. Please visit today, sign up to receive updates, and let us know what you want to see in our city’s first every comprehensive cultural plan.