From the CEO: Thoughts of a Cockeyed Optimist

Governor Hochul recently visited Ginsburg Development Company’s property at 1 Martine Avenue in White Plains during a campaign visit. She toured the property’s artwork, including a mural of Raymond Saa. (photo courtesy of Thompson & Bender)

by Janet Langsam, ArtsWestchester CEO

The New York State Proposed Executive Budget for Fiscal ‘23 has been announced, and in it is level funding for the Arts. The budget contains the same $100 million that was allocated last year, which included an additional $40 million of recovery funding to New York State Council for the Arts (NYSCA) and an additional $20 million for capital projects added to the agency’s $40 million base funding. The level funding allocation took many arts advocates like myself by surprise. While level funding is nothing to sneeze at, it was a bit of a disappointment considering the optimistic approach in Governor Hochul’s ‘State of the State’ address, in which she acknowledged that the arts in New York State (NYS) are in peril.

In her ‘State of the State’ message, Gov. Hochul said: “Expansive funding is essential to revitalize the Arts and Culture industry and reestablish NYS’s commitment to being the arts and cultural capital of the world.”

“We couldn’t agree more,” says ArtsNYS President Elizabeth Reiss, who is also president of the Capital Region Arts Council. ”The Arts community, including ArtsNYS, is gearing up for the legislative engagement on the executive budget with the hope that additional funding will make it into the final document.”

I still believe that we can get to a more comprehensive allocation for the arts through the legislative process. That is because Gov. Hochul is no newcomer to the administration.  She is keenly aware of the deep toll COVID-19 has taken on the state’s $114 billion creative industry. It is believed that the number of artists and musicians affected in NYS has been estimated to be at 460,000.

In her presentation, the governor proposed to “Provide critical state funding for Arts and Culture.” We all believe in her sincerity, because she also points out that the “COVID-19 pandemic has levied immense challenges on the sector, which is contending with 21 months of revenue loss and significant workforce reduction.”

There is hope, when reading between the lines of the governor’s ‘State of the State’. In her speech, she said: “Beyond economic impact, a thriving Arts and Culture sector has overwhelmingly positive health and social benefits for a diverse population, including children, the elderly, veterans and justice-involved individuals.”

On this, there is widespread agreement; however, the budget of NYSCA over the past 10 years of the Andrew Cuomo administration did not reflect that view. During the years between 2011 and 2021 the NYSCA budget hovered around $41 million, never even reaching the $54 million high of 1988. By 1990, that number had dropped to $46M. Then, in February of 1991, former Governor Mario Cuomo suggested a 56% cut.

Last year, with the recognition that NYS’s Arts and Culture sector was in peril, a one-time infusion of $100 million was added to NYSCA’s bottom line. The allocation was a recovery item that would not necessarily continue as part of NYSCA’s base going forward, which is what arts advocates had hoped for.

Gov. Hochul says she will provide additional funds for arts recovery and capital improvements related to COVID-19 impacts on top of the agency’s annual base funding of NYSCA. “NYSCA funding drives local economies, and the development of main street businesses across all 62 counties,” she said.

“ArtsNYS is pleased that Gov. Hochul views all 62 counties as important art centers,” says Reiss.

This investment reflects the pivotal role of New York’s creative sector and its capacity to propel the economic growth and health of all New Yorkers. In her address, Gov. Hochul quickly put aside “the woman thing”: “I am not here to make history,” she said. “I’m here to make a difference.” In the end, arts advocates around the state are indeed hoping that she will make that difference.

(photo courtesy of Thompson & Bender)

A version of this article first appeared in the February 2022 issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at​​​​

About Janet Langsam

During her time at the helm of ArtsWestchester, the organization – formerly known as the Westchester Arts Council – has grown from a $1 million to a $6 million agency and has excelled at making the arts more visible, diverse and accessible for all. ArtsWestchester offers financial and marketing support to emerging arts groups, cultural institutions and grassroots activities throughout Westchester County.