Do Chinese Arts Groups Seek City Funding?

At a briefing organized by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media, Cultural Affairs Commission Tom Finkelpearl noted that at a public meeting in Queens, few Chinese attended. He hoped to reach out to the community through the community press. (Photo by Karen Pennar for Voices of NY)

At a Newsmakers briefing organized by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media and moderated by Errol Louis (right), Cultural Affairs Commission Tom Finkelpearl (left) noted that at a public meeting in Queens, few Chinese attended. He hoped to reach out to the community through the community press. (Photo by Karen Pennar for Voices of NY)

The first draft of the city’s comprehensive cultural plan, which has been under preparation for a while, will likely be unveiled next spring, said Tom Finkelpearl, commissioner of Department of Cultural Affairs at a Newsmakers briefing hosted by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Asian arts organizations, many of whom have been struggling with inadequate funding, expect the plan to bring to light their contributions and prompt the city to pay more attention to their needs which, they think, have been overlooked for too long. But people familiar with the art and cultural services in the community also pointed out that Asian arts organizations need to give themselves a jolt to be competitive for city funds.

The cultural plan, mandated in legislation proposed by Council members Jimmy Van Bramer, Stephen Levin and Margaret Chin, was signed into law by the mayor last year and will be the first such plan for New York, the cultural capital of the world. It aims to assess cultural resources and services in the five boroughs of the city and “lay out a blueprint for increasing access, opportunity and equity so that all New Yorkers may have meaningful engagement with culture and the arts,” said Van Bramer.

Finkelpearl said the city has held close to 50 public meetings since the passage of the bill to get an insight into art organizations and communities. The opinions and suggestions will be reflected in the first draft, which is likely to be ready for review in April. But he pointed out that Asian arts organizations, especially Chinese ones, didn’t seem to be interested in participating. At one public meeting at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, the city provided Chinese interpreters in consideration of the venue’s proximity to Flushing, which is home to a large Chinese population. But few Chinese showed up.

Robert Lee, executive director of the Asian American Arts Centre, who has attended a few of these public meetings, said it is true that in each of the meetings, he saw very few Chinese attendees. He said Chinese organizations are likely to miss the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fight for equality for themselves by being absent from these meetings.

Lee said the inequality in funding is a problem that has been troubling many smaller arts organizations like this for a long time. Most of the city funding goes to art and cultural institutions located on city properties. These are mainly major organizations like the Bronx Museum and the Brooklyn Museum. But in recent years, art and cultural organizations that are not located on city properties have been growing rapidly. In Manhattan, there are more than 1,200 such organizations. But they only get a very small share of the pie when it comes to city funding. Things are even harder for organizations run by and serving ethnic communities.

Finkelpearl said the city funds 950 organizations currently, and the total funding is $35 million. Among them, two-thirds are located on city properties. He said the funding formula is a tradition that started in the 1870s in order to form a public-private partnership to promote arts and cultural services. Under the structure, some originally small institutions have grown into major, successful ones, such as the Natural History Museum. He said New York is not the only city that has this funding structure, Amsterdam and some other cities also follow the same formula.

Finkelpearl admitted that the city has no idea of the proportion of its funding that goes to arts and cultural organizations in ethnic communities. But an independent third party is doing a study on art services and resources in different neighborhoods. The findings of the study, which is coming out in a month, will be considered when the city drafts the comprehensive cultural plan.

Kuang-Yu Fong, co-director of Chinese Theatre Works, said it is true that Chinese organizations haven’t gotten a fair share of the city’s funding. But she said part of the reason can be found in the Chinese organizations themselves. Fong said the process of applying for government funding is very strict and meticulous. Some Chinese organizations have no long-term plan. Some have even been fined by the city for lack of mandatory insurance. Such management issues often affect their chances of getting city funding.

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