Cultural groups cut deeply in budget

While city agencies and programs experienced funding cuts across the board in this year’s budget, many Queens cultural and non-profit organizations are seeing drastic cuts.
“It’s been a brutal year,” said Antonio Quesada, Executive Director of the Cultural Institutions Group (CIG), a coalition of 33 publicly-owned and privately-operated organizations located in all five boroughs that provide cultural and educational resources to the public.
The eight Queens groups that are members of the CIG saw cuts that ranged from 9 percent to 40 percent of the funding they received the previous year, and overall $1.6 million in cuts were made to the eight organizations.
“The magnitude of these cuts is so severe that our institutions right now are going through whether to close galleries, lay off employees and make tough decisions on how they are going to manage these cuts,” Quesada said.
Quesada said that the amount of cuts might be comparable to 2001, but the institutions were already preparing for cuts the previous year, so this year’s reductions came as much more of a surprise.
“We expected that there would be a cut given this financial stress the city is under, but I don’t think anyone expected it would be as severe as it was,” said Ellen Kodadek, Executive and Artistic Director for Flushing Town Hall, whose organization saw its funding cut by nearly $318,000 or 40 percent from last year’s budget.
Last year, Flushing Town Hall, which is also known as Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts (FCCA), received $884,000 in city funding, but this year the budget only allocated it $568,996 - which is roughly a third of the organization’s overall yearly budget.
“We are certainly looking across all programs and all staffing to see what we can do to manage the cuts,” Kodadek said. “Obviously we are going to have to look to potentially reduce public programs to schools, seniors and tourists.”
While the cuts at Flushing Town Hall may have been the most severe, many other Queens cultural institutions are also feeling the pinch.
The Queens Museum of Art (QMA) received $1,243,000 in last year, but the group saw its funding slashed to $1,008,520 or about a 19 percent cut this year.
“Unfortunately, we are not in the position where we would ever want to cut back on anything,” said David Strauss, Director of External Affairs at the QMA, who acknowledged that the organization would have to start looking at programs and positions to make cuts.
Strauss said that the funding the museum has received from the city has historically gone towards education, programs for seniors and paying for security for the museum and events - a trend that is consistent with most of the organizations.
“We can’t make up these budget gaps with just small adjustments,” Quesada said. “There are going to have to be some big adjustments that strike at the heart of some of these institutions.”
Meanwhile, Susan Lacerte, Executive Director of the Queens Botanical Garden (QBG), said the city slashed her organizations funding by $184,186 or roughly 16 percent from the 1,160,000 the group received last year.
“Absolutely, I am disappointed,” said Lacerte, who pointed to plans to scrap free tours on Saturdays and put off additional planting that the organization planned.
However, Lacerte said the QBG expects to receive additional rental revenues from their new building and is looking into sponsorship opportunities that would help defray the city cuts.
Although some of the organizations acknowledged they would look for additional or creative ways to raise extra revenue - including asking some of their large benefactors for more donations - that might not be easy to accomplish this year.
“The downturn of the economy certainly affects our ability to raise funds from corporations,” Kodadek said.