Once again the fight is on for cultural institutions in Queens and across the city as leaders try to reduce proposed funding reductions of close to $30 million.
According to Tom Finkelpearl, executive director of the Queens Museum of Art (QMA), since 2008 the museum has faced reductions totaling about 50 percent. For some of the other cultural institutions in Queens, the reduction has been between 48 and 66 percent.
Last year’s budget tried to cut $18.1 million from cultural institutions, including eight in Queens, although the City Council restored $16 million. Organizations have already had layoffs, furloughs and salary and benefit reductions. For instance, last year QMA had to lay off eight people out of a staff of 40.
This April, the Queens Botanical Garden (QBG) started charging admission. Its executive director, Susan Lacerte, said that it has been very positive. She also said that everyone needs to help, which is why they are asking the public to pay admission.
“It’s important everyone participates,” she said.
While a budget cut of $29.4 million is currently being proposed, cultural groups are asking for a $20 million restoration. New York Hall of Science president and CEO Margaret Honey said they recognize that all institutions have to give something back in tough times.
“I think the proposed cuts are very serious and if enacted would seriously impact the ability of our cultural institutions to provide the programs and services that they offer and that’s not something we want to happen,” said Queens Councilmember James Van Bramer, the chair of the Cultural Affairs, Libraries & International Intergroup Relations Committee.
Honey said that funding cuts could result in more job losses and furloughing staff. She said that these cuts would be “cutting into the core services of the organization,” such as maintenance or security. Honey noted that, although the organizations can fundraise for the programming, it is more difficult to get people to donate to operations.
Programming could also be further impacted by the latest round of proposed cuts. Finkelpearl noted that, for example, this could mean having fewer educational groups.
“This time there’s no alternative but to really cut into core programming,” Finkelpearl said. “It’s sort of a breaking situation for a lot of institutions.”
Ellen Kodadek, the executive director of Flushing Town Hall, said that it is disconcerting when members of the community have to be turned away because of budget cuts.
“We need to be there for our constituents when they need us,” Queens Theatre in the Park executive director Jeff Rosenstock said.
Some of those constituents are the many students who visit each year. Van Bramer said that, if it weren’t for these institutions and their programs, many of these children “would not be able to enjoy these kinds of experiences.”
The cuts to cultural organizations could also hurt the surrounding businesses. Van Bramer said that there is a “ripple effect,” explaining that people who visit a local theater might also go to a local restaurant.
Cultural Institution leaders have been meeting with elected officials to make them aware of the situation. Van Bramer has also been talking with his colleagues in the City Council and said that, as chair of the Cultural Affairs, Libraries & International Intergroup Relations Committee, it’s his “job…to speak up and fight on behalf of these organizations and programs.”
“We’re all driven to keep fuel in the tank,” said Rosenstock, adding that the city’s funds have been that fuel. “We can’t run on empty.”