By Bill Parry
New York City is known as the cultural capital of the nation and its elected officials are sending a strong message to the Trump administration that it will stand against proposed federal cuts to the arts and humanities.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and New York leaders, including City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), the chairman of the Council’s Committee on Cultural Affairs and Libraries, called on Congress to reject President Trump’s March 16 budget proposal and save the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
“The lives of New York’s children are richer because of critical educational programs funded by these important institutions,” Gillibrand said. “Not only do these programs inspire our children to learn, they also help drive New York’s economy and help create jobs. We should never allow these programs to be eliminated, and I will do everything I can to fight these proposed cuts and restore funding.”
The following morning hundreds gathered on the steps of City Hall to protest the proposed cuts. The rally, organized by Van Bramer and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan), was the first of its kind in New York City where Broadway stars, artists, musicians, museum directors, union leaders and arts advocacy organizations all stood united.
The crowd reached the occupancy limit of City Hall and hundreds more supported the rally from outside the grounds, including instrumentalists whose music could be heard from City Hall Park.
“President Trump’s unprecedented and vicious assault on the arts and humanities, with the proposed elimination of the NEA, NEH, IMLS and CPB, would be devastating for the heart and soul of our country,” Van Bramer said. “These cuts would cripple cultural organizations and libraries in big cities like New York, the cultural capital of the world, and in small towns across our country. President Trump talks a lot about making America great again, but you can never make anything great by crushing its soul and devastating its heart. That is what the arts are to us, that is what culture means to us, so we will fight you, President Trump.”
The arts and culture are a $730 billion industry nationwide employing more than 4.7 million workers. In New York City, the arts accounts for more than 8 percent of the total workforce, employing more than 300,000 people.
“Art and culture have a profound impact on communities across New York City and beyond,” City Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl said. “Supporting the people and organizations that create art and provide opportunities to experience culture is an essential responsibility in our democracy.”
The proposed cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts and the three other organizations altogether amount to .02 percent of the federal budget, according to Mark-Viverito.
David Byrne, the former lead singer of the Talking Heads, slammed Trump’s proposal.
“This is a political move,” Byrne said. “No other investment comes close. It’s good for jobs, it’s good for the economy, and any businessperson would be a fool to walk away from this. You may hate the arts. You may hate the stuff that people paint, and the theater that they do, but do you want to lose all those jobs? Do we want to kill this part of the economy? That’s just completely stupid.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr