Photo courtesy Jimmy Van Bramer's office
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer with the Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs, Tom Finkelpearl, at the Cultural Town Hall meeting at MoMA PS1 on Wednesday, March 18.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer hosted a Cultural Town Hall meeting at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City on Wednesday, featuring Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) Tom Finkelpearl, regarding plans to increase the number of affordable housing for artists.

Van Bramer and Finkelpearl also discussed recently proposed legislation to develop a cultural plan in New York City and enhancing the city’s Percent for Art program to grow community engagement.

Being an artist and living in New York is no easy task. Many of the artists in attendance for the town hall meeting said they are finding it tougher and tougher to be able to afford the rising cost of rent to stay and work in New York City. The fear is that this is leading to artists packing up and moving out of New York, and if the trend is not stopped, the city will be left without any artists.

“This administration has recently unveiled an affordable housing plan that includes 1,500 units for artists, dedicated units for artists,” Van Bramer said. “We’re making sure that artists can continue to live and create and make some money here in New York City.”

“The mayor announced that in 10 years we’re going to build 1,500 units…of affordable housing for artists, and 500 units of affordable studio spaces, which is also very important,” Finkelpearl said.

A really good example of affordable housing for artists is P.S. 109 in East Harlem, which is an old school building that has been converted into 89 units of affordable live/work spaces for artists, Finkelpearl explained. “It’s the first, new, affordable workspace for artists in a generation in New York City,” he said.

Aside from making New York a better place for artists to live and work, Van Bramer said that New York City has no comprehensive cultural plan, but that may soon change.

“We are, I believe, very close, we could be just a month or two away from passing the first ever comprehensive cultural plan in the city of New York,” Van Bramer said.

The piece of legislation requires the city to look at their current cultural priorities, determine how communities are being served and how they propose to better those services. The plan will study the condition of artists and plan how to remain an artist-friendly city. The city will go to communities and find out what they want and need in a cultural plan and incorporate what they hear into the plan.

“I think we’re really ready to embrace this,” said Finkelpearl, a former director of the Queens Museum of Art.

Creating a public art plan for New York will bring more art to the communities, but the Percent for Art program will procure the funding for public art works. The Percent for Art program is a law that was established in 1982 and requires one percent of the budget for eligible city-funded construction projects be allocated to public artwork. Since its inception, the Percent for Art program, managed by the DCA, has commissioned hundreds of site-specific projects throughout New York City.

“I think the more public art that we have in the city of New York, the better,” Van Bramer said.

One way to increase community involvement is to get them involved in the Percent for Art program process.

“Do you see an opportunity for more community engagement?” Van Bramer asked Finkelpearl.

“In general the procedures and regulations that the law has spawned, I think, are quite effective, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get better,” Finkelpearl responded.

“I’m thrilled to have this conversation,” on pubic art and about its perception, Van Bramer said.

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