By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
“Art isn’t easy,” is the lyric from a number in the Stephen Sondheim musical “Sunday in the Park with George,” about the artist George Seurat’s struggles with creativity and commerce.
City Council members Stephen Levin (D-Greenpoint-Williamsburg) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Woodside-Sunnyside) would probably agree with Sondheim. Art isn’t easy, especially for those who live and work in New York City.
Levin and Van Bramer have jointly introduced a bill aimed at making life easier for the city’s artists. Van Bramer is chairman of the council’s Cultural Affairs Committee.
Under the proposed legislation, New York City would be required to establish a cultural plan. The bill calls on the city to analyze its current cultural priorities, determine how different communities are being served and develop proposals to improve these services, study the condition of artists in the city today, and plan how the city can remain an artist friendly place in a time of skyrocketing rents and other economic pressures.
The plan also calls for the city to go out to communities throughout the five boroughs and find out what they want and need in a cultural plan and to incorporate these recommendations in the cultural plan.
Cities across the country routinely make cultural plans that reflect the needs and desires of their residents for a robust and effective cultural policy, according to Levin and Van Bramer.
“For many artists in New York City, it is a struggle each and every day to make a living,” Levin said. “By having a cultural plan that maps our cultural priorities and figures out how we can improve conditions for artists, we can make New York City a place more accommodating to artists and the incredible work they do,” he said.
"As Chair of the New York City Council’s Cultural Affairs Committee I believe it is imperative that we initiate institutional policies that will firmly set our city’s foundation as the leading cultural capital of the world,” Van Bramer said.
“The plan will require the Department of Cultural Affairs to analyze whether some neighborhoods are better served by culture than others. It will require an analysis of the needs of artists. It will also require the department to outline how it intends to increase participation in cultural activities throughout the City. By including these real, straightforward and tangible goals, New York City will have a clear plan and goal as to how to maintain its status as the cultural capital of the world,” Van Bramer said.
The bill sounds great to Susan Huizinga, treasurer of Narrows Community Theater, a Bay Ridge-based theatrical troupe. “It sounds wonderful! I’m so excited to hear it,” she told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on Monday.
Huizinga said she hopes the legislation will lead to increased attention and funding for arts groups in the outer boroughs. “Bay Ridge is often ignored or overlooked when it comes to funding. We’ve been here for 43 years. We put on two shows a year. And we’re all volunteers. We do it because we have a passion for it. Our council members have been generous to us over the years with grants, but we could use more help,” she said.
Narrows Community Theater’s next production is “Miracle on 34th Street,” a holiday-themed musical written by Meredith Wilson, the man who created “The Music Man.” The first round of auditions takes place on Sept. 19.
The Levin-van Bramer bill has the support of many in the arts community.
Francine Garber, opera director for Regina Opera, a company located in Sunset Park, said she hopes the bill will lead to additional funding for groups like hers. “By analyzing the different neighborhoods, maybe more public money will be sent by council members,” she said.
Arts groups deserve city funding, Garber said, because they are an economic boon to the communities in which they’re located. “When our audience comes to see a production, they also go out to eat in a local restaurant. They shop in local stores. They’re helping the stores in the neighborhood. It has a ripple effect. It helps the city's economy,” she told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
That extends to the performers, too, Garber said. “When I see a performer come to rehearsal with a slice of pizza, I know they didn’t buy it in Manhattan!” she said.
“There’s no question that New York City is the creative capital of our nation with more artists, writers, musicians, actors and dancers than anywhere in the country. It is now well known that the arts and cultural sector, and specifically the artists that comprise it, are a major economic engine of our great city. Brooklyn Arts Council supports the creation of a solid plan on how NYC can continue to be an artist friendly place amid skyrocketing rents and tough economic times,” said Ella J. Weiss, president of the Brooklyn Arts Council.
“Art and Artists matter and New York City is still where the world comes to experience and make art but, if we don’t get serious about incorporating the arts into our continued development from planning to completion, we will develop ourselves into a city without soul,” said Sheila Lewandowski, founder of the Chocolate Factory
“We’ll just be a congested banking city. We need to establish a five-borough cultural policy that makes sure that all communities and all ages have access to art, and that artists are not only enticed to make it big in NYC, they are encouraged to stay and invest their talents where they live,” Lewandowski said.