By Charles Passy 

As New York's arts groups continue to grapple with the pandemic's economic impact, the state is providing a measure of relief with its largest cultural financial commitment in recent years.

The state will funnel $100 million in grants and assistance to nonprofit arts organizations over the coming year as part of the $212 billion annual budget that was approved earlier this month. That is in marked contrast to the cultural funding over the past decade, which was around $40 million a year, according to state officials.

In addition, officials pointed to other budgetary efforts to support cultural groups and businesses in both the for-profit and nonprofit realms. Among them: $100 million in tax credits to musical and theatrical productions in New York City.

State officials also noted that for-profit arts groups may be eligible for grants through an $800 million pool of funding that has been set aside for small businesses.

The goal of these efforts, said Freeman Klopott, a spokesman for the state's budget division, is to make sure cultural organizations have the resources they need to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

State funding is generally a small component of most nonprofit cultural groups' budgets. Grants generally range from a few thousand dollars to around $135,000, depending on the size of the organization and its needs, according to officials. Even the state's $100-million commitment this year is far less than New York City's annual cultural budget, which is typically well above $150 million and has been as high as $206.9 million in recent times, according to the city's Department of Cultural Affairs.

Art groups and businesses are also eligible for support from the federal government, including through the Save our Stages Act, a pandemic-relief bill championed by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat.

Still, cultural groups are hailing the state's increased commitment as a welcome sign, particularly given how funding has stayed flat for so many years.

"This is stunning," said Elizabeth Sobol, president and chief executive of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs. The center has received regular state funding through the years.

Suzanne Davidson, executive director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, another organization that is a longtime state grant recipient, said the assistance in the next year is crucial. She notes that her group is having to make financial commitments for concerts it is planning in the coming months, but it doesn't yet know how many tickets it will be allowed to sell since capacity guidance can change. The government support could go a long way to quell concerns, she added.

"There's a lot of expense in a complete sea of uncertainty," Ms. Davidson said.

State officials said the increase in arts funding speaks to the fact that culture is increasingly being seen as an economic driver for the state, be it in arts-rich New York City or smaller upstate communities that pride themselves on their arts offerings. Mara Manus, executive director of the New York State Council on the Arts, the agency that oversees cultural funding, pointed to research that showed before the pandemic the arts sector accounted for $123 billion annually of the state's economy and provided 504,000 jobs.

Daniel O'Donnell, a Democratic state assemblyman who represents parts of Manhattan and has been a cultural advocate, said the real test will be whether the state continues to fund at this level after the pandemic.

"I hope it's a first step in a long process," he said.

Write to Charles Passy at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 22, 2021 09:15 ET (13:15 GMT)

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