City Council Passed First Ever Cultural Package

The New York City Council passed its first ever package of cultural legislation since the establishment of the Department of Cultural Affairs in 1976, as well as the largest set of reforms to the Percent for Art program since it was initiated 1982.

The six bills passed by the City Council today work to create more feedback in the Percent for Art process, allow more funds to go to projects, and encourage diversity among Percent for Art Commissions. They also require requiring greater transparency and reporting from the Art Commission and from the Cultural Institutions Groups (CIGs).

Together, this package represents a change, building over the past several years, in how the city approaches and is involved in the arts: asking for more transparency, diversity, and community engagement.

“Today we passed the largest package of bills ever in the history of the Committee on Cultural Affairs, and the first reform to the Percent for Art program since it was created under Mayor Koch. These pieces of legislation will bring more transparency and accountability to the public art process and strengthen the programs that help make our city the cultural capital of the world,” said City Council Majority Leader and Cultural Affairs Committee Chair Jimmy Van Bramer.

Majority Leader Van Bramer continued, “These bills will increase community input in the Percent for Art program by requiring community members to sit on Percent for Art panels, requiring the DCLA to collect data on who receives commissions, and mandating that outreach to artists is conducted in multiple languages. They will also strengthen Percent for Art by increasing the amount of money that can be spent on these important public projects. This package also contains legislation requiring reports from the Arts Commission and the Cultural Institutions groups, bringing more transparency to the institutions that literally shape the face of our city. New York City is better with more public art, more ambitious public art, and public art in every neighborhood. That is what this package will accomplish.”

“The 35th Council District, which I proudly represent, is home to artists of all backgrounds whose inspirational work continues to explore different ideas, perspectives, and societal issues,” said Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo. “My legislation – Intros 1295, 1296, and 1297 - is an opportunity to diversify participation within the Percent for Art program and expand our city’s investment in artists who can transform public spaces into canvases that will showcase their creativity and beautify our neighborhoods. This unprecedented increase in the Program’s 35-year history is momentous and an incredible victory for our city. I want to thank Mayor Bill de Blasio, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Cultural Affairs Committee Chair Jimmy Van Bramer, and Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl for their continued advocacy and support towards the cultural enrichment of all New Yorkers.”

The passage of this legislation represents a growing investment on the part of the City Council and the City of New York in the arts and culture. In the past seven years, the city has allocated more than $1 billion in cultural capital funding, and in FY 17 alone, the city allocated $331 million for operational and capital support for cultural organizations and institutions.

The City Council now allocates over $25 million every year to its cultural initiatives, which include programs such as the Cultural After School Adventure Program (CASA), SU-CASA, and the Cultural Immigrant Initiative. SU-CASA is now the nation’s largest art program specifically aimed at seniors.

New York City is also in the process of developing its first ever cultural plan, required by legislation passed in 2015 by Majority Leader Van Bramer and Council Member Levin. The cultural plan will direct further investment in the arts over an extended time frame.

The package passed today contains six pieces of legislation:

Intro No. 865-B (Sponsored by Majority Leader Van Bramer):

Intro 865 requires the DCLA to report data on visits to members of the Cultural Institutions Group, including data on free visits and organized visits by public school students, helping to identify needs, successes, and areas of improvement.

Intro No. 1276-B (Sponsored by Majority Leader Van Bramer):

Intro 1276-B requires that the Arts Commission, which approves and oversees the design for city projects, including public art and monuments, to compile a yearly report on all projects they.

The remaining bills regulate the Percent for Art program, the first significant reforms to this program since it was created in 1982.

Intro No. 1290 (Sponsored by Majority Leader Van Bramer and Council Member Cumbo):

Intro 1290 requires that the panel deciding on Percent for Art commissions include ex-officio representatives from the office of the Borough President, Community Board, and Council Member in whose district the project is located.

Intro 1295 (Sponsored by Council Member Cumbo and Majority Leader Van Bramer)

Intro 1295 requires DCLA to publish on its website aggregated demographic information about the artists who received Percent for Art Commissions, to help encourage diversity in commission allocations.

Intro No. 1297 (Sponsored by Council Member Cumbo and Majority Leader Van Bramer)

Intro 1297 requires that outreach encouraging artists to apply for Percent for Art Commissions occurs in the seven most commonly spoken languages in New York City.  In addition, the Department of Cultural Affairs will be required to host an information on applying for a Percent for Art commission in each of the five boroughs every year.

Intro 1296 (Sponsored by Council Member Cumbo and Majority Leader Van Bramer)

Intro 1296 will raise the cap on Percent for Art projects from $400,000 to $900,000 for projects under a certain threshold, and from $1.5 million to $4 million for projects over that threshold. The cap was last amended and has not kept up with inflation.   

All six bills will now be sent to the Mayor’s desk, where he is expected to sign them into law.