Mayor Bloomberg and Tim Robbins at the press conference(Photo: Ben Winters)
Mayor Bloomberg and Tim Robbins at the press conference
(Photo: Ben Winters)
Here's a question that city governments very rarely have to answer: What do we do with leftover money? When the Giuliani administration gave $2.5 million to a struggling Broadway post 9/11, no one guessed that the box offices of Times Square would bounce back as quickly as they have. So on Monday, March 25, the League of American Theaters and Producers returned $1 million of that money to the City--which is promptly redistributing it to the local, non-profit arts community.

"We had a program after September 11 to help Broadway, and Broadway has come back faster than anyone had anticipated," said Mayor Mike Bloomberg in announcing the regrant at a packed press conference at the Flea Theater in Tribeca yesterday. "So they [the League] did something that had never been done before in government, ever: They gave the money back."

When Broadway suffered a 65% overall decline in ticket sales after the terrorist attacks of September, the City earmarked $2.5 million as a subsidy to 11 struggling shows through the "Spend Your Regards to Broadway" program. A number of those shows (including Chicago, Proof, and The Tale of the Allergist's Wife) returned leftover funds once they were safely back in the black. "The program was a perfect example of private/public cooperation, which is one thing that the tragedy has forced everyone to do," said League president Jed Bernstein. "It didn't occur to us that we could keep the money, so we're surprised that everyone is thanking us for giving it back."

Most thankful are the three non-profit service organizations--the Alliance of Resident Theaters/New York, the American Music Center, and the New York Foundation for the Arts--which will each receive $200,000 to distribute as they see fit among their membership. Remaining funds will go to four groups that focus on getting public school kids interested in the arts: ArtsConnection, the Center for Arts Education, Studio in a School, and Young Audiences/New York.

As cultural affairs commissioner Kate Levin pointed out during the press conference, one distressing pattern in the post-9/11 arts world is that "school children are just not returning to museum and performing arts centers." How to counteract this dropoff? "Go to the [cultural institution] of your choice," Levin suggested. "Go early, go often. Stop at the gift shop, eat at the restaurant, and above all, bring children! Bring your children, bring someone else's children...just bring some children."

Hollywood star Tim Robbins, who grew up in New York and has a long association with the East Village's Theater for the New City, was on hand to express his affection for non-profit theater. "What I have become, as an actor or writer or whatever, I owe to the good fortune of having parents who chose to raise me in New York," said Robbins, fondly recalling summer productions at the Delacorte and the "incredible museums and cultural experiences everywhere" to be found everywhere in the City.

After grateful speeches from heads of the various agencies that are sharing in the million-dollar bounty, the Mayor closed the conference by quoting his predecessor: "If we want to keep New York the cultural center of the world, we have to help. As Rudy said, don't let people who try to end our quality of life win....Let's keep what makes New York great, great."