For the first time in 12 years, New York City will be electing a new mayor, replacing three-term Michael Bloomberg this October. For New York City artists and arts patrons, this could mean either a refreshing new direction for one of the most culturally rich cities in the world, or a devastating blow to its already limited resources.
On Tuesday evening, nine out of the 16 invited candidates attended Teachers College-Columbia University for a mayoral forum on education and the arts to discuss their positions and potential policies regarding arts funding in New York City. Among the attendees were current frontrunners Bill Thompson (D) and Christine Quinn (D), as well as John Catsimatidis (R), Joe Lhota (R), Bill de Blasio (D), John Liu (D), and campaign newcomer Jack Hidary (I). Democratic candidate Anthony Weiner, recent object of tabloid fodder, declined his invitation to attend.
The event was co-sponsored by Young Audiences New York, an organization that offers arts education programs to New York City students, and One Percent for Culture, a grassroots campaign that advocates allocating one percent of the city's budget to the arts (a proposed budget increase from $155 million to $700 million). WNYC hosts Leonard Lopate and Kurt Andersen moderated the discussion.
Former City Comptroller Bill Thompson hearkened back to his own days as a viola player in the New York City public school system, as he explained his plan to segregate a baseline of more than $60 million for the arts to ensure its security in the budget. Jack Hidary, a wealthy tech entrepreneur who recently inserted himself into the race, also spoke of his own personal experiences, learning music through the Suzuki system in school, as he eloquently spoke of the role of the arts in reviving neighborhoods and attracting tourists. City Council speaker Christine Quinn expressed similar sentiments, specifically emphasizing the need for an increase in arts-education funding. "Getting more money into the classroom is something I'll do when I'm mayor," said Quinn.
Joe Lohta was faced with the most difficult task of the evening: responding to criticisms about his time as deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani when he fought to defund the Brooklyn Museum over its exhibition of a controversial portrait of the Virgin Mary — a decision he says he now regrets. "I made a mistake," he said. He now claims to support making arts education part of the core curriculum in schools and agrees that the arts budget could be significantly higher (though he could not commit to the one-percent plan).
While all of the candidates expressed support for an increase in arts funding, Catsimatidis was the only candidate to endorse One Percent for Culture's plan, saying he supports it "one hundred ten percent." He described his interest in funding the arts as the philanthropic efforts of a "successful businessman." He even noted his participation in actor Tony Lo Bianco's recent off-Broadway solo play about former New York City Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, The Little Flower. "I'm executive-producing," he said. "You know what that means? I write the checks."