Letter from the Commissioner

In May 2015, Mayor de Blasio signed legislation sponsored by City Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Stephen Levin to develop a cultural plan for New York City. What followed was hundreds of meetings, focus groups, surveys, and other types of public engagement that reached nearly 200,000 New Yorkers. The result was CreateNYC, New York City’s first-ever comprehensive cultural plan, which proposed a host of ideas about how to develop our cultural community and make sure all New Yorkers have the opportunity to participate and be connected.

The cultural plan we released two years ago had 92 recommendations, encompassing everything from increased support for cultural groups in underserved communities, to fostering a safe and thriving DIY arts community, to expanding resources for arts education, to supporting individual artists, cultural workers and audiences with disabilities. It was big and ambitious, and reflected the voices of the tens of thousands of New Yorkers who took the time to provide their input. Today we release an Action Plan that both reports on our activities in these first two years and sets a course for the remaining eight years of the plan.

Why an Action Plan?

We said all along that CreateNYC would be a living document, not something that would sit on the shelf.  So with an eye toward efficiently tracking what we’ve accomplished to date and clearly conveying the work that still lies ahead of us, we streamlined the dozens of recommendations from CreateNYC into five objectives and 25 strategies listed in the Action Plan. We strived to eliminate duplication that existed in the first CreateNYC publication and to make a clear and useable document, all without losing sight of any goals from the original plan.

2017-2019: The First Two Years

Along with our constituents and collaborators, we’ve made substantial progress spurred by the CreateNYC cultural plan. When Mayor de Blasio released the plan at Materials for the Arts in July 2017, there was a clear emphasis on diversity in the cultural workforce. Now, I am proud to report that all 33 members of the CIG (cultural institutions on City-owned property that receive annual subsidies from Cultural Affairs) have submitted formal diversity, equity, and inclusion plans – making them among the first cultural organizations to develop such plans in the U.S.

And that’s just one development that can be traced back to the goals, strategies, and ideas contained in CreateNYC. The original plan also included a set of immediate goals, and we have achieved all of them and more:  

  • Continue to invest in the Cultural Institutions Group (CIG), increasing support for those in low-income communities
    Funding for the CIG members has increased substantially. Smaller CIG members have received larger proportional increases. As part of the FY20 budget, the City also announced that Weeksville Heritage Center would begin the process of entering the CIG, the first organization in a generation to do so.
  • Support increased language access for communications and cultural programming to reach broader, more inclusive audience
    DCLA provided added funding to organizations offering programming in languages other than English. It will also launch a new competitive grant program for these services in FY20.
  • Increase support for artist grants
    DCLA has increased grant funding for individual artists, collectives, and smaller nonprofits from less than $1 million in FY15 to nearly $4 million in FY20 – a 400% increase over four years ago. This is a significant investment in artists who live and work in NYC.
  • Expand cultural access for people with disabilities and for disability arts
    In 2018, DCLA established the CreateNYC Disability Forward Fund, among the first initiatives dedicated to disability access and artistry in the U.S. This program will be on a renewal cycle in FY20. The agency also hired a new staffer to serve as a Disability Inclusion Associate, and committed capital funding over four years for accessibility projects at cultural organizations: $19 million in FY19 alone.
  • Expand diversity and inclusion in the cultural workforce
    Promoting a more diverse workforce has been a priority since Day One of this Administration, and CreateNYC provided new energy and clarity on how to make a real difference. An explicit emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has been integrated into the agency’s entire budget– from new DEI questions on the agency’s Cultural Development Fund grant applications, to the full DEI plans required of the 33 members of the CIG. New and expanded programs – from CUNY Cultural Corps to the CreateNYC Leadership Accelerator – have created pipelines for New Yorkers from all backgrounds into the cultural workforce, and pathways for advancement within it. We’re starting to see real results, but this is a long term commitment. We will continue to build an emphasis on DEI into all of the agency’s funding and policies.
  • Work with cultural organizations to achieve the City’s sustainability goals
    DCLA spends over $40 million annually to cover energy costs for cultural groups on City property. CreateNYC included recommendations to reduce the environmental impact of cultural institutions and better integrate arts and culture into the City’s sustainability and equity planning. In response, DCLA committed capital funds to increase energy efficiency at cultural facilities; in FY19 this totaled over $15.5 million, which has supported sustainability projects across the five boroughs. In 2018, DCLA also hired a new Director of Energy and Sustainability to work with cultural organizations to improve energy efficiency.
  • Coordinate and promote engagement between the City and New York City’s cultural community
    One of the first new funding programs to grow out of CreateNYC was the Mayor’s Grant for Cultural Impact (MGCI). Now in its second year, MGCI supports partnerships between cultural organizations and municipal agencies that aim to address a range of pressing civic issues, from public safety to immigration to literacy. Programs like Public Artists in Residence, originally launched in 2015, and the recently created Civics and Arts Fund also continue to receive support and expand the role of arts and culture in New York’s social and civic life.

Beyond these eight immediate commitments, we made major strides on other CreateNYC recommendations, including:

  • Just months after CreateNYC was unveiled in 2017, we were thrilled to stand alongside Mayor de Blasio as he signed legislation creating New York’s Office of Nightlife. During public engagement for CreateNYC, dozens of representatives of the city’s DIY art spaces showed up at events and offered up thoughtful recommendations about how to keep their communities safe and thriving. The Nightlife Office, a new point of contact between City government and cultural spaces that operate at night, delivers a key promise to these advocates. Even better: just months after that, we again danced (well – stood near people who danced) to celebrate another milestone: repeal of the city’s antiquated Cabaret Law.

What comes next?

Record Investment in Culture

The nature of the work we do, and the varying levels of complexity involved in the cultural plan’s goals means that there will continue to be short, medium, and long term efforts. Most immediately, we are proud to have made another record-setting investment in our city’s cultural community, thanks to the partnership between Mayor de Blasio and City Council, and the dedication of so many advocates across the city: $212 million for Fiscal Year 2020. We’re putting this funding to work by continuing investment in a range of CreateNYC initiatives, from CUNY Cultural Corps, to the new CreateNYC Language Access Fund, to CulturePass at our local libraries, disability arts and access, diversity, equity, & inclusion efforts, artist grants, and more.  We will also continue to invest capital funding in disability access and green construction projects. And in FY20, we’ve provided a nearly $12 million increase for the Cultural Development Fund, with $2.5 million dedicated to additional funds for organizations serving neighborhoods identified by the Social Impact of the Arts Project as high need areas where investments in culture are highly correlated with a range of social indicators like education and public health.

During CreateNYC public engagement throughout 2016 and 2017, we opened new lines of dialogue with residents around the city. These conversations were invaluable to us, and it’s why we continued the CreateNYC Office Hours with the Commissioner series beyond the publication of the plan. The Office Hours will continue – sign up for DCLA’s e-newsletter to stay up to date on when and where they’re happening.

New York City’s vibrant cultural community and robust public support for it has grown over generations, as New Yorkers time and again made the collective choice to invest in and prioritize this unique asset. A CreateNYC survey conducted by Siena College Research Institute found 97% of residents believe arts and culture are important to the overall quality of life in New York City, and the 2017 cultural plan brought new clarity and focus on what the cultural community excels at, where we can do better, and what role residents see for the arts and for themselves. The strategies listed in the 2019 Action Plan will shape how future generations participate in the cultural life of our city.

Some of this work has already paid off, but some of this will extend years and even decades. For example, ensuring that our cultural community is open, equitable, and accessible to all is something that will require ongoing collective effort. Our ideas of diversity, equity, and inclusion can’t just become “part of the furniture” – we have to constantly consider what they mean and how we work toward them, especially as society changes around us.

We invite everyone who sees value in supporting a vibrant cultural community to read through the CreateNYC Action Plan, and let us know what you think (you can connect with us online @NYCulture, or show up at one of the Office Hours mentioned above). Please take this opportunity, as we all did in 2017, to reflect on what we’ve achieved as a sector, how far we have to go, and how we get there – together.


Tom Finkelpearl
NYC Department of Cultural Affairs

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