The Cultural Plan


New York’s cultural community gives the city its character, heart, and soul. It has also been credited with providing New York with a distinct competitive economic advantage among global cities.

However, the sector cannot continue to make the city great if the artists, scientific researchers, cultural workers, and nonprofit organizations that make up much of the cultural field cannot afford to do their work. The current supply of affordable places to live, work, exhibit, and perform falls far short of demand. This affordability crisis not only severely effects the wellbeing of the 250,000 New Yorkers that work in the cultural field, but it also threatens the city’s future as a global cultural center.

“This affordability crisis threatens who we are, threatens the very soul of this city.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio
2017 State of the City Address

It must be a priority to both support existing cultural spaces under threat and create new spaces accessible to a wide array of cultural sector members in neighborhoods across the five boroughs. In the face of mounting real estate pressure, empowering the cultural community with greater agency over its own future through ownership, master leases, and other solutions can help members of the cultural sector stay in neighborhoods long-term.

Expanding the existing supply of cultural facilities, workspaces, and affordable housing will be crucial to making meaningful headway in addressing the affordable space needs of the cultural community and reinforcing the role of arts in cultural preservation. Activating community resources like schools, universities, and public housing facilities can provide valuable work and performance space for artists and bring cultural programming to local audiences.

At the same time, it is important to recognize the uncomfortable perceived relationship between artists and gentrification. Recent protests against the influx of artists and art galleries have taken place in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles and Peckham in London. While studies such as Gentrification and the Artistic Dividend: The Role of the Arts in Neighborhood Change and Creative Communities: Art Works in Economic Development show that art galleries have minimal impact on development trends, observers point to a correlation between the arts and neighborhood change, if not a causal relationship.

In this climate, it is more important than ever for artists to play an active role in their neighborhoods. For example, artists Jennifer Dalton and William Powhida recently staged a series of public performances and discussions called MONTH2MONTH, about how “class, wealth, and social mobility affect people’s ability to live in New York City.” Thousands of artists in Hamburg, Germany have signed the Not In Our Name manifesto— a call to support anti-eviction struggles. The Bavo art collective in Rotterdam did the same with their recent Plea for an Uncreative City. Forging links between local artists and activists strengthens the cultural ecosystem.

The cultural community also faces other threats to long-term viability beyond real estate market pressures. Utilities, operations, and administrative costs can often mean death for cultural organizations. Individual artists can struggle to overcome financial barriers when applying for affordable housing or meeting the requirements of grant applications. By implementing policies, programs, and projects that help reduce these costs, build capacity, and efficiently pool resources, the City can address some of these barriers and support the sustainability of organizations, individuals, and businesses in the cultural sector.

” 实际上,表演空间的电影院/剧院都比以前少。
我们实际上是在退步 ! “

“There are actually fewer performance spaces/theaters, movie houses than there used to be. We’re actually moving backwards!”

Neighborhood Workshop Participant, Lower East Side

In a survey conducted for CreateNYC by the Downtown Brooklyn Arts Alliance of 220 artists, cultural workers, and audience members about their cultural needs, 76% of artists surveyed selected either cost or space as their primary challenge to creating art in New York City. Like so many New Yorkers, members of the creative sector face an affordability crisis, but in various ways the sector suffers unique challenges. Throughout the engagement process, issues around affordable space garnered some of the most enthusiastic and substantive feedback. In addition to many workshops, focus groups, and consultation with experts and professionals in the field, the team reviewed research and publicly available information on affordability. Following months of engagement with the cultural community, neighborhood residents, and public agencies, the following recommendations reflect the expertise, experience, and counsel of each of those broad entities.

The diversity of the cultural field is one of its greatest strengths. The community requires many different types of space to do what it does best. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Addressing the pressing affordability needs of the community will require numerous and diverse approaches.


Many artists and cultural workers who participated in CreateNYC expressed a pressing need for affordable practice and performance space. At the same time, schools, libraries, community centers, and public universities are important community anchors found throughout the city, as the maps below demonstrate. These publicly-owned buildings offer an exciting opportunity for cultural uses after hours. This kind of resource sharing also could lead to more and deeper relationships between public institutions and local cultural organizations.

Map of Arts Facilities in Public Spaces in New York City
Sources: NYC DOE 2015: School by Arts Programs, NYC DCP 2017: Libraries and higher education, NYCHA 2016: Community centers, NYC DPR 2017: Community centers


According to many artists and participants in the CreateNYC engagement process, affordable work space is a primary impediment to thriving in New York City. Many artists said costs were one of the most important considerations when they seek out workspace. In addition, there appears to be an information gap as several artists did not know of organizations or networks that that offered affordable workspaces.

“If you can afford space, then everything flows from there.”

Immigrant Artists Focus Group Participant, Brooklyn

Additionally, as cited in a Spaceworks 2013 survey and confirmed by this plan’s own engagement, artists reported that “even if affordable spaces exist, there are still challenges; many workspaces lack amenities and features necessary to produce certain kinds of work.” The challenge is further compounded by the need for accessibility; workplaces often double as exhibition, meeting, or demonstration places, and many require nearby transit to be successful.


New York City has a vast number of cultural entities. The recent study from the Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) estimated that New York City was home to over 4,700 nonprofit cultural providers, but many of these entities are under significant pressure. This was a frequent theme heard during the engagement process from both cultural organization operations and community members who have seen the cultural sector struggle in their communities.

At the same time, engagement with the cultural community yielded numerous ideas and methods to remove the cultural field from market pressures by exploring and supporting innovative ownership models to protect and preserve affordable spaces in perpetuity. A recently issued Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) by the City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development indicates that the potential for Community Land Trusts (CLT) to augment the City’s ability to promote affordability is a potential strategy.


Members of the cultural community reported that spaces around the city could serve as affordable space for cultural uses. Many such spaces are publicly owned—schools, libraries, public universities, and community centers—and already function as community anchors in different capacities.

Existing programs like the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Swing Space Initiative, CUNY Dance Initiative, and Chashama have proven successful in leveraging underutilized private spaces for cultural uses. Engagement participants also frequently cited a desire for a publicly available database of available spaces. Existing models like Fractured Atlas’ SpaceFinder NYC already exist for this purpose and could be enhanced or expanded.

“It’s all about space. Living and working spaces that are at least somewhat affordable and have enough space
to practice”

Independent Musician, Queens


To adequately address the existing lack of affordable cultural space will require the creation of new spaces. New Yorkers see their neighborhoods changing and want new development and investment—both public and private—to create sustainable, long-term opportunities for culture in their communities. The City can work to increase connectivity between the cultural community and those making investments in neighborhoods. Requests for proposal issued by the City for public-private partnerships for land uses could increasingly require cultural components.

Economic development funds could be leveraged to create new cultural spaces. In creating new spaces, considerations for long-term sustainability could be built in from the very beginning. CLTs, nonprofit condos, and other development models that permanently remove real-estate-market pressures present opportunities to ensure that new spaces stay affordable for the long-term.


While it is all-too-often a struggle to secure space in the first place, sustaining existing spaces is another major challenge for the cultural community. According to the Alliance of Resident Theatres / New York, more than 80 small performance spaces have closed in the last decade. Similar trends apply to small and midsize cultural space operators across many disciplines. Utilities and other recurring costs are a financial burden that could be assuaged with targeted support. Creative mechanisms can empower collective action to pool resources, share supporting services, and block-buy materials. Organizations engaged in this plan’s outreach efforts noted that pooling resources and working collectively could lower physical space costs such as utilities, insurance, security, and technology, in addition to other organizational costs like healthcare, pensions, and professional development.

ArtsPool, based in New York City and currently working on its full rollout, was created to manage most administrative functions for arts organizations, including accounting, payroll, workforce administration, and compliance. Administrative, operations, and financial challenges—for both organizations and independent cultural workers—are a significant burden on many in the field and can be addressed with programs focused on professional development, financial literacy, accounting, grant writing, and other supportive workshops and education.


According to the 2015 One New York plan, more than 55% of New York households qualify as rent burdened and over 30% of households qualify as “severely rent burdened (spending more than half of one’s income on rent per month).” This means that affordable housing is a serious concern for many New Yorkers. On average, artists estimated they spent around 65% of their monthly income on rent in a 2013 Spaceworks survey. Median rents in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens were three to four times higher than what artists estimated they would like to pay in a survey conducted for this plan. These housing pressures pose a serious threat to the health of New York’s cultural community.

In CreateNYC community workshops and focus groups across the city, the need for affordable housing targeted specifically to the cultural community was raised frequently. Successfully implemented housing development models like Westbeth Artists Housing and Manhattan Plaza, as well as the recently completed P.S. 109 El Barrio ArtSpace and The Schermerhorn, address this specific need and have created thriving and supportive cultural communities.

“Я бы расширила активность местных отделений публичных библиотек; таких как приобретение большего числа книг и организация лекций и художественных выставок.”

“I would expand the activity of local branches of public libraries, such as acquiring a large number of books and organizing lectures and art exhibits.”

Resident, Bath Beach, Brooklyn

The analysis by the group ArtSpace, Taking a Measure of Creative Placemaking: How Art Spaces Benefit Artists and Communities, of new artist-targeted housing developments elsewhere in the country found that households experienced average income growth of 27%, 39%, and 30% from move-in year to the second, third, and fourth year of residence, after controlling for changes in household size and inflation. 75% of residents agreed that the new facilities had helped increase their productivity, and 48% agreed that living in the building had helped them increase the percent of income that they earned from artistic work.

While the City’s AREA: Affordable Real Estate for Artists initiative creates 1,500 units of affordable housing for artists and 500 units of artist workspace, new solutions to address affordability challenges across the city are urgently needed. CreateNYC’s vision is for a city in which artists and cultural workers are helped to live and work without being displaced and without displacing vulnerable residents.


AF.1 Diminish displacement by increasing access to long-term affordable workspace

Consult with local residents in City’s Request for Proposals (RFPs) for new cultural facilities in order to better reflect community needs and priorities.


Connect cultural organizations to developers of affordable artist workspace and cultural facilities on available City-owned sites.


Preserve and develop long-term affordable work spaces for the cultural community to advance the Affordable Real Estate for Artists (AREA) initiative.

  • Support nonprofit organizations in the development and
    operation of affordable workspaces in City-owned or public-private partnership facilities.


Compile and share a regularly updated list of affordable, City-owned spaces for artists, cultural workers, and organizations.

  • Take advantage of existing listings and databases to further promote affordable workspace opportunities in the city.


Support and partner in the development of new models to develop and preserve affordable live and workspaces citywide.

  • Consider cultural LDCs, community land trusts, fractional ownership, rent to own, deed restrictions, cross subsidization, and mobile studios.


Increase access to work, performance, and exhibition spaces for artists and the cultural community in existing City-owned sites such as libraries, parks, plazas, streets, public housing, and schools.

TIMEFRAME: Medium PARTNER(S): DCLA, Library Systems, Parks, DOE, DOT, NYCHA

AF.2 Improve access to existing and newly developed affordable housing for artists and cultural workers

Increase the development of affordable, accessible housing for artists that allows them to thrive.


Publicize affordable housing opportunities throughout New York City’s artistic and cultural communities.


Provide guidance and training for artists and other freelance workers with variable incomes on how to better document non-traditional income, for the purpose of affordable housing applications.


AF.3 Support the long-term sustainability of artists, cultural workers, and arts, culture, and science organizations

Start providing real estate readiness training and project management support for cultural organizations seeking DCLA capital funding.


Create mechanisms for organizations to pool resources and encourage block buying of resources and materials.

  • City agency or not-for-profit third party to pursue collective purchases of insurance.
  • Expand access to shared administrative and general operating resources.



Dancers at Spaceworks


Spaceworks is dedicated to developing long-term, affordable space for artists, residents, and cultural workers to gather and engage in their creative and cultural practices. Spaceworks was founded in 2011 by DCLA to address the growing affordability crisis facing the cultural sector. It became a nonprofit organization in 2012. The model is simple: leverage public and private funding to build and manage long-term, affordable workspace for artists.

Spaceworks’ first facility, opened in 2013 in Long Island City, leveraged private investment and provides three large dance/theater studios of approximately 800 square feet equipped with sprung floors and speaker systems available for $15 to $16 per hour. This compares to $25 per hour and higher in market-rate spaces. A studio with grand piano, drums, sound board, speakers, amplifiers, and microphones with room for up to 12 musicians is available for only $12 per hour.

Spaceworks strives to develop spaces that become resources for artists and communities. At each facility, the organization works with community-based partners to offer free and affordable programming to artists and local residents.

The Long Island City location, for example, has offered free space and promotional support to artists in the Queensboro Dance Festival, a popular, Queens-wide summer arts program. With support from Spaceworks, more artists are able to present work in the festival, and likewise, more Queens residents and arts lovers citywide are able to participate in the festival’s offerings.

Spaceworks’ growing portfolio of over 17,000 square feet includes 20 rehearsal spaces, 33 visual arts studios, and four co-working spaces across five facilities.


Because of City investment in site acquisition and construction, Spaceworks’ facilities offer affordable spaces for rent by the hour, a critical need in the New York City artistic community.

Spaceworks’ model leverages cross-sector expertise from both private and public sectors, including arts and culture, real estate and planning, architecture and media.

Repurposing underutilized spaces has helped Spaceworks keep costs both low and fixed, supporting long-term sustainability for hyper-local artists and citywide cultural producers.


Tino Gagliardi, Local 802 President


Local 802 President
American Federation of Musicians

Musicians come to New York from across the country and the globe for the opportunity to perform with the most talented artists and be part of the most creative community in the world.

As a result, New York City is home not only to the most talented musicians in the world, but also to the most innovative, diverse, flexible, and creative.

However, many musicians—students, emerging musicians, and even the established artists—struggle to build a career that is economically sustainable and artistically fulfilling.

“Improving access” must not only mean that more New Yorkers can go to a concert or attend a museum or zoo, but that more New Yorkers can become musicians, curators, and zoologists.

“Affordability” must not only mean that housing and tickets are affordable, but that artists receive the fair wages necessary to pay for them.

“Equity” must address both the equitability of receiving services from the city, but also equitable opportunities for artists to survive.

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