The Cultural Plan

NYC Artists

From painters to modern dancers, fiction writers to experimental filmmakers, hip hop artists to social practitioners, opera singers to sculptors and new media artists, actors and artivists to traditional dance troupes, illustrators to conceptual artists, working artists are essential to the life, history, and progress of New York City. And so, it was essential to have a wide variety of artists contribute to the CreateNYC process. Across disciplines, career points, individual to collaborative practices, and more—the working artists who participated in town halls, focus groups, and other conversations helped the City to better understand the complex and varied needs of artists living in the city.

While artists face many of the same challenges as their fellow New Yorkers, there are also unique circumstances specific to artistic labor, which often operates on inconsistent freelance structures. Throughout the course of an artist’s career, she may weave through nonprofit and commercial venues, rehearse or incubate her work in an artist-run space, practice collaboratively, work as a teaching artist, pay additional rent for workspace, or earn her primary income in an unrelated industry. Artists highlighted several issues that capture this broad range of experiences, which directly impact their daily lives.

As for so many New Yorkers, the primary issues for artists relate to affordability. The coalition of artists, activists, and cultural workers behind the People’s Cultural Plan (PCP) emphasize this in their recommendations. They demand issues of housing, labor, and public funding be addressed intersectionally, not in isolation. Overwhelmingly, artists prioritized the need for fairer compensation structures and access to affordable workspace. Many studio spaces are not affordable for working artists, an issue that the City’s Affordable Real Estate for Artists (AREA) initiative aims to address by providing affordable workspace for artists— from individual studios to shared performance spaces.

“Artists are tenants first.”


However, the affordability crisis is felt almost universally and additional methods for providing space for arts and cultural use must also be considered. In a CreateNYC focus group, members of the Art Dealers Association of America reported that small to mid-size galleries are struggling to keep their doors open and, as a result, are less able to promote the work of emerging artists, whose work is sold at a lower price point than more established names. This economic trend was noted across the city in a New York Times article reporting, “dealers with business of less than $500,000 saw their sales decline by 7 percent in 2016; dealers with business of $500,000 to $1 million had a decline of 5 percent.” Artists also expressed frustration with lack of consistency and transparency in standard industry fees. Artists working in community-based practice or within collectives pointed out their levels of compensation varied widely due to their alternative, and sometimes informal, structures.

An additional critical challenge highlighted by the CreateNYC process is the need to address the safety and sustainability of artist-led community spaces. In the wake of the tragic Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, California, DCLA organized a CreateNYC Office Hours with the Commissioner on DIY and Alternative Art Spaces in January 2017. This meeting spurred the establishment of the NYC Artist Coalition, which has since organized and provided a set of recommendations addressing the need for safe artist-led spaces in New York City. Joined by a range of stakeholders in this community, the NYC Artist Coalition has driven a thoughtful dialogue around ways to preserve artist-led spaces as vital venues for artistic experimentation and community building.

Another common finding was a lack of equitable inclusion throughout the sector. At a focus group about creative aging, senior artists recognized a strong bias toward emerging artists, feeling older adult artists we excluded from opportunities to create and share work. Similar historic barriers to equity, access, and inclusion were acknowledged for artists with disabilities and in the practice of disability artistry. At a conference held by the Disability/Arts/NYC Taskforce (DANT), another advocacy group formed during the CreateNYC process, participants identified a range of ideas for improving opportunities for their constituents. These included providing education and training for artists with disabilities taught by artists with disabilities and including disability arts experts on grant review panels. Additionally, narrow definitions of diversity emerged as problematic for artists with disabilities and other underrepresented artist populations. During an LGBTIQ focus group, participants noted the lack of inclusive exhibition spaces for queer art, noting that even within the art world, not all art is welcomed in all spaces.

New York’s commercial gallery system is a major source of income and support for artists. However, a recent study by CUNY’s Guttman College found that 80% of artists represented in New York City’s top commercial galleries are white, 68% are male, and nearly one third graduated from Yale University. In addition, Ithaka S+R’s recent demographic survey of DCLA’s grantees found an overwhelming lack of diversity within senior positions of cultural organizations and significant absence of inclusion for artists and employees of color, non-gender conforming individuals, and people with disabilities. The study determined that project/exhibition staff and curators are the least diverse jobs in the sector. These findings point to the overwhelming need for increased support to artists in all disciplines from underrepresented groups.

In an interview with Fazeelat, a South Asian documentary filmmaker, she discussed the complexity of living as an artist in the city. “Not every artist survives in New York; it is an overwhelming place—some days this city chews me up and spits me out, but there are also spaces for refuge that are incredibly nourishing and special. I feel incredibly lucky as a filmmaker to have access to some of the best cinemas in the world, with programming that caters to artists, not ‘consumers.’ Whether it’s seeing the remastered Apu Trilogy at the Film Forum or seeing the premiere of ‘The Act of Killing’ at the MoMA, I have so much gratitude for the wonderland that New York City is for filmmakers.” Artists are often attracted to the strengths of the city’s cultural ecosystem, while simultaneously struggling to find viable opportunities for their practice to thrive. New City-led initiatives and grant programs—like the MOME Women’s Fund for Film and Theatre—aim to directly address barriers to diverse inclusion within the cultural sector.

The strategies and recommendations in this section aim to address the many issues facing artists living in New York City. They were derived from the hundreds of meetings held throughout the CreateNYC process including conversation with working artists across all disciplines; teaching artists; older adult artists; artists with disabilities; disability arts advocates; independent artists; artists networks; DIY arts spaces; fiscally-sponsored artists; veteran artists; artists of color; LGBTIQ, transgender, and gender non-conforming artists; immigrant artists; and artists from low-income communities.

“We as a city need to preserve community driven spaces through preventing criminalization, improving access to support, and promoting affordability so
that New York can remain a center of cultural expression.”




EQ 1.A

Create new supports for arts and cultural organizations with a primary mission of serving historically underrepresented/underserved communities.

  • Encourage and facilitate the employment of people from diverse communities.
  • Support individual artists who are from or work with diverse communities.

EQ 2.A

Begin new efforts to support the professional development and career advancement of cultural workers from underrepresented groups.

EQ 2.B

Begin new efforts to encourage and support increased language access, including ASL, for cultural programming and funding opportunities to reach broader, more inclusive audience.       

  • Provide funding opportunity information in multiple languages/formats.
  • Increase languages represented on DCLA and re-grant panels, in informational and resource materials, and during the application process. 
  • Support translation-related expenses, including ASL, for DCLA grantees’ programming and communications.

EQ 3.C

Support disability arts, artistry, and artists with disabilities as part of supporting culture.

EQ 3.F

Participate in regular discussions with the disability and disability arts communities.

EQ 3.G

Support organizations that promote disability arts and employ, support, and serve New Yorkers with disabilities.

  • Partner with DCLA grantee organizations on professional development and capacity building to increase employment of artists and cultural workers with disabilities at all levels.

EQ 3.H

Create opportunities for increased access and inclusion in DCLA-funded cultural capital projects for artists, cultural workers, and audiences with disabilities.

EQ 4.A

Inform cultural organizations of opportunities to learn about immigration issues as they relate to their staff, participants, artists, performers, and audiences.

EQ 4.C

Support individual artists who are from and/or work with immigrant communities, cultures, and artists.


SE 1.B

Establish new ways to support the employment and ongoing professional development of New Yorkers from diverse communities and underrepresented groups to help them advance in their careers.

SE 1.C

Support wages for cultural workers and artists that allow them to thrive and make a living in New York City.

  • Advocate for more general operating grants and/or the elimination of limits to administrative overhead from the philanthropic field.
  • Explore collaboration on jobs initiatives in creative, cultural, and life sciences sectors as part of New York Works Creating Good Jobs.

SE 2.B

Address the health of the performing arts sector through audience development, professional development, staff diversity, and affordability.

  • Explore models to create new opportunities to support culture.

SE 2.C

Continue the dialogue with public stakeholders regarding the cabaret licensing law, which required establishments serving food and beverages to be specially licensed for patron dancing.

SE 3.A

Ensure that artists and cultural organizations continue to positively impact the health and wellbeing of New York City neighborhoods.

  • Use the findings in the Social Impact of the Arts (SIAP) report to support culture in low-income neighborhoods in partnership with other parts of the government.

SE 4.A

Include arts and culture in resiliency planning and preparedness.

  • Designate a City liaison to help coordinate the participation of artists and arts, cultural, and science communities in disaster-preparation and response.


AF 1.A

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

AF 1.B

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

AF 1.C

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. 

AF 1.D

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.

AF 1.E

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

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

AF 1.F

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.

AF 2.A

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

AF 2.C

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.


NC 1.B

Resource local arts councils to play a greater role in the support of cultural organizations and individual artists with funding and technical assistance.

NC 4.A

Incorporate local arts and cultural organizations and priorities in neighborhood planning and re-zoning processes, such as PLACES and Neighborhood Planning Playbook.

NC 4.B

Support Urban Design Pilot Projects. Utilize collaborative partnerships to create urban design projects that strengthen local identities alongside re-zonings.

  • Collaborate with community organizations, artist groups, business improvement districts (BIDs), and others in neighborhood-based design projects.



Explore current pool of DOE arts educators for interest and commitment in securing new and/or additional certification in teaching ELLs or SWD in partnership with schools of education. Seek out opportunities to create complementary certification programs for arts education specialists with additional proficiencies such as teaching ELLs or SWD.

AE 2.C

Expand the availability of neighborhood spaces through school/CBO partnerships for cultural uses that benefit local families, educators, and artists.

AE 3.A

Share information for arts educators, administrators, teachers, teaching artists, and principals on inclusive, culturally resonant curricula and programming.

  • Facilitate two-way learning between educators and/or teaching artists and the students and their families.

AE 3.C

Clearly define and provide models for quality arts integration into other subjects for DOE leaders, educators, and arts and/or museum educators. 

  • Provide forums to introduce cultural organizations to the process of contracting to deliver services in- and afterschool. 
  • Encourage arts, culture, and science partnerships at the school level and encourage schools to think diversely and inclusively about which cultural partners provide services. 
  • Explore how to support, expand, and adapt models like DOE Summer in the City initiative, which incorporates visits to cultural organizations in summer school curriculum.

AE 3.D

Expand free and affordable afterschool arts and cultural programs citywide. Offer assistance to school administrators seeking culturally relevant partners.

  • Facilitate every school superintendent to develop relationships with arts, cultural, and science organizations.
  • Continue to support and explore ways to adapt models like Teen Thursdays afterschool initiative, which brings middle school students to cultural organizations for hands-on learning.
  • Increase opportunities for artists to teach in afterschool programs.

AE 3.F

Support older adults and older artists as arts educators and teaching artists.

AE 4.B

Support professional development and fellowships for educators and teaching artists from underrepresented groups, including people with disabilities.


PS 1.A

Support artists and cultural organizations in navigating the permitting process for arts and cultural programming in public space.

PS 1.B

Create mechanisms for artist-led and artist-initiated projects in public space and/or with City government.

  • Sustain and expand Public Artists in Residence (PAIR) program which embeds artists in city government to use creative practice to address civic challenges.

PS 1.C

Create a resource guide for artists who work in public spaces.

PS 1.D

Encourage inclusion of public art in all development projects on private sites.

PS 1.E

Increase support for the Percent for Art program, which commissions artists to create public artworks that are integrated into infrastructure and architecture of eligible City-funded projects.

  • Support the maintenance of completed Percent for Art projects.
  • Create opportunities to support socially engaged practices in combination with Percent for Art commissions.

PS 2.A

Support diverse programming in neighborhood plazas, parks, and community gardens with specific emphasis on public spaces in underrepresented communities.

  • Provide technical assistance and support to neighborhood plaza managers to connect and partner with local cultural organizations and artists.


CC 1.A

Help artists and cultural organizations navigate city government rules, regulations, and permitting.

  • Establish Agency point of contact and utilize social media for informational resource sharing.

CC 1.C

Hold meet-and-greet sessions for cultural organizations, artists, and City agencies to facilitate collaboration and share information on upcoming opportunities.

CC 1.D

Partner with other City agencies to ensure the needs of the cultural community, including artists, are considered in community and economic development and planning processes.

CC 2.A

Formally coordinate efforts to support and integrate culture across City agencies. Facilitate collaboration between agencies, sectors, and initiatives.


HS 1.A

Increasingly support individual artists through grants, including to fiscally-sponsored artists.

HS 1.C

Create and promote financial management opportunities for artists and cultural workers. 

  • Help make accessible financial literacy training. 
  • Share information on union eligibility and benefits.

HS 1.D

Broker connections between nonprofit and for-profit cultural businesses and organizations and City business services.

HS 2.A

Explore changes to DCLA’s grant programs.

  • Consider general operating support.
  • Consider multi-year support to groups of all budget sizes.

HS 3.C

Encourage cooperative organizational models and partnerships including shared administrative tools, co-working spaces, and shared board members for cultural organizations, artists’ networks, and individual artists.

HS 3.D

Help community-based networks to learn from one another, coordinate their efforts, and scale up through collective action.

HS 3.E

Work toward safe and open environments for DIY, artist-run, and alternative arts spaces in collaboration with City agencies.

  • Create a Night Life Ambassador in New York City government to work alongside enforcement agencies to promote and preserve a safe, inventive, creative night life.
Back to Top