The Cultural Plan

Research and Discovery

During the Research and Discovery Phase of the cultural planning process, DCLA and HST reviewed studies, reports, and data from a variety of disciplines to capture and synthesize a wide range of perspectives, best practices, and policy proposals.


The CreateNYC team examined reports by a variety of research institutes, government agencies, and nonprofit groups such as Americans for the Arts and PolicyLink. Another critical source of data and insight into the existing landscape of arts and culture in New York City was the University of Pennsylvania’s Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) report, Culture and Social Wellbeing in New York City, authored by Mark Stern and Susan Seifert and completed in 2017.

The team also reviewed reports published by grantees of the New York City Cultural Agenda Fund in The New York Community Trust, which supported community organizing efforts by a range of cultural coalitions to provide independent research to inform the plan.


In light of recent cultural plans from cities like Toronto, Boston, Chicago, and Denver, the team invited leading experts and policymakers to share their experiences, analyzed cultural policies from around the nation and globe, and catalogued specific policy measures from
other cities that could be evaluated within the context
of New York City.


The CreateNYC team reviewed local data sources as well as SIAP aggregated data to understand the landscape of existing cultural assets. Additionally, the team discussed with stakeholders current cultural priorities; mapped cultural assets, social, and economic indicators; studied socio-economic information; and identified strengths, barriers, and opportunities for New York City’s cultural life. 

The following is a synopsis of the Research and Discovery Phase.



The New York City cultural landscape is a vibrant and interconnected ecosystem, which encompasses a wide range of participants and stakeholders, illustrated below. The variety of artistic disciplines and cultural practices found in New York is mirrored by the diversity of the city itself.

Within this thriving ecology, participants make unique and complementary contributions to the strength of the overall sector. These contributions impact New Yorkers, from their neighborhoods and schools to Museum Mile. The City of New York plays an important role in resourcing the sector for success and ensuring all cultural participants have what they need to do their work well.

Graph of Cultural Participants and Stakeholders in CreateNYC


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.

CIG Employee to Work Flow
Sources: NYC DCP 2017: Boroughs, Natural Earth 2016: State boundaries, DoITT 2014: Zip Codes, CIG Surveys 2017


The cultural sector generates tremendous benefits for New York City’s economy. As noted in the 2017 New York Works: Creating Good Jobs report, the creative and cultural sectors in New York City provide over 400,000 jobs and have experienced growth exceeding 20% since 2005. According to BJH Advisor’s original analysis of the cultural sector’s economic impact, more than a quarter of individuals employed in cultural work in “behind the scenes” establishments, which includes publishing, television and movie production, and event promoters, among other subsectors. These “behind the scenes” workers generate more than half of the cultural sector’s direct, indirect, and induced output and employment, and almost half of the sector’s earning. 

Within the nonprofit segment of the cultural sector, DCLA’s fiscal year 2017 budget provided $177 million in expense support for 900+ organizations. Cultural Development Fund grants and City Council initiatives, overseen by DCLA, provide direct funding to these organizations, supporting thousands of programs at more than 8,000 sites across all five boroughs—from plazas to school auditoriums to major museums—all within the nonprofit cultural sector. According to the 2012 MAS Arts Digest, nonprofit cultural groups generated $8.1 billion in total annual economic impact and employed 23,000 full-time employees, 33,000 part-time employees, and 64,000 independent contractors. Furthermore, the city’s booming tourism industry, and the vibrancy of neighborhoods and commercial districts in all five boroughs depend heavily on the contributions of the cultural sector. 

These long-term economic impact benefits are further complemented by the construction resulting from DCLA’s capital budget allocation for culture, which in fiscal year 2016 generated more than 1,000 total direct, indirect, and induced jobs, $85 million in total earnings, and $185 million in total output. 

Members of the CIG also contribute to New York City’s workforce development as job creators, with 13,700 full and part-time employees, including 4,500 union employees with an average union salary of $48,000. Staffs at members of the CIG are largely New York City residents, so wages paid to employees are spent within surrounding communities, providing widespread neighborhood economic benefits. 

A CIG citywide survey also uncovered critical workforce development support for emerging and established artists through per diem employment opportunities and programs which provide space, professional support, and presentation opportunities. CIG members employ 1,650 per diem staff members, including teaching artists, musicians, explainers, educators, and other professionals, who are paid $6.2 million in total. Members of the CIG also provide opportunities for students and young adults to gain critical career development skills through internships and leadership opportunities. 

Taken as a whole, the cultural sector provides important and wide-ranging employment opportunities that are accessible to New Yorkers from all education and skill levels. The Social and Economic Impact chapter further explores the sector’s economic impact.



Engagement in arts and culture has been linked by scholars and advocates to higher academic achievement, civic engagement, and economic activity. New research conducted in New York City found that culture’s impact on health, safety, and wellbeing of the City’s neighborhoods is also critical.

The Social Impact of the Arts Project’s (SIAP) groundbreaking two-year study was conducted by a team at the University of Pennsylvania led by Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert. The report, entitled The Social Wellbeing of New York City’s Neighborhoods: The Contribution of Culture and the Arts, explored the interconnected relationship between arts and culture and social wellbeing. The report outlines the integral role of arts and culture in creating healthy, thriving communities at a neighborhood level. 

This research provides an in-depth exploration of how access to arts and culture can dramatically improve the lives of everyday New Yorkers, particularly those who live in moderate- and low-income neighborhoods. The study was funded by the New York City Cultural Agenda Fund in The New York Community Trust and the Surdna Foundation. The findings lay an important foundation for the recommendations highlighted in CreateNYC.

“Art se yon form d’expression e li te permet zanset nou yo comminike.” 

“Art is a form of expression that has allowed our ancestors to communicate.”



The Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) has developed a neighborhood cultural asset index that incorporates four cultural asset types: nonprofits, for-profits, employed artists, and cultural participants. Analysis shows that areas with the most cultural resources also tend to have the highest incomes. However, the correlation between income and cultural assets is not perfect. There are some high-income areas that have fewer cultural assets—for example, Brooklyn Heights—and a number of low-income neighborhoods that have a wealth of cultural assets—for example, Hunts Point in the Bronx. 

Map of Cultural Assets in New York City
Sources: SIAP 2017: Cultural asset index, NYC DCP 2014: NTA summaries, NYC DCP 2017: Boroughs and neighborhood tabulation areas


The SIAP research process found 4,700 nonprofit cultural programs and over 17,000 for-profit cultural businesses. When considered alongside the artists who live and work here and millions of cultural participants, the report found a cultural ecosystem of unparalleled breadth, diversity, and dynamism. 

However, the SIAP study found that cultural assets are unequally distributed throughout the city’s neighborhoods. While all communities have culture, significantly fewer cultural resources are located in low-income communities and communities of color.

The study states that “cultural resources in the city are extremely unequally distributed. Manhattan below 125th Street and neighborhoods near downtown Brooklyn have extraordinarily high levels of cultural resources, while many neighborhoods in all boroughs have far fewer. If we break the city’s neighborhoods into five strata based on their overall economic status, we find that the wealthiest have many times more cultural resources than other parts of the city.”

SIAP used data from over 50 cultural organizations and citywide ID data sets to estimate cultural participation.
The methodology was focused on identifying relative differences in participation across the city’s neighborhoods, and not on generating an estimate of the percentage of residents who are cultural participants per se. The cultural participation research revealed that across the board, cultural participation correlates with improved health, personal security, and school effectiveness, demonstrating the relationship between arts and culture and healthy community ecologies. Intriguingly, while low-income communities might have fewer cultural resources, these resources lead to greater measurable impact in social wellbeing. The unequal distribution of cultural assets therefore compounds the consequences of inequity.

In spite of the unequal distribution of cultural resources across the city, a select set of lower-income neighborhoods are home to “natural” cultural districts—such as El Barrio in East Harlem and Jackson Heights, Queens. These dense clusters of cultural resources are points of strength to build on moving forward. 

These findings present a tremendous opportunity for collaboration among City agencies, private foundations, cultural groups, and community-based organizations and add another effective study to the social justice toolkit. 


When controlled for race, ethnicity, and economic status, the presence of a significant concentration of cultural assets in neighborhoods marked by concentrated disadvantage significantly corresponds with:

3 to 5% decrease in individuals suffering from diabetes, hypertension, or obesity

14% decrease in cases of child abuse and neglect

25% decline in teen pregnancies

18% increase in kids scoring in the top stratum on English and math exams

18% decrease in the felony crime rate


The New York City cultural landscape is a vibrant, diverse, and interconnected cultural ecosystem.

New York City is home to thousands of cultural venues, arts and cultural nonprofit organizations, tens of thousands of for-profit cultural entities and artists, and millions of cultural participants. This rich network of cultural stakeholders is spread across all five boroughs—from Stapleton to Hunts Point, East New York to Jamaica, and everywhere in between—contributing to the vital creative energy of the city.

The City invests in culture because New Yorkers value culture, and culture positively impacts New York. Throughout the CreateNYC process, residents showed up and spoke up to share the personal and transformative experiences they’ve had through engagement with the arts. A Bronx resident discovers nature and enlightenment at his neighborhood botanical garden. The democratic spirit and diverse literature of the Cortelyou library branch helps a Brooklynite engage with her neighbors and build empathy across boundaries of race, gender, and religion. An IDNYC cardholder celebrates a free membership that connects her to history and the imaginations of artists at some of the most celebrated cultural organizations in the country.

CreateNYC outlines actionable steps to address barriers and to ensure the growth and continued excellence of New York City as a global center of arts and culture, and emphasizes the critical importance of resourcing New York City’s cultural sector for success.


More equitable distribution of cultural assets, resources, and arts education, especially in the city’s most underserved neighborhoods

Improved access to arts and culture for all New Yorkers including more widely disseminated information, increased affordability of cultural opportunities, and removal of disability and language barriers

An arts and cultural sector whose workforce and leadership more accurately reflects the diversity of New York City

Better coordinated cross-agency collaboration


The health of New York City’s cultural ecosystem is affected by the same profound threats that impact other sectors of New York City. In addition, New York City’s cultural ecosystem is also challenged by pressures unique to the arts and cultural sector. 

The work to overcome these challenges has already begun with a variety of efforts—from affordable housing to resilient infrastructure to job growth—representing massive capital investments in the city as a whole, focused on New York’s most underserved neighborhoods. For example, One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City centralizes equity and a commitment to serving all New Yorkers. It maps a vision for job growth that focuses on building an inclusive workforce with well-paying jobs.

Arts and culture are fundamental to the City’s ambitious vision of equity for all residents. New York City understands that public investment in the arts positively impacts economic health, social wellbeing, and civic engagement. This report is based on the City’s commitment to equity in planning, policymaking, partnerships, and distribution of resources as a guiding principle.

“At HPD, we see the development of affordable housing as an opportunity to meet the broader needs of communities, including the creation of space for arts and culture to flourish. As we continue to advance the goals of the Mayor’s Housing New York plan, we look forward to partnering with DCLA and taking advantage of the many synergies to build on New York City’s long history as a mecca for artists and the arts.”



These areas were voiced time and again in focus groups, workshops, surveys, and online engagement throughout the CreateNYC process, and include:

The affordability crisis and displacement

Inequitable distribution of resources

Growing income inequality and threats to worker’s rights

Historic barriers of access and inclusion for artists and individuals with disabilities as artists and audiences 

Access issues based on language barriers including ASL


CreateNYC builds on the enormous opportunities presented by working toward a more equitable, vibrant cultural sector, including: 

A growing recognition, supported by a burgeoning body of research and data, that arts and culture are essential ingredients in healthy neighborhoods and a thriving city

The innovative spirit and creative problem-solving skills embodied by artists and cultural workers

Incredibly rich community capacity and expertise embedded in neighborhoods across New York City

A citywide desire for participation that fueled the CreateNYC process and will drive implementation of the plan moving forward

Back to Top