Friday, April 17, 2015

Adventures in Cultural Planning


New York City has recently been engaged in a debate around cultural planning. The New York City Council is developing legislation that would mandate that a cultural plan be created and then updates every few years. Details are still in development, such as whether a plan might be required every ten years, twenty years, etc., and how much detail should be in the legislation in terms of mandating specific components be included in the plan.

Because of the enormous scale of New York City and its cultural sector, this effort has provoked considerable conversation and even contention. Tom Finkelpearl, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, is working to ensure that this plan does not end up creating a complex and expensive "unfunded mandate," and also wants to avoid Council specifying in too much detail the structure or process the plan must use. And a local coalition of funders, led by New York Community Trust, has been working to support the concept of a plan, creating the New York City Cultural Agenda Fund, and organizing a recent public panel conversation that I participated in. A great summary of the session can be found here.



Above is the video of the panel discussion, which in addition to myself, featured Roberto Bedoya of the Tucson Pima Arts Council, Julie Burros, the new Chief of Arts and Culture for the City of  Boston, and San San Wong of the Barr Foundation, also in Boston. Michelle Coffey of the Lambent Foundation and NYC CulturalAgenda Fund moderated. City Council member Jimmy Van Bramer made welcoming remarks - he chairs the Council's art and culture committee which is drafting the cultural plan legislation. The session was held at BRIC - my first time there since leaving New York in 2008, so it was a great opportunity to see a wonderful community arts organization and facility in action. Also was great to get a tour of Urban Glass. When I was running the New York State Council on the Arts's Capital Funding Initiative back on  the late 80's early 90's, I was involved in funding the creation of their Brooklyn home. Beyond the great panel discussion itself, it was such a treat to reconnect with so many old friends from the New York City arts world.

I found it to be a great conversation, thoughtful and wide ranging. So many issues to explore, among them:

  • What are the different forms a cultural plan might take?
  • Is an outside consultant really necessary?
  • How do you engage the community, the citizens, so you are not just serving arts organizations with the plan?
  • How do you integrate individual artists into a plan?
  • Should the plan also address the for-profit creative sector?
  • How do you address issues of equity, and growing diversity of the population that may not be matched by cultural philanthropic resource allocation?
  • How do you tackle cultural planning in a city the scale and complexity of New York City?
  • How often should a plan be re-done? Especially in a world that is changing so rapidly
I did my best to share both my experiences in Philadelphia, and in Denver, informed by my long and deep immersion for the early part of my career in New York. Denver's Imagine 2020 plan is available here. Philadelphia's Creative Philadelphia Vision Plan can be seen here. And Boston's new plan is well underway - here is a great article in the Globe.

For all of the challenges, I think it is very exciting that New York is embarking on this process - the Mount Everest of cultural planning!

[Update: This week, the New York City Council voted 49-0 to support a bill mandating the creation of cultural plan for the City of New York, supported by Tom Finkelpearl, Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs. Here is a link to the New York Times article.] 


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