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DCA in Funding Struggle - Handcuffed by Mayor, Agency Still Reaching Out to Arts Groups

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New York City's Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA)‹shackled by a budget-cutting mayor who's battling a generous city council‹has been suffering its chains with grace, still trying to offer a limited helping hand to arts organizations.

"The mayor has allowed three of 12 of 90% of what was requested," Dorrit Wohl, the DCA's deputy commissioner told Back Stage. Her phrasing is the language of budget, jargon easily understood around City Hall. It translates this way: Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, rather than allowing the DCA to provide arts groups with the entire 12 months funding approved by the City Council, has provided only three months of the monies; and not the entire three months, but only 90%. With an average arts grant going for $10,000, pen-to-paper calculation figures the mayor's allowance to be about $750 for the three-month period.

Kathy Hughes, the DCA's assistant commissioner for programs, said the monies cover the three months of July‹the beginning of the city's fiscal year‹August, and September.

In August, Norma Munn‹chair of the New York City Arts Coalition‹in response to Giuliani's dictum, expressed her concern not only for arts groups, but for how the mayor's policy tied the DCA's hands. "If this process continues, it would multiply the number of contracts the agency must process by six-fold,'' Munn argued. "Since they can barely get through the contracts they have to manage during the year, they can't possibly deal with that increase." On Monday, she added to that concern: "I know the paperwork they [the DCA] have to do. The system will eventually collapse. They don't have enough staff to keep up well with the prior system [for annual funding]."

No one understands Munn's point better than Hughes, whose plight has been to, first, notify the 175 arts organizations expecting grants; and second, negotiate with each one to try and help meet the group's needs.

"It takes time to contact 175 groups," Hughes said in a soft tone of understatement. "We're offering several options. Some groups are going ahead with the three months; some are considering if they should go ahead now or hold off. Some are not in as serious a cash flow crisis as others."

But the funding process itself moves slowly, Hughes added, noting that arts groups receive monies about six weeks after they've actually signed the negotiated agreement.

About 100 theatres which are members of the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York (A.R.T./NY) receive some sort of DCA funding in a given fiscal year, according to Mark Rosier, the organization's marketing director. However, because all the theatres don't follow the same budget cycle‹e.g., summer theatres only require budgeting during that season‹the DCA's Hughes couldn't say how many of the 175 organizations involved in the three-month funding negotiations were theatres. The staggered funding cycles also kept Rosier from providing a specific figure.

The DCA's Wohl said, "We hope to get approval for continuing the funding process" beyond September. The department's request is with the city Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Hughes said she expected to hear this week whether the OMB would approve more funds.

Munn said she's receiving calls from arts organizations complaining of "serious cash flow problems," and added, "I would anticipate they'll get some additional funds. I don't think the mayor is eliminating funding of the arts. That wouldn't make sense; there's no financial emergency."

Asked if she had heard any City Council member complaining about the arts funding problem, Munn said, "It's not really their bailiwick. It's contract disposition," which is the mayor's purview. "I don't think they're happy about it," she added of the council, "but they don't have any control over the executive process."

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