On Wednesday, the New York City Council, led by Councilmembers Laurie A. Cumbo and Jimmy Van Bramer, passed an historic package of legislation to further fund and promote art inclusivity and accessibility through the Percent for Art Program.
The legislation was the largest package of bills ever in the history of the Committee on Cultural Affairs and the first reform to the Percent for Art Program since it was created under NYC Mayor Ed Koch more than 30 years ago. In total, there were six arts-related bills signed into law, with three– Intros 1295, 1296 and 1297– that reformed the Percent for Art program introduced by Cumbo. A fourth that provided reform was introduced by Bramer, chair of the Cultural Affairs Committee.
Together, the bills will bring more transparency and accountability to the public art process, as well as bring funding levels up to meet the cost of inflation.
Percent for Art refers to the law that requires that one percent of the budget for eligible City-funded construction projects be spent on artwork for City facilities. Since the program’s inception, nearly 300 projects have been completed, commissions of over $41 million, with more than 70 artist commissions currently in progress. However, despite the program’s continued growth, funding levels had not been increased in three decades.
Cumbo’s legislation more than doubled the spend on the program, increasing funding from $400,000 to $900,000 and up to $4 million in expenditures for works of art in any fiscal year.
“The 35th Council District, which I proudly represent, is home to artists of all backgrounds whose inspirational work continues to explore different ideas, perspectives, and societal issues,” said Cumbo, chair of the Committee on Women’s Issues and member of the Committee on Cultural Affairs.
“My legislation is an opportunity to diversify participation within the Percent for Art program and expand our city’s investment in artists who can transform public spaces into canvases that will showcase their creativity and beautify our neighborhoods,”
Intro 1295 requires the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs to publish on its website aggregated demographic information about the artists whose works of art are in the Percent for Art program to the extent such information is provided to the Department.
Intro 1296 ensures that at least one percent of the first $50 million of capital funds appropriated by the city for a capital project be allocated for works of art.
Intro 1297 requires the Department of Cultural Affairs to engage in outreach and educational efforts regarding the opportunity to submit works of art for the Percent for Art program. DCLA would be required to make these materials available to arts and cultural organizations, community-based organizations and colleges/universities, and to make them available in the seven most commonly spoken languages in New York City.
Several artists, many of whom were commissioned through the Program, voiced their support for opportunities to participate in the City’s design process.
“As an applying artist for the Percent for Arts Program and as someone who was a panelist searching and ‘judging’ artist for projects, I have witnessed how outstanding artists were not chosen for projects they could have brilliantly executed, because they had a weak presentation before the panel,” said artist Xenobia Bailey. “The first time I applied for a Percent for Arts project, I had a very weak presentation, because I did not know what was expected of my work. After going through the process several times, I learned what was needed, which made it possible for me to compete fairly.”
Artist and philanthropist Danny Simmons added how vitally important it was for local government to step up to fill in the gaps in arts funding, particularly during times of proposed reductions: “The arts are transformative for many reasons, but none more so than the public art you encounter while going about your daily routine,” said Simmons.
“It refreshes the spirit and the imaginations of all those who encounter it.”