Strange Funding Methods

There is a really fascinating article in the Gotham Gazette this month (It came to my attention via the arts funding process in NYC.

What makes it fascinating is the history of politics that must be behind the process to have it turn out the way it does.

There are 34 institutions that are guaranteed to share 80% of the funding year after year (ranging from $750,000 to $2 mil). Then there are 175 line item organizations that appear year after year by name that get a smaller piece of the money ($22,000 to $115,000 at this point).

Then there are about 200 groups chosen by city council members to receive money this year with no promise of money next year.

Whatever money remains is available via the Cultural Development Fund. Organizations must fill out a 25 page form that is subject to a peer review panel.

What is really strange though is who are the haves and who are the have nots. The Metropolitian Museum is among the 34 who are guaranteed large amounts of funding ($22 mil this year), the Metropolitian Opera, with a similar budget and high regard, is not (they get $134,000).

The Bronx County Historical Society is among the 34 guaranteed. The historical societies of the other boroughs are not. The Vivian Beaumont in Lincoln Center has as many visitors in a week as the Bronx Historical Society has in a year and the society gets $200,000 to the Beaumont’s $17,000.

The answers to many of these puzzles is politics. According to one commentator, the difference in the classifications is that someone lobbied 25 years ago to be numbered among the 34 and others did not.

There are other elements that come together in this situation that I haven’t mentioned and there are attempts by some to overhaul the system (apparently some defunct groups were awarded money because they were on the automatic funding list).

The whole article is worth reading. I can’t imagine that New York City is alone in this sort of arrangement. It may be educational for people to realize the power of politicking, as demeaning and smarmy as it may feel, could yield funding for life.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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