How Trump’s arts-funding cuts will affect Brooklyn

Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Can’t stop, won’t stop: Noor Ul Ain helps paint a mural in Bedford-Stuyvesant in a program run by local arts organization Groundswell.

President Trump’s dream budget is a nightmare for Brooklyn artists!

The Donald’s proposal to eliminate federal arts funding will drain millions of dollars annually from the borough’s creative organizations, gutting programs that serve Kings County’s poorest communities and cementing music, theater, and dance as luxuries for the elite, according to local arts gurus.

“It would be devastating,” said Diane Jacabowitz, founder of Park Slope dance school Dancewave, which offers discounted instruction and teaches in schools that don’t have arts classes of their own. “Everyone will start focusing their clientele, which makes it arts for the rich, which is the story we’ve known for too long. It makes it divisive.”

In 2016, Brooklyn-based organizations collectively scored at least $2.7 million in grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, part of a whopping $13 million since 2012 — and that doesn’t include outfits headquartered elsewhere that work in the borough or state arts grants, which are partially funded through the federal program.

But Trump wants to scrap the scheme — along with 18 other agencies — arguing that working families shouldn’t have to foot the bill for such frivolities.

“Can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs?” his budget bigwig Mick Mulvaney said on MSNBC last week. “The answer is no.”

Actually, you can, say local arts buffs — the country’s hardest-done-by are exactly the people who benefit from the publicly-funded programs, and they really appreciate it too.

“It’s insulting to say that people of a certain economic status don’t have an appreciation or need for arts,” said Robyne Walker Murphy of Groundswell, a Gowanus outfit that employs young adults to lead public-mural painting projects, and receives around $70,000 in grants each year. “I’ve worked in some of the most marginalized communities and I can’t tell you how many parents, mostly people of color, have talked about the importance arts play in their children’s lives.”

New York is hardly short of deep-pocketed arts philanthropists, and the federal grants account for just a portion of many local groups’ overall funds — but they often pay for things that other benefactors won’t, administrators say.

For the Brooklyn Arts Council in Dumbo, that’s folk art. Many private foundations want to see people on stage singing and dancing in exchange for their donation, but aren’t so enthused about paying someone to spend weeks working with an immigrant community to document their basket-weaving traditions, according to the council’s head honcho.

“It’s not a one-hit production, it’s years and years of work,” said Charlotte Cohen, the executive director of the Dumbo organization, which has been receiving the grants since the early 1980s and covers a third of its Folk Arts program with the grants.

Likewise, the popular Rooftop Films festival has no problem finding companies to sponsor its open-air screenings on buildings in the borough’s hippest neighborhoods, but the Feds foot the bill for free kids’ sessions in Coney Island and East New York to the tune of $50,000–$70,000 a year, according to an organizer.

“[Losing the grants] is not going to put us out of business, but it could stop us doing events we really want to do,” said artistic director Dan Nuxall. “NEA funding is really what we use events that might not have a lot of corporate sponsorship support, might not have tickets.”

Of course, Trump’s budget is really just a serving suggestion for Congressional Republicans, many of whom have already come out against it.

And given the National Endowment for the Arts’ $148-million budget is really a drop in the ocean of overall federal spending, the creative types are hopeful it will ultimately prove as popular as Trump Steaks and Trump Airlines with conservatives.

“I’m going to talk to as many people in Congress on both sides of the aisle — the arts is a bipartisan issue,” said Jacabowitz, who is on Capitol Hill this week lobbying pols. “Even a right-wing churchgoer goes to see their choir singing.”

National Endowment for the Art grants by zip, 2012–17. Note that some organizations, such as the Brooklyn Public Library or Groundswell, are listed at their offices, but run programs all over the borough.

2016’s largest recipients

AmDoc: The Dumbo documentary creator got a combined $170,000 to continue its “Point of View” films on PBS and “America ReFramed” series on World Channel.

Arts East New York: $100,000 went to the East New York organization to help pay for artist residencies, an artisan market, community-planning workshops, and arts entrepreneurship training.

StoryCorps: The Fort Greene multimedia outfit, which helps ordinary people record extraordinary stories from their lives, scored $100,000 to help with its weekly radio segment on NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

Bric: The Fort Greene organization got a combined $85,000 for its free Prospect Park concert series Celebrate! Brooklyn and to teach visual art in “underserved” schools.

Rooftop Films: The summer film festival got $75,000 to fund its popular al-fresco screenings.

Archipelago Books: The Gowanus publisher nabbed $70,000 to publish and promote its translations of foreign fiction and poetry titles.

Reach deputy editor Ruth Brown at or by calling (718) 260–8309. Follow her at
Top show: Rooftop Films screens some flicks on top of Sunset Park's Industry City.
Folk yeah: Aziz Peerzada and his 11-year old son Saboor peform Punjabi songs as part of the Brooklyn Arts Council’s Folk Arts program.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Reasonable discourse

get what you deserve from Brooklyn says:
What do you expect, you bash the newly voted in president and then expect him to shower you with gifts!

He is your/our president!!

A smarter approach towards garnering presidential support may be wise.

I'm sick of all the sore loosing cry babies. Grow up already.
March 21, 2017, 11:05 am
Fake news!
March 21, 2017, 12:42 pm
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
We finally have a president that will stop the theft of our tax dollars to provide welfare for a bunch of unemployable losers. Perhaps these "artists" can get out of bed before 3pm and get jobs.
March 21, 2017, 12:43 pm
Jarmaine from Bed Stuy says:
Why is the government supporting artists? Why can't they work for a living like everyone else? They think they're better than the rest of humanity, so special that we working stiffs have to pay for them to sit around and think up putting a crucifix in a vat of urine. I don't remember hearing about government subsidies for janitors, grave diggers, electricians, plumbers. Why would that be? These "working class" types are deplorables. They should drop dead.
March 21, 2017, 2:22 pm
NN from Boerum Hill says:
This is such a shame. Trump doesn't care about Brooklyn, he only cares about tax cuts for his super rich friends.
March 21, 2017, 3:01 pm
Tyler from pps says:
And the above comments (NN excepted) are why this smelly dumpster fire of an administration exists....
March 21, 2017, 5:55 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
I guess now I can say this statement for those who wish they didn't vote for him, "Don't look at me, I voted for Hillary."
March 21, 2017, 7:58 pm
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
This administration exists, as does congress, and a conservative Supreme Court, partly because of the waste of taxpayer dollars on nonsense like stealing $170k to broadcast crap that no other channel would touch. 70k for translations that are available online for free. $75k for "al fresco" screenings?!? Lol. $100k for artisan markets, that obviously can't survive in the open market. These are small victories, but steps in the right direction. If these items were so popular, Democrats would not be in the political wilderness, and have no input on any subject.
March 21, 2017, 10:57 pm
Pablo from Sunset Park says:
If it were not for the young struggling artists there would be nobody to deliver your pot
March 22, 2017, 12:31 am
K. from Arkady says:
Look on the bright side, NYC. You may lose some arts funding, but that coal miner in WV is gonna lose his health care and a lot of other essential programs. You will survive, he cannot. We did this same thing with the government shutdown, and as it turns out, the principle beneficiaries of all this free Fed money are the poor southern whites that voted Trump into office. Hey, elections have consequences. Let's see who are the real leeches and free riders on the system.

If thine eye offends thee, Trump supports, well PLUCK IT OUT!
March 22, 2017, 1:23 am
Kareem from Fort Greene says:
What a great talent Noor Ul Ain is! She paints a copy of a Stop sign. She sure demonstrates the justification for awarding government grants to artists.
March 22, 2017, 6:19 am
Rembrandt from Leiden says:
90% of street murals in the city would be greatly improved by the use of a giant roller on a long pole and a 5 gallon can of Kilz.
March 22, 2017, 7:45 am
Art is Everywhere. If you take away Art, Where would we be? Nowhere? Man's individuality, diversity, humanity and creativity, just 'disappears', because the Rise to Resistance have left left-brainers only shallow breathing. How boring it will be if these right-brainers succeed. Hummm. But wait. I'm getting my second wind. Artist will find life even in dead matter. All Art Matters!
March 22, 2017, 11:20 am
Kareem from Fort Greene says:
Sure, art matters. That's not the issue. The issue is government subsidies for art, not to mention the garbage and banality that classifies as art, like painting a Stop sign on a wall. I love Rembrandt from Leiden's solution to paint over most of the wall mural drivel all over this city. A blank wall is a thing of beauty compared to "art" like Noor Al Un's.
March 22, 2017, 12:11 pm
Rufus Leaking from BH says:
Just how much did it cost in supplies and materials to create Piss Christ from Maplethorpe?
March 22, 2017, 1:17 pm
Rembrandt from Leiden says:
Don't forget dung Mary!
March 22, 2017, 3:29 pm
Matt from Greenpoint says:
Oh no, I sure hope the artists don't go on strike!
March 22, 2017, 5:43 pm
Rufus Leaking from BH says:
Matt, how would know?
March 22, 2017, 5:56 pm
Ruth Brown (Brooklyn Paper) says:
Kareem: For some context, that girl was a volunteer helping paint a mural about catcalling that Bedford-Stuyvesant teens designed with a local artist a few years back:

You can, of course, hate the mural, but then your gripe shouldn't be with her.
March 22, 2017, 7:56 pm
Rufus Leaking from BH says:
So how's that working out Noor?
March 22, 2017, 9:57 pm

Comments closed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Keep it local!

Stay in touch with your community. Subscribe to our free newsletter: