Thursday, September 21, 2017
AAAC Testimony on the Cultural Plan for NYC

AAAC Testimony at a City Hall Hearing on the completed Cultural Plan for NYC    
Sept 20, 2017

Int. No. 419 stated in 2014 in its opening statement,  “It is important to understand the scope of cultural services throughout the City, where these services are lacking and how cultural service gaps may be filled.” Many sought to seize the opportunity afforded by this visionary effort to address the problem of cultural equity in NYC. After decades of a history of benign neglect, racism, and discrimination suffered by the POC artistic and cultural community, a resolution to this problem was sought through listening to the needs and concerns of all those affected. Even the CIG started to worry publicly their funds might be shifted to POC orgs, reversing 40yrs of documented inequity. With the completion of CreateNYC that promise has now died.
Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl testifies at the Hearing. City Councilman Peter Koo are among those listening.

Asian American Arts Centre was one of those who saw in this an opportunity that had been impossible for forty years. After nearly two years of listening to New Yorkers and the publication of an extensive record of such interactions, the city has demonstrated it fails to listen where listening counts. AAAC and a thousand other arts organizations and the communities and boroughs they serve, our voices go unrecognized. Instead the lions share of funding to CIG has been re-inscribed, their funds assured, 67% of NYC as people of color their homes and their neighborhoods, are left to the real estate developers. Opportunity in America reigns - for developers, as the people get priced out of their homes and their neighborhoods.  

At the Cultural Equity Conference held in April of 2015 sponsored by the Cultural Equity Group of which I am a member, I stated the need to recognize the value of multiple cultures, especially traditional “wisdom bearers” who should be honored, and recognized, as well as the elder nonprofit cultural organizations many of these begun in the Civil Rights era whose community infrastructure has grown priceless in their value to the city of New York as a roadmap to cultural transition.

At a New York Community Trust gathering held at Museo del Barrio In November of last year I spoke again of these elder community organizations how their need for succession funding was crucial for their continued survival. City officials including Tom Finkelpearl were present at both these events.  The city listens, however it listens selectively. Now today three of these elder POC organizations are dying as our Mayor fiddles with the numbers of people of color on the staff of CIG institutions.

CityCouncilman VanBramer, sponsor of the Int. No. 419 and chair of the Cultural Committee listens to all who testify at the Hearing 

 Clearly this is just a ruse, the return of the New Audiences program of the 90s in another guise.  This was when the work of artists of color became so prominent, funding was given to established institutions to ‘grow their audiences’ instead of the POC organizations where these artists were developed.  Our Mayor cant seem to give resources to organizations where POC are on staff and also in control of their institutions.

Will the CreateNYC plan fill cultural service gaps, or offer even a few glimmers, in the next three to five and more years? Yes, however the challenge of a cultural plan for NYC, meaningful to race and cultural relations in NYC will have been lost. The question then becomes, how will 60-70% of NYC population deal with the continuing tradition of cultural neglect, denial, tokenism, misrepresentation, and suppression? 

Perhaps it should be no surprise that our Mayor, and all those to chose this time to address cultural equity, could not rewrite a cultural policy that has been in place for generations, consistent with domestic and international policies going back to before the ideas of Manifest Destiny if not to slavery itself.

Marta Vega (far left, of the Caribbean Cultural Center) testifies pointing out flaws in the language, definitions that affect the validity of the whole plan.
The record of the history of this nation, of the many streams that constitutes its mainstream, the entitlements it has endowed to itself, to empire, and to its dream machine, does help us to see the diverse forces fighting for its soul. Technology may open vistas to an incredible future, but our limits, the delusions within our ambitions, our human foibles, may give us pause before indulging in dreams that may be better left as dreams.

Waves of immigrants have dreamed bringing their energy to these shores. The price extracted, that their descendants pay is to leave behind who they were - a truncated memory. The price we may all pay for this is a society rooted in materialism, in dollars.  Seeing the CIG in this light, their role in maintaining  NYC and the USA as head and shoulders above all others, it is conceivable though not necessarily laudable why our Mayor has chosen to re-entrenched them.

He may claim New York as a sanctuary city, but there are limits to what our Mayor means by it. POC can take greater clarity as to the reality of our status, our difference, and those who dream can be forewarned - the social consequences generated, regardless the rewards it offers, how they may be used. 

In speaking with artists who live in countries where limits to artistic freedom is explicit, some council that their situation is not so bad, once as artists you accept your role, and that desperate times require desperate measures.

Thuan Uyen Le recently spoke in Brooklyn on the censorship artists have learned to live with in Vietnam.

This is about insight, the vision of the arts and artists – their gifts given to us. It is oddly from this room, this hall, that it is inappropriate to speak of art as art, to even see or recognize such a horizon exists. Arts voice is where the horizon speaks.  For those of us who are listening deeply, and there are many, this legislative process is quite antiquated.

The issue of a multicultural America under whatever revised terms it becomes known by, will remain a question beyond my generation and perhaps for many generations. It is likely to become increasingly central to what shapes this country and the people who reside in it.

Robert Lee, Asian American Arts Centre

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