The Changing Face of Creativity in New York: Sustaining NYC's Immigrant Arts Ecosystem Through Crisis and Beyond

Dec 18, 2020 | by
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Each new decade brings a fresh wave of concern that New York City risks losing some of its cultural spark. Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, New York's soaring cost of living and the lure of cities from Baltimore to Berlin had threatened the city's position at the apex of global culture. At the same time, a powerful, growing force of cultural vibrancy has reenergized the city in recent years and sharpened New York's creative edge: immigrant artists.

Foreign-born artists have long been here, birthing world-altering movements from abstract expressionism to hip-hop. More than any previous era, however, immigrants have become pivotal to the success of the arts in New York.

But now the livelihoods of countless immigrant artists—and the survival of the cultural organizations that champion their work—are facing major threats. Without the benefit of endowments or large donor bases to help cushion the blow, many immigrant-led and immigrant-serving arts organizations are facing fiscal catastrophe, reporting revenue losses amounting to 50 percent or more of their annual budgets. Meanwhile, many immigrant artists have struggled to access government relief, even as income from exhibitions, performances, and side jobs has all dried up.

While city support for immigrant arts had increased in recent years, that funding is now in jeopardy: the city's 2021 budget cuts more than $23 million from the Department of Cultural Affairs and slashes funding for Council discretionary initiatives by $79 million—funding that many immigrant-serving arts organizations rely on.

This report provides a new level of detail on the landscape of immigrant arts in New York City— and what's needed to sustain immigrant arts communities across the five boroughs.