Volume 23, Number 11 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | July 21 - 27, 2010
Possible windfall awaits for struggling arts groups
BY Aline Reynolds
Downtown struggling arts organizations just might get a break, so long as the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation follows through with releasing another lump of funds. L.M.D.C. is considering allocating $20 million in grant money for the cultural enhancement of Lower Manhattan. It would be the third round of such grants since 2005.
“The City and State are in active discussions about how much will be dedicated to the program and when it will be launched,” said Errol Cockfield, vice president of communications and community affairs at L.M.D.C.
Cockfield added that it will be up to the LM.D.C. Board to decide on whether the grant money is earmarked for specific types of expenses, such as programming.
“It’s just shameful,” said L.M.D.C. Board member Julie Menin. “When are we going to resolve these issues?” The L.M.D.C. staff does not require further action from the Board, she added, to release the grant money.
“There’s no reason whatsoever why the funds should not be released,” Menin added. She’ll be reiterating her concern to the Board at its next meeting on July 29.
Once the funds are released, the organizations will have to individually apply for them through a formal request for proposal process
Dance New Amsterdam, in dire need of financial support, would welcome a portion of this grant. It has been struggling to keep up with monthly rent payments for two years. D.N.A. is only able to pay between 75 and 80 percent of the rent. The group is currently scrambling to come up with an additional $413,700 in unpaid rent, amounting to over half a million in arrears.
“They have a bucket of money for a purpose,” said Catherine Peila, executive director of DN.A. “Their role is to support cultural organizations in the Lower Manhattan area to make sure that we stick around.”
D.N.A. organized a successful rally at City Hall on July 13 to protest their forthcoming eviction. They have since received $23,000 in grant money from the MAP Foundation, along with matching funds from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
But all this money is earmarked for programming, leaving D.N.A. in a bind when it comes paying rent.
Following a discussion with its landlord, Fram Realty, D.N.A.’s eviction proceedings will be delayed until August 26.
“Fram indicated during the meeting that it appreciates the difficulties facing D.N.A. and will propose revised lease terms,” according to a statement. “We’re working on some new terms with the landlord right now,” said Peila, hoping for a decrease in rent fees and a tax abatement for nonprofits. As it currently stands, DNA is paying property taxes for its commercial lease in a city building.
“We came in and became the sub-tenant of the city,” she said. “I’d prefer not paying taxes because we’re a nonprofit. We want access to the laws to try to figure this out.”
Despite the rain, the rally attracted around 200 dancers and supporters who protested the organization’s forthcoming eviction. The performers also performed modern contemporary dances by D.N.A. faculty Teri and Oliver Steele.
“By employing over 500 artists downtown and generating three quarters of a million dollars a year in revenue for neighboring businesses, [D.N.A.] has also proven to be an important financial resource,” said Council Member Margaret Chin in a statement.
“We will continue working together to reach a solution that will allow Dance New Amsterdam to remain in its home,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron in another statement.
Three-Legged Dog, a Downtown non-profit media and theater group, is also facing eviction by its landlord, the M.T.A. It has lost 92 percent of foundation support in 2008, forcing the organization to slash its full-time staff from 78 to 14.
“The process just stopped,” said executive artistic director Kevin Kunningham. “All the funding that we had lined up for 2008 and 2009 just disappeared overnight.”
Desperate to keep up with rent payments, the nonprofit has urged the L.M.D.C. not to earmark the proposed grant money.
“It’s not a great time for capital projects,” said Kunningham. “It’s much more important to stabilize on an operating and program basis.”
Battery Dance Company, another contender for the grant, has also been struggling to keep up with rent and programming.
The company might have to discontinue its dance program, Dancing to Connect, which 500 to 600 Millennium High School students have participated in each year since 2006.
“Unless we get some funding back in place, we won’t be able to continue working with the high school,” said Jonathan Hollander, artistic direct for the group.
Though currently not facing eviction, B.D.C. has been particularly hurt by recent state cutbacks.
“We’ve seen a lot of our educational programs evaporate because of D.O.E. funding cuts,” Hollander said.
“Now, it’s just a slow, steady, pounding, grinding pressure on us,” to raise money, Hollander added.