Arts, cultural leaders see darker picture for future

Museums, centers cut back on shows, productions; cancel expansion plans

As originally seen in Crain’s Detroit Business on May 12, 2003.

Art lovers who recently lined up for the Matisse Picasso exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art will need to hold onto those memories. Such blockbusters may be scarce in New York City in the coming few years. Hit with cut after cut in city funding, a steep decrease in corporate and foundation giving, and rising security and insurance costs, the city’s cultural leaders are expressing the lowest level of confidence in the future of their industry since Sept. 11. Museums and performing arts organizations are scaling back on visiting exhibitions and productions, and canceling long-term expansion plans altogether. Future affected “A lot of these projects take 18 months to five years to plan,” says James Abruzzo, managing director of consulting firm DHR International Inc.’s nonprofit practice. “Even if the economy turns around, the drop in confidence about the next six months will cause arts executives to make decisions which will affect the city for years to come.” Three-quarters of the city’s cultural groups fear that the economic climate and its impact on the arts industry will worsen during the next six months, according to a twice-a-year survey by Crain’s and DHR International. More than half, or 59 percent, expect a moderate decline, while 16 percent expect the drop to be significant. This forecast comes on top of an already tough winter; more than 80 percent say the city’s cultural climate declined during the first half of 2003. Already, building projects long in the works are being scrapped, and upcoming exhibitions have been canceled. Last month, the Whitney Museum of American Art canceled its plans to build a new wing designed by celebrity architect Rem Koolhaas, estimated to cost around $200 million. The Brooklyn Museum of Art dropped the number of major fall exhibits to two from four. The New York Hall of Science recently pulled the plug on an incoming exhibit about bones, cutting the number of temporary exhibits next year down to one from its usual three. Reductions expected “A number of our funders have already told us to expect a reduction next year,” says Alan Friedman, director of the Hall of Science, which is projecting a loss of about $800,000, 10 percent of the museum’s operating budget. “They say their portfolios are down, so they’ll keep supporting us, but at two-thirds the amount they were before.” More than 65 percent of the cultural groups surveyed reported a decline in fund raising during the first half of 2003, and 62 percent expect a moderate to substantial decrease on top of that during the next six months. Making a tough year even worse, the war in Iraq contributed to a drop in attendance at many organizations. Twenty school groups canceled trips to the Staten Island Children’s Museum during the first two weeks of the war, for example. The brevity of the war and the absence of new terrorist attacks have fueled some hope that attendance will pick up. More than 30% of cultural groups believe that attendance and income will increase during the next six months.

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