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Boro cultural institutions rally against budget cuts

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Representatives of many of Queens’ leading cultural institutions gathered at the Queens Botanical Garden in Flushing last Thursday to call attention to the painful effect of the mayor’s budget plan on their groups.

All 33 members of the Cultural Institutions Group, which includes eight Queens organizations sitting on city-owned land, are facing operating cuts of either 13.5 percent or 18.4 percent, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s current budget plan.

The groups gathered to voice support for the City Council’s alternative budget plan, which cuts all 33 by 2 percent.

“If these institutions are diminished...every New Yorker will be the loser,” said Ethan Geto, public policy consultant for CIG.

The eight groups are a powerful economic entity, Geto said.

“Cultural tourism is the fastest growing segment of the U.S. travel industry,” he said. “These cultural institutions represent an enormous financial return for the city.”

The combined annual attendance at the institutions is 1.4 million, said Janet Schneider, executive director of CIG. The group has 239 full-time employees, 403 part-time employees and a combined annual budget of $27 million, she said.

Almost all of the representatives of the eight Queens institutions said the proposed budget would force them to cut staff.

“We’ll have to lay off on July 1 12 percent of our staff in addition to 7 percent of staff laid off in November,” said Alan Friedman, director of the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

Tom Finkerpearl, executive director of the Queens Museum of Art, also in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, said the cuts would likely force the museum to cut hours, preventing many visitors from seeing exhibits.

“Between 20,000 and 30,000 people who are coming to the museum will not be able to experience the museum with these cuts,” he said.

“The last thing we want to cut is what New York City does best,” he added.

The representatives argued that CIG deserved to be spared from the cuts facing many other city agencies because the institutions are already financially strained.

Jo-Ann Jones, executive director of the Flushing Town Hall, said city funding had not increased in the 10 years of the art center’s existence.

Despite receiving two substantial grants from the Carnegie Corporation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Jones said all of the institutions had already exhausted private funding sources.

“We cannot count again on either the Carnegie Foundation or the Mellon Foundation to step up to the plate,” she said.

Hasie Sirisena, deputy director of Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, said the proposed budget would force it to raise certain attendance fees.

“With an increase in fees, many of our programs cannot reach our constituents most in need,” she said.

If enacted by the city, the proposed budget would leave the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City with a difficult decision, said Alanna Heiss, its executive director.

“We’ll have to decide whether we start the summer with those draconian measures or if wait until the fall,” she said.

Susan Lacerte, executive director of the Queens Botanical Garden; Matthew Bregman, deputy director of the American Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria and Jeffrey Rosenstock, executive director of Queens Theater in the Park in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, also spoke at the event.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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