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Boro cultural institutions saved from budget crises

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Although many directors of Queens’ leading cultural institutions held their breath bracing for a debilitating blow, they let out a restrained sigh as word spread that funding cuts in the city budget were more shallow than expected.

“Basically the cuts are not as bad as originally thought, but they are still significant,” said Jo-Ann Jones, executive director of the Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts, which is delaying the start of new initiatives in light of the budget crunch.

The Department of Cultural Affairs, which provides funding for the borough’s cultural institutions, experienced an across-the-board cut of 5.48 percent in the budget approved last week — well below an anticipated reduction that ranged from 13.5 percent to 18.5 percent.

The smaller drop means museums and arts venues can put some more slack in the aggressive belt-tightening measures they had originally planned to put in place when the mayor released his budget draft in February.

“With the proposed cuts, which were huge, we had estimated that between 20,000 and 30,000 fewer people would be affected by Queens Museum programming,” said Tom Finkelpearl, the Queens Museum of Art executive director. Under the final version of the budget, “It’ll still be diminished, but it’ll be diminished less.”

Although Finkelpearl hopes to tap into other sources of income, like foundations and individual and corporate donations, the prospects of making up the shortfall are still dim.

“All those people are having the same trouble the city’s having,” he said. “There’s less money around, and that’s going to be tough.”

Susan Lacerte, the executive director of the Queens Botanical Garden, said the cut is “about a third of what it could have been.”

The garden would have had to close a gate and eliminate a cultural research program under the original cuts, programs that have been saved in the approved budget. Now Lacerte expects to perform “a little bit of tightening up here and there.”

But as arts organizations sought more detailed budget information this week, what remained unclear was whether the borough president and city council members had been able to secure funding of their own for assorted projects, typically a major source of support.

“I would predict that the cuts are more severe than people realize at the moment,” said Jones, who expects the discretionary funding for cultural programming was likely slashed significantly.

But some have already heard positive news on that front. Rochelle Slovin, director of the American Museum of the Moving Image, said her institution secured additional funding with an allocation from City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Woodside).

Many directors have also said they plan to be fiscally conservative despite the relatively good news because deeper cuts may be made when the budget is revised in future months.

“It’s not like we got through this and we’re OK for the whole year,” Jones said. “We could get further cuts as the year goes on if the market doesn’t pick up.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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