Brooklyn Councilmember Chi Ossé wants to commit 1 percent of New York City’s budget to the arts sector, which shed more than 208,000 jobs during the early months of the pandemic.

Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

A dance performance in February 2021, part of the city’s Open Culture Program.

The head of the City Council’s cultural affairs committee is urging the mayor and his colleagues to reverse proposed cuts and commit 1 percent of New York City’s budget to an arts sector devastated by the COVID pandemic.

Brooklyn Councilmember Chi Ossé, chair of Committee on Cultural Affairs, said the 1 percent budget baseline—which would equal $10 billion based on current spending plans from the mayor and Council—would bring back many of the arts-related jobs that New York City lost in the pandemic while ensuring funds make it to smaller organizations led by people of color. New York City shed more than 208,000 arts sector jobs accounting for $8.5 billion in lost earnings in the first four months of the pandemic, according to a 2020 report by the Brookings Institute. Many of those jobs have yet to return.

“I’m urging the new administration as well as my colleagues to adopt the 1 percent of our city’s budget allocation for arts and culture,” Ossé said Sunday during an appearance on WBAI’s City Watch. “We in arts and culture deserve a lot more, especially given the economic impact we have on the city, and especially if we want to recover at the rate we do in this quasi-post-pandemic world.”

But Ossé’s spending goal may be out of reach for the 2023 fiscal year. Mayor Eric Adams’ proposed budget would instead cut funding for the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) by nearly $78 million. In its response earlier this month, the City Council recommended trimming DCLA spending by $28 million.

Ossé said those cuts will only fuel inequity and hinder the city’s overall recovery.

“Given the amount of tourism dollars that culture brings to this city, our funding for our cultural [institution] should be a lot larger than it currently is,” he said. “We are the cultural capital of the world.”

He said the impact of the pandemic on arts and culture affects small artists who benefit from city funding, as well as the people who staff large institutions—like his constituents in Brooklyn’s 36th Council District.

“While Broadway doesn’t exist in Bed Stuy and Crown Heights, culture lives within my community,”  Ossé said. “Those that are adding to the cultural atmosphere of New York reside in Bed Stuy, reside in Crown Heights.”

Ossé began leading the cultural affairs committee—which oversees the DCLA, arts institutions and New York City’s three public library systems—five years after the city released an ambitious plan to increase equity in the city’s iconic arts scene. The 2017 plan, known as CreateNYC, was also supposed to supercharge funding for artists and organizations in low-income communities, as well as creators of color and performers with disabilities while addressing their labor, affordability and professional development needs.

The COVID crisis has taken a toll on arts equity in New York City, however. A 2021 report by the Center for an Urban Future found that a quarter of cultural organizations located in New York City’s lower-income zip codes lost access to their physical space during the pandemic.

Ossé said he is working with the DCLA to streamline the application process for the city’s Cultural Development Fund to ensure smaller organizations—particularly led by people of color—can access cash.

“Some of these applications can be truly tedious and hard to navigate through and DCLA has been taking this into account,” he said. “The new commissioner [former City Councilmember Laurie Cumbo] has, I have as chair and we are adjusting the process as it is to make it a lot more open to smaller organizations, Black and brown organizations, nonwhite organizations that have not be included in the fold of CDF funding in the past.”

The April 24 episode of City Watch also featured an interview with U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, who discussed his strategies for tackling gun violence—including a recent Executive Order aimed at limiting “ghost guns.”

The conversation with Ossé was the latest installment in a City Limits/City Watch series featuring interviews with all of New York City’s new councilmembers. 

Listen to the full episode here: 

City Limits’ series on the people, places and politics of New York City’s five-borough art scene is supported by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.