Culture Counts

Strategies for a More Vibrant Cultural Life for New York City

New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA)

2001, 76 pages. New York Foundation for the Arts, 155 Avenue of the Americas, 14th floor, New York, NY, 10013, 212-366-6900.

Culture Counts, published by the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), is the final report on a special initiative entitled, "A Cultural Blueprint for New York City." The document represents the first comprehensive study of cultural life in New York City in nearly thirty years.

The Blueprint project was an exhaustive, detailed analysis and facilitated citywide discussion about the ways in which arts and cultural conditions in New York can be improved. The resulting Culture Counts document reflects the magnitude of the undertaking and provides, in great detail, charts, data, surveys, and findings on the many concerns facing New York arts groups and artists. It examines existing cultural policy in the City and provides research and analysis of the Department of Cultural Affairs funding structure, as well as surveys of participation in arts and culture.

What makes this document, for me, compelling reading, is its context as summarized by the first sentence of the prologue which states, "On the morning of September 11, 2001, this report, Culture Counts, was delivered to the printer, but by that afternoon we stopped the presses."

While the Culture Counts report and Blueprint project were conducted during the "largest change in city government in our history," events more profound than the establishment of a pro-arts post-Guiliani administration suddenly compounded the well-documented challenges to the health and well-being of New York's artists and arts groups. One could surmise that the incredibly positive response that the artistic community had to the events of 9/11 had something to do with the fact that they had just completed a grand conversation and, consequently, knew each other a little better. New York is, after all, a very big place.

The care and inclusion of the City's entire arts infrastructure into the Blueprint process is in itself a remarkable accomplishment. Anyone who has done a comprehensive cultural plan knows the difficulty and logistical challenges involved in attaining true community participation. Can you imagine doing it in New York City? From the list of meetings and interviews listed in the appendix, it appears that NYFA — its project team, citizens advisory committee, working group, and staff — more than rose to the task of making sure that the project reflected feedback from the entire arts community.

For those interested in the development of contemporary urban cultural policy, Culture Counts is a well-researched document with a strong point of view: not enough is being done to improve the conditions in which New York's artists and arts groups must work, create, live, and produce.

Bruce Davis is executive director, Arts Council Silicon Valley.