The Art Of Budget Cuts


In what one arts advocate called the "ritual mating dance" that starts off months of fiscal back-and-forth, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has recommended slashing 6.2 percent from the Department of Cultural Affairs, a decrease that arts advocates calculate will translate into much larger cuts for some institutions and groups. Gov. George Pataki recently proposed slashing 15 percent from the New York State Council on the Arts, while New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey has proposed a temporary freeze on all grants to arts groups.

Like their secular counterparts, Jewish cultural institutions are bracing for budgetary blows, but hope despite pervasive economic gloom, their reliance on support from individuals, foundations and corporations will cushion some of the impact.

The proposed cuts come along with "a lousy economy and drop in visitation," said David Marwell, director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. "We’ll obviously feel [the cuts] and will have to raise that money from other sources."

Last year, the museum endured a 15 percent cut in city funding to about $885,000. But "in spite of everything last year, we had a pretty good year," meeting revenue projections for the museum’s $12 million operating budget. And the museum’s expansion (which will almost triple its size), already under way, is still on target for completion in the fall.

The Eldridge Street Project has a city contract for "slightly less than $2 million" for heating and ventilation, said director Amy Waterman. Another hoped-for $1 million from the city that would have accelerated restoration of the 19th-century Eldridge Street Synagogue on the Lower East Side, however, fell through. Because other funding sources support the project, Waterman said, "It’s not your worst case story. But we’re concerned because the capital campaign and our public programs are closely related."

Uptown at The Jewish Museum, the spring’s exhibition schedule is on track and plans are still on for two new exhibitions in the fall. But museum spokesperson Anne Scher acknowledged that the museum would be affected by cuts in government grants, which contribute to education programs, special exhibitions and general operating expenses. The museum received $350,000 in government grants in 2001-2002, most of it from the city.

And cutting back on programs makes any institution a hard sell to private donors. "Although it’s sad and painful, [a museum] can lower the level of activity without causing harm as long as you maintain the temperature and humidity standards and guard the works of art," said Randall Borscheidt, president of the Alliance for the Arts, an advocacy group. "But you don’t get any benefit out of it."

The Center for Jewish History has drawn up plans for new executive offices with construction to begin as early as this summer, but at the same time it has already tightened its operating budget by $250,000.

"We’re trying to be prudent," said the center’s chairman Bruce Slovin. "We can’t spend as if we’re in the late ’90s."