Opinion

Helping arts and culture to inspire New York City

By Jimmy Van Bramer |  

March 14, 2016 |  

(William Alatriste)

New York City is the cultural capital of the world. Every day our cultural institutions and organizations draw, and inspire, millions of people.

As the chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Cultural Affairs and Libraries, I have had the opportunity to meet New Yorkers from all walks of life who have been influenced by the arts.

Daniel Silva, a native of Spanish Harlem, always believed New York City’s museums were his home. For years, he would visit the American Museum of Natural History and look up at the giant Barosaurus, wishing he could live in a place as wonderful as that hall. These visits sparked his desire to share that experience with others. Daniel designed his own art history major at CUNY and now works in my Queens council district at the Museum of the Moving Image, making arts and culture available to thousands of New Yorkers.

It’s because of experiences like Daniel Silva’s that I’m proud to support #NYCInspires, a citywide grassroots effort launching this week to increase funding for arts and culture this year by $40 million. Half of this much-needed funding would go to cultural institution group members, such as the Brooklyn Museum, the Queens Museum and El Museo del Barrio. Another $20 million would be dedicated to supporting small community-based nonprofit cultural organizations throughout the city.

Every child in every neighborhood – regardless of race, class, or immigration status – should have access to arts and culture institutions. Because many of our cultural groups are available to New Yorkers regardless of cost, a child whose family can’t afford to take vacations can still be struck by the wonders of nature in any of our city’s beautiful botanical gardens. A young adult should not have to attend an expensive private school to experience, in person, some of the most striking and famous works of art in the world. Studies have shown that students with an art-rich education have higher grade-point averages, score better on reading and math standardized tests and are less likely to drop out of school.

I’m proud to say that New York City’s cultural gems are becoming even more accessible. The IDNYC program has made world-class art and culture available to even more New Yorkers. In 2015 alone, IDNYC holders redeemed over 160,000 memberships to our city’s cultural institutions. Many of these members come from immigrant-rich communities in Queens and Brooklyn. The New York City Ballet, whose world-class dancers are a sight to behold, reported that 40 percent of audience members at many performances were IDNYC holders.

New York’s arts and culture are integral to furthering the aspirations of our city’s youth. Music and theater teach young people self-expression. Our zoos and botanical gardens expose children to natural wonders and foster an interest in science. At 14, Julie Kunen participated in an internship program for high school students at the Bronx Zoo. (And had the distinction of being the first intern to be spit on by a camel!) She is now a conservationist and runs the Latin America and Caribbean field program for the Wildlife Conservation SocietyMeryl Dominguez is working as an artist in residence and pursuing an artist diploma; she was first exposed to the arts when a teacher at LaGuardia High School took her to see the Metropolitan Opera through a program to distribute free tickets to public high school students. To this day, Meryl remembers the first thrill of Joyce DiDonato singing Rosina in “The Barber of Seville.

These cultural organizations, large and small, are the fabric that knits New York City together. Local theaters, galleries, studio spaces and dance companies thrive at the heart of New York’s many diverse communities, and make our melting pot all the more rich. I was lucky enough recently to work with Andrew Clarke and the BRAATA Folk Singers, a local performance group that focuses on maintaining Jamaican folk traditions in Eastern Queens. Hundreds of groups like BRAATA throughout this city connect people to arts, culture, heritage and each other.

Now is the time to invest in culture and the arts. By doing so, we ensure that all New Yorkers, including future generations, continue to access, benefit from, and contribute to the unique cultural delights of our city.

Jimmy Van Bramer is a New York City Councilman for the 26th District, the Council majority leader and the chairman of the Council’s Committee on Cultural Affairs and Libraries.

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