Mellon Millions To Aid Reeling Arts Groups

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP  |  Dec. 11, 2001 at 12:29 PM
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NEW YORK, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has come to the aid of New York area cultural institutions, a $13 billion industry reeling in the wake of the Sept. l1 terrorist violence, with a $50 million emergency fund that may be added to by other foundations if the situation worsens.

William G. Bowen, president of the New York-based foundation, said the fund was set up to help museums, theaters, dance companies and other arts groups suffering loss of patronage and income as the result of the World Trade Center Twin Towers tragedy. These groups also are facing an expected $20 million cut in the city's $137 million budget for cultural institutions.

Bowen said the foundation already was accepting grant requests and probably would have announced awards ranging from $250,000 to $2 million before the end of the year. No formal applications, usual in making grants of this type, are required due to the urgency of the situation, he added.

"We invite them to submit proposals and to describe how they have been affected and how they would use this transitional funding," Bowen told United Press International. "We're not going to be big on forms."

The funding program was announced as some of the city's largest art museums, including the Guggenheim and the Whitney, were cutting back on staff, exhibitions and plans for future expansion. According to a Center for an Urban Future survey of 150 New York non-profit arts institutions, they are entering their rockiest period financially since the city's fiscal crisis 30 years ago.

"This (the Mellon aid) might make the difference between 10 or 12 organizations riding out the storm or going under," said David Fischer, project director for the center. "It really provides some first aid in this abnormal time. Perhaps other foundations will want to join in this emergency funding."

Pooling of grants for arts institutions has already begun under the banner of the New York Arts Recovery Fund set up by the New York Foundation for the Arts. The fund has raised nearly $1 million for local arts groups and artists to date.

The Center for an Urban Future estimated arts institutions could expect a 15 percent loss in revenue and urged Mayor-elect Michael R. Bloomberg, who sits on several museum boards, to make the arts an important focus of the city's rebuilding efforts.

The arts institutions contacted by UPI blamed the lack of tourism -- both domestic and foreign -- for their financial woes. They also noted a drop in attendance by New Yorkers and a falloff in charitable contributions as a result of the economic recession that has hit investment portfolios of both foundations and private donors. Major donations have been withdrawn or postponed.

"It was pretty bad right after Sept. 11 when tourists simply stopped coming into the city but we thought it was getting better a few weeks ago," said Harold Holzer, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Museum. "But now attendance is down again even though the holiday season is usually a time of increased tourism. Europeans, in particular, simply aren't coming to the city."

He said attendance at the Metropolitan was down 30 percent and the 15 percent cut in the city's cultural budget ordered by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in October would mean a $3.5 million loss to the museum in expected funds. The Met has been loosing $200,000 a week in admissions, shop sales, and restaurant revenue.

New York State also has made a 10 percent cut in its cultural budget and eliminated line-item grants that legislators make to arts groups in their districts. This meant a loss of $90,000 to the Staten Island Children's Museum, a big hunk of its $1.5 million annual budget.

The Guggenheim Museum, which has several branches in the United States and Europe, reported attendance at its Fifth Avenue base down by almost 60 percent. It has fired 80 employees, about one-fifth of its staff, and canceled two scheduled exhibitions. It's satellite museum in the SoHo district of New York will be closed at the end of the year, and its $20 million Web site also may be closed.

The Whitney Museum, which reports a 40 percent drop in paid admission, has laid off 12 full-time and two part-time employees out of a staff of 210. It has canceled a major exhibition of sculpture by Eva Hesse and put another scheduled show on hold. The Whitney's Web site will be managed outside the museum from now on rather than by staff members.

The Brooklyn Museum, with attendance down 30 percent, has reduced the salaries of its employees in top job categories retroactive to July 15.

The Joseph Papp Public Theater has announced layoffs of 20 percent of its staff, reflecting the drop-off in theater attendance since Sept. 11.

Broadway ticket sales are reported to be recovering, but the winter months are the theater's slack season and only 15 percent of ticket buyers have bought tickets at least a month in advance, compared to 45 percent last fall.

A number of Off-Broadway productions have closed, including "Havana Is Waiting," which got some of the strongest review of the season, and such long-run Broadway musicals as "Phantom of the Opera," "Cabaret," and "Beauty and the Beast" face closure if ticket sales do not improve.

But commercial theater is outside the scope of Mellon Foundation generosity since it is extended only to non-profit groups.

The foundation, whose commitments are to the humanities and the arts, was founded by the late Andrew Mellon, a Pittsburgh financier who gave the nation the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and served for many years as Secretary of the Treasury. It has an endowment of $4 billion.

"Foundations generally are like little old ladies crossing the street," said Schuyler G. Chapin, the city's commissioner of cultural affairs, in an interview. "Somebody has to take the first step. The Mellon Foundation has done this and I hope others will follow."

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