On Tuesday, leaders from several of the city’s cultural institutions spoke about how smaller and mid-sized organizations can attract focus and funding in a city where their larger competitors get the lion’s share of wealth and attention.
About 250 people attended the Crain’s Arts & Culture Breakfast to hear from panelists representing the Paul Taylor Dance Company, the Ford Foundation, the Queens Museum of Art, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and Harlem Stage. The panelists discussed ways to attract funding, media coverage and visitors while New York City donors, press and potential guests are presented with nearly limitless cultural options.
Kate Levin, commissioner of the city’s Department of Cultural affairs, gave advice on how to get city funding, saying the most important thing organizations should do in their grant proposals is have a clear message of what they intend to do with the funding.
“There are around 300 off-off-Broadway theaters in New York,” Ms. Levin said. “If they can’t tell us what is unique about each of them, that’s when it gets difficult to figure out how to reward excellence.”
She said that her office gets 11,000 applications annually and provides funds to 75% of them.
Another challenge the panelists addressed was how to draw visitors to cultural outlets in less traveled neighborhoods such as Harlem and outer boroughs like Queens.
Tom Finkelpearl, executive director of the Queens Museum of Art, said getting people to come to the museum from other parts of the city is a matter of making sure the travel time is worth the visit. To make the commute more worthwhile, the museum is undergoing an expansion, Mr. Finkelpearl said. The construction is expected to be completed in 2013.
Similarly, Harlem Stage’s executive director, Patricia Cruz, said getting people to come up to Harlem for a performance can be tough, though it has gotten easier over time.
Ms. Cruz added that a small marketing budget presents its own set of challenges. Rather than running expensive advertising, Harlem Stage works with a public relations firm to get media coverage, which doesn’t always come so easily.
“We’ve had to mine that territory,” Ms. Cruz said. “We’ve had to bring that in. Working with a media firm has been really essential.”
She added that while her staff uses social media and digital means to market the theater, a brochure is still her publicity tool of choice.
“I don’t go anywhere without one,” she said. “I am my own guerilla marketer.”
While many of the city’s cultural groups worry about attracting younger audiences, John Tomlinson, executive director of the Paul Taylor Dance Company, said the shift can happen naturally. He reasoned that young people eventually tire of nightlife and bar scenes and begin turning to cultural entertainment, like theater, opera and dance.
And, he added, “Older audiences are great. They have money. They have time. They have attention.”
Luis Ubiñas, president of the Ford Foundation, said his organization’s priority was making culture accessible to all New Yorkers by, for example, subsidizing ticket prices.
“What is the point of running a cultural organization if it doesn’t reach everyone in the city?” he said.