Long Island arts groups have been awarded nearly $3 million in new state grants for programs, rehiring staff and supporting artists reemerging from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the past two months, Gov. Kathy Hochul's administration has awarded $77 million for 2023 to arts groups statewide through the New York State Council on the Arts, or NYSCA. The funding is part of $340 million budgeted for state art programs next year.
"For hundreds of years, artists from around the world have called New York their home because of our culture, diversity and creativity," Hochul said in a Tuesday statement. "Their innovations fuel our economy, our tourism industry and the health and well-being of our communities, and this year's historic commitment will spur our continuing recovery from the pandemic and set the course for a stronger future."
Grant funds for Long Island’s art community were awarded to more than 60 organizations.
WHAT TO KNOW
- State grants totaling $3 million have been awarded to more than 60 Long Island arts groups.
- The grants are part of $77 million awarded to cultural organizations statewide hurt financially by the pandemic.
- Funding for the organizations comes from $340 million budgeted for state art programs next year.
The Huntington Arts Council
Like other organizations in Long Island's arts community, the council, founded by folk singer Harry Chapin almost 60 years ago, has taken a financial hit from the pandemic, said Executive Director Kieran Johnson.
New York’s arts sector was a $120 billion industry before the pandemic, including $8 billion generated on Long Island, Johnson said. The arts industry has lost about 66% of jobs and $6 billion for the state’s creative sector since the start of the pandemic, Johnson said.
“Arts were very hard hit during the pandemic. A lot of people were hard hit and it damaged the creative practice,” Johnson said. “Long Island is critical to the arts and has a long history. People think of New York City as a hub. … It’s interchangeable and fluid between the city and Long Island. When someone gets hit here, it affects them also.”
The grant will be spread over the next two years to support 350,000 artists across Long Island, he said.
Past events sponsored by the arts council included performances at the Chapin Rainbow bandshell in Huntington’s Heckscher Park, featuring singers Paula Cole and Sophie B. Hawkins, and a staging of Jonathan Larson’s musical, “Tick, Tick, Boom.”
Long Island Children’s Museum
The Uniondale museum received a $40,000 grant.
It was forced to close for at least six months during the pandemic, the museum’s president Suzanne LeBlanc said.
The award was $5,000 more than a similar grant last year, according to LeBlanc. The funds will go toward expanding arts programming, including the January return of a stage show based on the popular Mo Willems book, "Elephant and Piggie," and an art exhibit, “The Pigeon Comes to Long Island,” based on a character in another of Willems' books.
The museum halted a sold-out run of "Elephant and Piggie" in 2020 because of the pandemic. The museum is also hosting a Lunar New Year exhibit Jan. 28 and 29.
Museum officials were forced to lay off their part-time front-facing staff workers but maintained full-time staff with federal and state funding.
The museum reopened in 2021 at 25% capacity and has rebounded to more than 90% of its 2019 attendance, with a 13% increase in revenue in the past two months alone, LeBlanc said. The museum has taken over operations of Nunley’s Carousel and has also spent $50,000 on capital projects to improve its children’s theater.
“This funding for our arts program is very critical. It allows us to do more public programming. There’s something new to do every day at the museum,” she said.
Usdan Summer Camp for the Arts
The Wheatley Heights summer arts camp outside Melville was awarded $60,000 and will use the funds for its operations and the hiring of two resident artists for dance and choreography instruction, as well as to pay for the final year of four-year residencies of a violinist and composer.
The camp also plans to rehire staff lost during the pandemic, hire two full-time assistant teachers for the summer and hire one assistant for half the summer, Executive Director Lauren Brandt Schloss said.
The nonprofit is increasing its scholarship program by about $1 million to $2.5 million for the roughly two-thirds of students who receive financial support. The camp returned to full capacity of about 1,500 students last summer after hosting 850 students in 2021 and going virtual in 2020.
It receives $6.2 million annually in tuition, which covers 82% of its $7.5 million in expenses.
“Fundraising is critical for our well-being. We can’t operate without support from institutions in the community. The NYSCA funding is a seal of approval to the cultural community,” Brandt Schloss said. “To know we have this support in place allows planning for the summer with less risk than we may have had without the funding.”
Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center
The Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center has had a longer road to recovery after a fire destroyed the original theater in 2016. The theater was rebuilt and planned to reopen in 2020 before the pandemic hit.
Operators finally reopened the theater in May 2021, and it flourished with community support and state funding, Executive Director Genevieve Villaflor said. The center was awarded a $40,000 grant for 2023.
Villaflor said the arts center will use the grant for general operating expenses and hiring staff. The theater has hosted events with Julie Andrews, the star of "Mary Poppins" and the "Sound of Music."
“Our story is a good story. We were supposed to open in 2020 and it was not an easy year, but cultural programing and fundraising kept the organization going in some way in the mind of the audience. I was heartened when we opened and people really embraced it,” said founding artistic director Giulia D'Agnolo. “We were able to expand the audience, and the goal was always to enlarge it and make more people come to the movies.”