Asked

If You Had $300,000, Would You Buy a Winston Churchill Painting or a Banksy Screenprint? We Asked an Expert to Choose


Should a single Damien Hirst painting cost more than an entire Old Masters sale? Should Adrian Ghenie’s auction record stand higher than Frida Kahlo’s? The strange, fickle, mostly subjective nature of art valuation is one of the industry’s most enduring enigmas (and sources of complaint). To analyze what’s behind some of the confounding prices in the art market, we ask experts in our series “This or That” to compare two very different works of art offered at comparable prices.

With the London auction season upon us, we spoke with Nazy Vassegh, an art advisor and founder of the city’s Eye of the Collector fair, about which of two offerings from the upcoming sales she’d buy: Winston Churchill’s View in the Italian Alps (ca. 1934), a painting by the former British prime minister estimated at £200,000 to £300,000 ($279,000 to $418,000) at Sotheby’s, or the screenprint Nola AP (Green to Blue Rain) (2008) by Banksy, another British artist whose work marks moments of political upheaval in world history, albeit in a very different way, offered for the same price at Christie’s.

Here’s what she said.

This or that: If I were buying for myself, or for one of my more contemporary collectors, I would buy the Banksy. I believe Banksy is the artist of our time. He’s a visual spokesman for the persecuted, the dispossessed, and the underrepresented. This particular picture, Nola, is about Hurricane Katrina and its long-term impact, and how the vulnerable parts of the community were betrayed. He signifies this very cleverly by the use of children. It’s very, very poignant.

Sir Winston Churchill, Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque(1943). ©Christie’s Images Limited 2021.

Sir Winston Churchill, Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque(1943). ©Christie’s Images Limited 2021.

On aesthetic considerations: Until very recently, Churchill’s art was considered almost a novelty. It was more about Winston Churchill than about his skill as a painter or artist, and you have to ask the question, do people buy Churchill for his art or because they love Winston Churchill? Equally, you might say, do people buy Bansky because of the works? I mean his are not works of contemplative beauty.

If you think of the creative skill of the two artists, one you look at in the traditional sense—you judge it by the technique and colors and subject matter; the other is stencils, screenprint, and protest art. Banksy’s is cynical, yet hopeful; moral and yet authentic, whereas the work by Churchill, you look at it and think, is this a work of beauty? What elements of this painting appeal to me? Obviously in the background you have the fact that it was from a private collection, it was painted in the 1930s, and it is by Winston Churchill.

Churchill’s paintings all have a story behind them. On his travels he painted, and there are many famous artists throughout history who painted on their travels, so there’s this sort of romanticized element. It’s definitely not an art with a cause, like Banksy’s, but it is unique and a journal of his travels.

Banksy, Game Changer (2020). Courtesy of Christie's Images, Ltd.

Banksy, Game Changer (2020), sold for $23.1 million. Courtesy of Christie’s Images, Ltd.

On investment considerations: With regards to Banksy, the prices are already high and active and you do have to think, how much more can they go up? But then you get something like his painting Game Changer (2020) coming along—such a powerful work—which suddenly fetches £16.8 million with premium ($23.1 million) and you go, OK, there’s so much more. It’s complicated because the fact that his images initially appear in situ puts a context to them and I don’t think it’s a classic case of compare and contrast this work against that work.

The highest price Churchill has ever achieved was for his Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque, which is in Marrakesh, and it was estimated at £1.5 million to £2.5 million, which is already very strong, and it went for £8.3 million (including premium). So this one coming to auction is £200,000 to £300,000 I guess because it’s just a picture of the Italian alps, not a famous monument or site. But it was painted in 1934 and it’s got good, fresh provenance coming from a private collection.

If I were buying for one of my more traditional collectors, I’d probably look at the Churchill very carefully. Even though he’s only recently been reevaluated as an artist, rather than a politician, the work is unique by virtue of the fact he died in 1965—there’s a seriously limited supply. And he was a prime minister of Great Britain and one of most famous politicians of the 20th century.

Full Report: How Much Does an Art Dealer Really Make? We Asked a Few Hundred of Them—Here’s What We Found


Valerie Santerli never imagined that she would be running an art gallery, much less two of them. But when her boss and mentor Robin Rule died in 2013, Santerli decided to continue operating the business. Nearly eight years later, she spends upwards of 60 hours per week managing Rule Gallery’s two locations in Denver and Marfa, with only a few employees to share the load. 

Business is good, but not necessarily great. While clients were cutting checks to help keep the gallery’s lights on during the pandemic, Santerli said her salary has remained at around $20,000 with an annual bonus that’s dependent on sales revenue. Given the scale of her operation, she expected that number might shock some readers.

“People have the wrong impression that all gallerists are independently rich and that everyone has a private jet,” Santerli told Midnight Publishing Group News. “If our salaries in the art world were more transparent, it would be eye-opening for most people. We are doing this because we love art, not because it can pay our mortgages.”

Dreams of becoming the next Larry Gagosian are unattainable for most gallerists, crushed by the realities of a field that has historically rewarded masculine bravado, secrecy, and inherited wealth (or proximity to it).

Perhaps for those reasons, demands for salary transparency within the commercial art world have gone largely unrecognized by the trade organizations representing the industry and little data exists on how much money a gallerist can hope to obtain over the course of a career.

Last month, Midnight Publishing Group News surveyed more than 300 gallerists about the economics of their operations: details on their salary ranges, responsibilities, demographics, and personal stories. What emerged from this data, collected via an anonymous survey from professionals in 28 countries, was a portrait of an industry still struggling to define what equality means in a year that has seen both a pandemic slowdown and a market roaring back to life.

Cheim & Read's booth at Art Basel in 2018. Image courtesy of Art Basel.

Cheim & Read’s booth at Art Basel in 2018. Image courtesy of Art Basel.

More than 100 respondents to the survey identified as gallery directors, the majority of whom were making more than $100,000, with a few top earners reaching toward the millions. By comparison, those who identified as gallery assistants hit a ceiling of $35,000—about 30 percent less than what researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology define as a living wage in New York State. Over a 40-hour week, the sum comes in under $17 an hour. 

Only a minority of gallerists said that their employer provided overtime pay (13 percent) or  bonus (30 percent). Benefits like maternity leave (37 percent) and family leave (26 percent) were also rare. 

“The art market is a luxury business and it’s incredibly privileged,” said Sarah Murkett, the founder of art-focused recruiting company Murk & Co. “It can often be a toxic environment and an environment where the basic needs of employees are not met.”

Inconsistent Pay

Despite its status as an established luxury market, commercial galleries lack broad consistency when it comes to executive salaries. An analysis of data from more than 200 respondents who described themselves as owners, directors, and partners found that the average salary was around $90,000.

A closer look at this data suggests that a small number of very high-earning dealers hover at the top of the salary spectrum, while the rest make significantly less. The median salary for those who identified as an owner, director, or partner was about $65,000, while the mode—the number that appeared most often in the data set—was much lower, at $10,000. (Respondents who listed their salaries between zero and $10,000 said that their income was typically linked to sales commission rather than salary.)  

This spread demonstrates the volatility of salaries in the art world. In fact, when it comes to running their own businesses, many gallerists—especially those who are sole proprietors—said they usually invested their income right back into their companies, with the bare minimum going toward living expenses. 

Allegra LaViola, owner and director of Sargent’s Daughters in New York, is among those who does not pay herself a set salary. “If I don’t really have money, I pile everything on a credit card,” she said. “The honest answer is that for a lot of years, it’s a lot of credit card debt, alternating with moments of prosperity and then more credit card debt.”

A visitor to Deli Gallery's booth at the MECA art fair in San Juan. Photo courtesy Discover Puerto Rico.

A visitor to Deli Gallery’s booth at the MECA art fair in San Juan. Photo courtesy Discover Puerto Rico.

When Max Marshall started his career as a New York gallerist in 2011, he was working for what he described as a cartoonishly angry boss who would sometimes throw objects at employees. His job as an assistant to Douglas Baxter, the Pace president who recently stepped down from his position following an investigation into alleged misconduct, was challenging but instructive.

“I learned to have a high tolerance for difficulty and how to work in high-stress situations,” said Marshall, 33, now the owner of Deli Gallery. (He began the business as a side project five years ago while working for Matthew Marks.) “The support staff from my time at Pace later became my network of dealers and curators.”

Working at Pace a decade ago, Marshall said he was making a base salary of $40,000; with overtime, that amount increased to about $65,000. 

Becoming the director of his own gallery hasn’t really changed those numbers, even as revenues double each year. That’s because most of Marshall’s earnings go directly back into the business; he estimated that construction costs for his new Tribeca location, which is due to open this summer, are around $100,000. He described his take-home pay as “whatever my rent is, probably around $40,000 to $50,000.”

“It’s nerve-wracking to know that there isn’t a safety net,” Marshall admitted. But having to build Deli Gallery from scratch has also helped him empathize with the young artists he represents and learn about every aspect of running a gallery. Moreover, it has strengthened his commitment to changing attitudes about how the art world does business.

“I want to stop this cycle of toxic work environments,” he said, “and I foresee that my gallery and those of my peers will break that cycle.”

Murkett, the executive recruiter, hopes to be part of that change. In addition to ongoing art-world recruiting, she also wants to figure out “how to actually expand my business so that I’m helping art businesses to create infrastructure to better support people. Lately I’ve been talking a lot about E.Q.—emotional intelligence—businesses actually need to be more human.” 

Ed Ruscha, Pay Nothing Until April (2003). © Ed Ruscha, courtesy of Tate.

Ed Ruscha, Pay Nothing Until April (2003). © Ed Ruscha, courtesy of Tate.

Is Change Coming?

The historic lack of infrastructure supporting cultural workers has, in recent years, become the source of scandals, unionizations, and change. Museums and some mega-galleries, such as Pace, have leaned on outside consultants to provide solutions, which have thus far involved more sensitivity training than an overhaul of institutional hierarchies. Those hierarchies likely impact pay equity in the commercial art world, which is starkly divided by geography and race. 

In a major art hub like New York, you can expect average executive salaries to hover around $180,000 with a median value of $140,000. Heading outside of cultural destinations like Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and London, those numbers drop by nearly 70 percent. Regional gallerists worldwide make an average salary of around $55,000 with a median response of $50,000, according to our findings. 

Of the 288 respondents to our survey who identified their race, 85 percent identified as white. That ratio increased when looking at executive-level employees, of which nearly 93 percent identified as white. This data correlates to what we hear from professional organizations in the industry. For example, the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) has nearly 180 members; only two are Black-owned galleries.

Data from the survey also signified a wage gap between men and women in executive positions. The average salary for executives who identified as female was just shy of $80,000, while men reported pay that was 30 percent higher, at $110,000. There was not enough information to sufficiently analyze the disparity in salaries between white and nonwhite dealers.

The numbers from another recent survey of nearly 170 arts workers in Los Angeles, meanwhile, paint an even worse picture. The average annual earnings from all respondents was less than $37,000, below L.A. County’s living wage of about $40,000. Arts administrators of color reported that their earnings were closer to $32,000; white employees earned about 35 percent more than their peers, at $43,000.

With such low numbers, some gallerists have asked why the industry’s trade organizations have not moved to study salaries. The ADAA, for example, said it hasn’t collected any data on salaries, though a spokeswoman pointed to a recent COVID-19 survey that shows U.S. dealers projecting an overall gross revenue loss of 73 percent in the second quarter of 2020 after a previous quarter loss of 31 percent. A follow-up survey is also in the works with more economic insights on galleries, their staffs, and contractors.

Yet grim prospects for financial security continue to plague the industry, convincing some gallerists to quit while they are young—which could lead to a brain drain similar to the one already underway in the museum field.

“This industry is so elitist,” one gallery assistant from Washington, D.C., said. “I am tired of barely being able to afford my rent while working for toxic institutions.”

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

Benin Bronzes Are Scattered All Over World. We Asked Museums That Hold Them Where They Stand on Restitution


Germany’s landmark announcement that it would begin to restitute Benin bronzes as soon as 2022 sent ripples through museum communities around the world. The contentious objects, known to have been looted from the Benin Royal Palace in 1897, are scattered across some of the most prominent museums the world over. From institutions like the Metropolitan Museum in New York, which holds 163 pieces, to the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, which holds 100 pieces, these treasures have become a focal point of debate in recent years over the restitution of ill-gotten goods from the colonial era.

All told, there are some 160 institutions holding Benin bronzes, a term for an array of pieces that span intricate bronze plaques, carved wood, and ivory objects. Nigeria has been actively pursuing their return, an initiative that has ramped up in recent years as plans have come together for a major museum to hold them, the Edo Museum of West African Art, in Benin City. It is due to open in 2025.

Midnight Publishing Group News reached out to 30 museums known to hold Benin bronzes to ask for an update on their position on restitution, and the status of objects in their collection.

Photograph of an ancestral shrine at the Royal Palace, Benin City taken during the visit of Cyril Punch in 1891. Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution. EEPA.1993-014.

Photograph of an ancestral shrine at the Royal Palace, Benin City taken during the visit of Cyril Punch in 1891. Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.

British Museum, London

Number of Benin bronzes: 928

Position on restitution: “We believe the strength of the British Museum collection resides in its breadth and depth, allowing millions of visitors an understanding of the cultures of the world and how they interconnect over time—whether through trade, migration, conquest, or peaceful exchange…The British Museum works in partnership with colleagues, communities, and organisations across the world. We are currently collaborating with the Legacy Restoration Trust in Nigeria and Adjaye Associates on a major new archaeology project linked to the construction of the Edo Museum of West African Art. This innovative collaboration will investigate the archaeology of the Kingdom of Benin, including archaeological remains buried below the proposed site of the new museum. The Edo Museum will reunite Benin artworks from international collections. The Benin Dialogue Group, of which the British Museum is a member, will work with the museum to help develop this new permanent display of Benin works of art.”

Status of restitution requests or returns: No comment given

Initiatives of which the museum is a part: Member of the Benin Dialogue Group

Weltmuseum, Vienna

Number of Benin bronzes: 173, including 13 of which have been proven to have have left the Kingdom of Benin as a direct result of the 1897 invasion. Eight others were acquired significantly before 1897 and were part of the Habsburg collections since the 16th century.

Position on restitution: “The Weltmuseum Wien has been following developments in Germany and other European countries regarding the return of objects from the Benin Kingdom to Nigeria very closely. The collections of the Weltmuseum Wien remain the property of the Republic of Austria. The museum itself is not therefore authorized to make decisions regarding the return or deaccessioning of objects. Such decisions are made by federal government authorities in consultation with the museum… The museum has also committed to ensuring that Benin works from its collection are shown in Benin City; to be fully transparent to our Nigerian partners and the public about the objects in Vienna; and to continue to research the provenance and significance of the objects themselves.”

Status of restitution requests or returns: No formal request has been made for the return of these objects

Initiatives of which the museum is a part: Member of the Benin Dialogue Group and Digital Benin

Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge, UK

Number of Benin bronzes: 136

Position on restitution: In 2019, the museum developed a new framework for the return of artifacts. The policy notes that consideration will be given to whether artifacts were ‘appropriated in the aftermath of violence, for example in the context of a colonial intrusion or war.’ Over recent years, staff have visited Benin City, and Benin representatives have visited Cambridge.”

Status of restitution requests or returns: “No claim has yet been made for the return of Benin works, but it is anticipated that a proposal to return artifacts will in due course be made and considered through the process set out in the policy. Given the published criteria, it is anticipated that the claim would be supported and steps taken to return the artifacts.”

A visitor takes photos of the contentious Benin bronzes that are on display at the British Museum in London. Photo: David Cliff/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

A visitor takes photos of the contentious Benin bronzes that are on display at the British Museum in London. Photo: David Cliff/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

Oxford University’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums

Number of Benin bronzes: 105

Position on restitution: “The Pitt Rivers Museum has been working with Nigerian stakeholders, including representatives of the Royal Court and the Legacy Restoration Trust, to identify best ways forward regarding the care and return of these objects from the Court currently in the museums’ care… We acknowledge the profound loss the 1897 looting of Benin City caused and, alongside our partners of the Benin Dialogue Group, we aim to work with stakeholders in Nigeria to be part of a process of redress.”

Status of restitution requests or returns: No comment given

Initiatives of which the museum is a part: Member of the Benin Dialogue Group

National Museums Scotland, Edinburg

Number of Benin bronzes: 74

Position on restitution: “Our current policy on requests for the return of objects to their country or location of origin is that we consider each on a case by case basis.”

Initiatives: We are a member of the Benin Dialogue Group and are committed to working with other museums across Europe and representatives of the Edo State Government, the Royal Court of Benin, and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria, sharing information and knowledge and working towards a major reunion of the Benin works of art in Benin City. We are also working with the Digital Benin project to understand ​and share more about the provenance of the Benin objects in our care.

Exhibition view of "Looted Art? The Benin Bronzes" at MKG in Hamburg. Photo by Michaela Hille.

Exhibition view of “Looted Art? The Benin Bronzes” at MKG in Hamburg. Photo by Michaela Hille.

Horniman Museum, London

Number of Benin bronzes: 50 objects, including 15 brass plaques

Position on restitution: “Any returns, including the future of its collection of objects from Benin City, is laid out in our Restitution and Repatriation Policy, published on our website. The policy sets out a clear procedure for repatriation claims and includes a commitment to sharing information and transparency of process. The Horniman has, at the time of writing, received no repatriation requests which means that no definitive decision has been reached about repatriation of any object.”

Status of restitution requests or returns: None

Initiatives of which the museum is a part: Partner in the Rethinking Relationships and Building Trust around African Collections project

National Museum of Ireland, Dublin

Number of Benin bronzes: 21 objects, including armlets, wooden paddles, figures, and a staff

Position on restitution: “Like so many museums that were opened in the 19th century, the museum has legacy collections that do not reflect contemporary collecting practice or ethics. The National Museum of Ireland is committed to engaging with colleagues and officials in Nigerian museums, to progress a restitution process in relation to the Benin Bronzes… All of this work will be further supported through a comprehensive strategy which is underway within the museum to fully investigate and adequately resource provenance research of the wider 15,000 object ethnographical collection.”

Status of restitution requests or returns: No comment given

Initiatives of which the museum is a part: Member of Digital Benin

Carved elephant tusks looted by British soldiers from the Kingdom of Benin in 1897 are displayed in the "Where Is Africa" exhibition at the Linden Museum on May 05, 2021 in Stuttgart, Germany. Photo: Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images.

Carved elephant tusks looted by British soldiers from the Kingdom of Benin in 1897 are displayed in the “Where Is Africa” exhibition at the Linden Museum on May 05, 2021 in Stuttgart, Germany. Photo: Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images.

Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver

Number of Benin bronzes: 20, including 14 of which have been identified as recent replicas and six which may be older

Position on restitution: “The Museum of Anthropology at UBC has been engaged in repatriation since the 1990s. We strive to fulfil repatriation as established by the UNDRIP, the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and the UBC Strategic Indigenous Plan, reflected in UBC and MOA’s policies, namely the Guidelines for Repatriation.”

Status of restitution requests or returns: None

Initiatives of which the museum is a part: Digital Benin

 

Museum of Cultures, Basel

Number of Benin bronzes: 20 objects from Benin City, including 16 brass objects, two ivory pieces, and two wooden objects.

Position on restitution: It welcomes any request and open-ended dialogue

Status of restitution requests or returns: None

Initiatives of which the museum is a part: Benin Dialogue Group, Benin Digital, and the Swiss research group Benin Initiative Switzerland

 

National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.

Number of Benin Bronzes: 43 objects. Sixteen pieces are confirmed to have been raided in 1897 and 23 further artifacts that have an unclear provenance.

Position on restitution: “Members of the royal kingdom of Benin have visited the museum over the years, touring our exhibitions and collections storage and viewing the photographs relevant to the kingdom in our photographic archives. The museum has had a strong relationship with Oba and members of the royal court of Benin over the years. They are aware of the objects in our collection and appreciate that we continue to tell the story about how the kingdom’s treasures were looted from the palace in 1897. The National Museum of African Art is aware of the Legacy Restoration Trust in Nigeria, but we are not part of the Benin Dialogue Group associated with that trust and the formation of a new museum devoted to the royal arts of Benin.”

Status of restitution requests or returns: None

Initiatives of which the museum is a part: Digital Benin

A small brass relief plate from the Benin Empire depicting royal hornblowers from a drawer of a rolling shelf in the depot of the Dresden State Art Collections in Dresden. Photo: Arno Burgi/picture alliance via Getty Images.

A small brass relief plate from the Benin Empire depicting royal hornblowers from a drawer of a rolling shelf in the depot of the Dresden State Art Collections in Dresden. Photo: Arno Burgi/picture alliance via Getty Images.

Glasgow Art Gallery, Glasgow

Position on restitution: “Glasgow will continue to build on its established approach to restitution, founded on constructive engagement, with the people of Glasgow and the descendent communities or nations making the request, to support each individual situation. Moving forward Glasgow Life, on behalf of Glasgow City Council, will consider the most appropriate way to directly instigate discussions with descendant communities or their nominated representatives, whenever we can identify them, by sharing all relevant information that we have. Through cultural agencies in Nigeria, Glasgow Life, has established a pathway of communication with the Royal Family of Benin, and as a result we are in a position to begin a dialogue.”

Number of Benin bronzes: 8 bronzes and 21 other cultural artifacts whose exact provenance has not been established, including objects typically placed on the ancestral altars of the Obas of Benin that are currently attributed to late 19th-century Edo culture

Restitution requests: 9 repatriation requests, six of which have been successful

Initiatives of which the museum is a part: Digital Benin, the PRM Devolving Restitution Project, and the Commonwealth Association of Museums

Cleveland Museum of Art

Number of Benin bronzes: Eight objects, including five thought to have been removed from the Benin Kingdom during the Siege of Benin of 1897 and three Benin works needing further research.

Position on restitution: “As all of these works are undergoing further research; the museum is not in a position to make a statement as to any future actions. The Cleveland Museum of Art’s profound commitment to transparency and the highest ethical standards is apparent both from the way that our curator of African arts has interpreted these works in our galleries and from our long track record of engagement around cultural property issues.”

 

Royal African Museum, Tervuren, Belgium

Number of Benin Bronzes: 1

Position on restitution: “In the ongoing debate regarding the restitution of African cultural heritage, the museum takes an open and constructive position. It is an active participant in the dialogue with authorities and museum policy representatives, and with Belgians of African descent from the relevant countries. The RMCA acknowledges that it is not normal for such a large part of African cultural heritage to be found in the West, given that the countries of origin have moral ownership of such heritage… From a legal standpoint, the collections of the RMCA are the inalienable property of the federal state and belong to federal heritage. Restitution can only be decided upon by the federal minister for Science Policy within a strict legal framework and would require approval by parliament… There is currently no legal framework for restitution in Belgium.” Read full policy here.

Status of restitution requests or returns: No formal requests for restitution

Initiatives: Involved in a dialogue with the National Museum of Congo and of Rwanda to discuss a program of long-term collaboration and restitution.

Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada

Number of Benin Bronzes: 1 object with a confirmed provenance

Position on restitution: “The ROM adheres to the Museum’s Collections Policy which follows accepted museum standards and guidelines on the deaccessioning of objects.”

Status of restitution requests or returns: None

Initiatives:  Benin Dialogue Group

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

New York’s Mayoral Race Is in Full Swing. We Asked Each Candidate How They Plan to Support Arts and Culture


New York City is heading into one of its most consequential elections in decades. And the pool of mayoral candidates, which once seemed impossibly large, has narrowed to a handful of hopefuls who have both the name recognition and financial resources to realistically secure the nomination. With June’s primary looming, their previously broad platforms are coalescing into more specific policies.

If members of New York’s arts community aren’t paying close attention to the race, they should be. The mayor can have a huge impact on everything from public art and arts education to funding for institutions like the Met and the Brooklyn Museum. 

It should be noted that many aspects of city governance have a direct impact on artists and art workers (think: housing, taxes, education, childcare… the list goes on). But for the purposes of this inquiry, we asked eight leading Democratic candidates to spell out their specific proposals for arts and culture in New York City. (The city is overwhelmingly Democratic, meaning one of the names below is likely to become the next mayor.)

Here are their responses. In the event that a candidate did not reply, we drew from their published policy plans and previous track records.

 

Kathryn Garcia

New York City Sanitation chief and mayoral candidate, Kathryn Garcia, speaks at the New York State Latino Restaurant, Bar, and Lounge Association restaurant rally in Times Square on December 15, 2020 in New York City. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images.

New York City Sanitation chief and mayoral candidate, Kathryn Garcia, speaks at a rally in Times Square on December 15, 2020. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images.

A spokesperson says Garcia’s local economic recovery plan, which campaign just released—Reopen to Stay Open—is “focused in large part on providing support for NYC’s arts and culture industries.” Highlights of the former Commissioner for the New York City Sanitation Department’s plan include:
  • Expanding public spaces to give artists and art organizations a bigger footprint in their communities. “Kathryn recognizes the success of outdoor dining (and the way it was stood up practically overnight) and aims to apply the model wider—to create opportunity for thousands of pop-up theater performances, art installations, and commercial markets,” the spokesperson says. To do so, she would reform the concessions and public-art permitting process to unlock hundreds of thousands of square feet of public space.
  • Developing a partnership with streaming services to livestream On and Off Broadway shows and other performance art to bring New York theater into the homes of all New Yorkers
  • Giving all local businesses (including art galleries) a full year of fine and fee relief during the first year of the administration and launching a Small Business Block Party series in every borough
  • Launching RediscoverNYC, a campaign encouraging New Yorkers to visit the beautiful parts of the city they have never been to

 

Ray McGuire

New York City Mayoral candidate Ray McGuire speaks during a press conference at the National Action Network's House of Justice to denounce the rise of attacks against Asian Americans on March 18, 2021 in New York City. Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images.

New York City Mayoral candidate Ray McGuire on March 18, 2021 in New York City. Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images.

Representatives from former Citigroup vice chairman Ray McGuire’s campaign did not respond to emails from Midnight Publishing Group News. But the candidate has a long history supporting the arts through private philanthropy and has, for years, been an avid collector. His notable achievements and policy plans, drawn from his bio and website, include:

  • Serving on the board of the Whitney Museum of American Art and as chairman of the Studio Museum in Harlem
  • Serving on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission
  • Cultivating a top-flight collection of work by Black artists, including examples by Glenn Ligon, Carrie Mae Weems, Sam Gilliam, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and Roy DeCarava.
  • Joining the newly formed Black Trustee Alliance for Art Museums
  • Cultivating art collectors as campaign donors, including Aby Rosen and John Hess
  • Calling for a revamping of the Department of Cultural Affairs so it can function “more effectively and efficiently”
  • Encouraging leaders of the city’s 76 Business Investment Districts to expand support for local arts and arts education
  • Holding “the biggest festival the country has ever seen” once it is safe to do so, including “arts organizations from every borough”

 

Dianne Morales

Dianne Morales, 2021. Courtesy of Dianne Morales for NYC.

Dianne Morales, 2021. Courtesy of Dianne Morales for NYC.

“Dianne understands that NYC has lost nearly 35,000 jobs in the arts and culture industry since the pandemic began, which has devastated our economy and ravaged an industry that makes New York truly thrive,” a spokesperson for Morales’s campaign tells Midnight Publishing Group News. Morales wants to “prioritize supporting theaters and museums and their workers,” but also understands the role culture plays in education and mental health. “Her daughter was struggling until she found the arts in school so it’s something Dianne is very in tune with,” the spokesperson adds.  

Specifics from nonprofit executive Morales’s arts plan include:

  • Implementing the Open Culture Program approved by the City Council and permanently institutionalizing the program for years to come
  • Strengthening the capacity of Small Business Services, including bolstering a new division specifically for small arts and cultural venues across the five boroughs 
  • Increasing investment in programs like Curtains Up NYC, which help struggling arts venues apply to federal grants
  • Establishing a “New Deal-style program inspired by the Public Works Administration to put artists who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic to work while providing arts education in schools and creating public-facing art.” Funding “could come from taxing the rich at the state level…and by defunding the police in NYC by at least $3 billion.”
  • Working with the federal government to gain access to more grant money for programs like Save Our Stages and the Shuttered Venue Operators grant

 

Scott Stringer

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer speaks as he joins hundreds of residents, children, activists and politicians for a March for Safe Streets following a recent accident where two small children were killed by a car driver on March 12, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer speaks as at a March for Safe Streets on March 12, 2018 in Brooklyn. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

“There will be no recovery for NYC without a vibrant arts and culture industry,” a spokesman for Stringer, New York City’s current comptroller, says. “New York City’s arts, culture, and entertainment are essential to New York City’s future and we need to aggressively focus on stabilizing and growing the industry, while supporting our artist community, as we continue to fight off this pandemic.”

Highlights of Stringer’s plan include:

  • Investing in open space and outdoor performances to bring together workers, unions, neighborhood BIDs, open and green space advocates, and other members of the community to hit the ground running. “We should use the full force of the City’s media resources to promote local entertainment in a coordinated way,” the representative says. 
  • Taking inspiration from the city’s post-9/11 response to purchase over 100,000 tickets for theater performances (not just on Broadway) and distributing those tickets to frontline workers, school children, and others
  • Exploring the feasibility of opening access to the Theatre on Film and Tape (ToFT) at Lincoln Center to fund worker relief. “The ToFT should be free and digitally accessible to all New York City residents, and should sell subscriptions to outside the City…to fund a short-term benefit for out-of-work performers and venue workers,” the plan states.
  • Developing new partnerships for providing arts exposure to more New Yorkers
  • Leveraging City dollars to support the city’s local venues
  • Overhauling the Department of Cultural Affairs’ granting process to provide direct assistance to individual artists and grants for operating expenses, as well as investing capital dollars to equipment, not just new venues
  • Working with ConEd to expand their nonprofit assistance program, providing lower electricity rates for performance venues, and exploring options for opening up public school gymnasiums and auditoriums so that artists can use them as free and reduced rate rehearsal facilities

 

Maya Wiley

Candidate for mayor of NYC Maya Wiley speaks during Martin Luther King celebration at NAN headquarters. Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images.

Candidate for mayor of NYC Maya Wiley speaks during Martin Luther King celebration at NAN headquarters. Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images.

A spokesperson for the lawyer and civil rights activist‘s campaign points out that support for the arts is included in the candidate’s economic recovery plan, New Deal New York, which prioritizes investment in the city’s infrastructure. “In order to design a recovery that includes everyone, we must recognize that physical infrastructure can and must benefit social, cultural and civic infrastructure,” the spokesperson says. “Physical structures and facilities make it possible for our economy to function, and shared social, cultural, and civic structures enable all of us to fully and meaningfully participate in economic and public life.”

Highlights of Wiley’s arts platform include:

  • Designing a “Recovery for Artists and Culture Workers” plan, which would include $1 billion in new spending
  • Putting the city’s artists and performers back to work by “providing performance and studio spaces, and through other capital expenditures that support arts and culture in the city”

 

Andrew Yang

New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang holds up his campaign’s petition signatures as he speaks outside the NYC Board of Elections office on March 23, 2021 in New York City. Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images.

Andrew Yang holds up his campaign’s petition signatures outside the NYC Board of Elections office on March 23, 2021 in New York City. Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images.

Former presidential candidate and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang’s campaign did not respond to Midnight Publishing Group News’s request for information, but the “Culture, Society, and Nightlife” section of the candidate’s website details some of his plans for New York’s arts sector. Highlights include: 

  • Building on the legislation that established the Open Culture program, which temporarily allows eligible cultural and art institutions and venues to use approved open public street space for cultural events. “A Yang administration would look to make this program permanent and would promote performances through our NYC App so all New Yorkers are aware of the happenings in our city,” per the plan. 
  • Proposing a new program: Broadway to the People, which would give Broadway producers the opportunity to mount theater productions in public parks at reduced fees
  • Partnering with larger institutions to help subsidize rent for resident artists in buildings: “These up-and-coming creators deserve a place to cultivate their craft and the city has a role to play in supporting their dreams.”
  • Working to attract “content creator collectives, such as TikTok Hype Houses, where young artists collaborate. We need to help create similar artist collectives that utilize new technologies.”
  • Turning the city’s bridges, monuments, and buildings into “works of art by hosting vivid projection-mapping displays

 

Eric Adams

Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President, speaks during a Black Lives Matter mural event on June 26, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images.

Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President, speaks during a Black Lives Matter mural event on June 26, 2020 in Brooklyn. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images.

The campaign for the former Brooklyn Borough President did not return Midnight Publishing Group News’s request for information on his arts record and there is little detail provided in his platform. His previous involvement with the arts includes: 

  • Allocating millions in capital funding for Brooklyn arts institutions such as the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Brooklyn Academy of Music

 

Shaun Donovan

New York City Mayoral candidate Shaun Donovan speaks during a press conference at the National Action Network's House of Justice to denounce the rise of attacks against Asian Americans on March 18, 2021 in New York City. Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images.

New York City Mayoral candidate Shaun Donovan on March 18, 2021 in New York City. Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images.

Shaun Donovan, the former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, will be launching a 6,500+-word arts and culture platform at a press conference this Friday, April 2. According to a spokesperson, that plan involves:

  • Prioritizing “the safe and efficient use of space to revitalize our arts and culture sector and empower our artists” 
  • Considering the role of arts and culture in the “long-term strengthening of communities across our city and enrichment of all New Yorkers’ lives” while addressing the needs of arts organizations of all sizes, backgrounds, locations, and disciplines

We’ll update this article with Donovan’s full platform when it’s released to the public.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook: