Mayor De Blasio: Expand COVID19 relief funding to NYC's literary arts community

Mayor De Blasio: Expand COVID19 relief funding to NYC's literary arts community

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We, members of the literary community in New York City and the readers who stand as allies during the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, call on you to ensure writers, translators, and the literary arts organizations who support them are provided meaningful support via grants, programs, and incentives as the upcoming FY2021 budget is prepared in response to the pandemic. 

Specifically, we call on you to support the following reforms: 

  • Designation of the literary community as recipients for relief in New York City’s forthcoming budget, including through funding provided to the city via federal economic stimulus packages.
  • The specific inclusion of “literary arts” in legislative language for the Department of Cultural Affairs and the reservation of 10 percent of all FY 2021 department funding for this sector.
  • Creation of an advisory committee, made up of artists from every discipline including the literary arts, to advise the Department of Cultural Affairs officials on the strategic use of relief funds.
  • Establishment of a tax credit for all New York City businesses for charitable donations to literary arts organizations, as well as other artistic groups.
  • Relief for commercial rents for literary arts organizations that are unable to use their premises during the shutdown.
  • Development of a COVID-19 New York City narrative project that would remunerate writers to document the effects of the pandemic on the lives of New Yorkers. 

We are deeply appreciative of your leadership of New York City as you navigate the many challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought on our city. We also commend your overall support for the cultural economy as laid out in the creation of the Cultural Plan, the initiatives and programs of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, and your support for the New York Department of Cultural Affairs, a premier cultural agency with many programs and grants that help ensure New York remains an extraordinarily vital center for the arts. However, we remain concerned that in most years, less than 1% of all DCLA funds to the arts goes to the literary arts, despite our city’s position as the seat and center of American publishing and the many literary events including festivals, readings,  spoken word performances, book clubs, and events in many languages - that are a major feature of cultural life and an attraction for visitors for New York City. 

In times of national crisis, we have long turned to writers to challenge and inspire, and sometimes provoke, and to build empathy for the lived experience of others. Writers who call New York City home have helped this country and the world make sense of global depression and war, and the societal impact of racism, inequity, and hatred. They have brought readers joy, beauty, and escape by offering a rich palette by which to explore the human condition, even in its darkest hour. They have often done so through collaboration with talented translators, literary artists in their own right, who are essential participants in New York’s vibrantly multilingual literary landscape. Our city cannot afford to let this literary legacy lapse by ignoring the needs of our writers, translators, and the literary organizations and performance spaces that support them at this critical juncture. 

Many writers have lost significant income already due to COVID-19, whether from canceled assignments and speaking engagements, declines in book sales from bookstore closures, loss of teaching opportunities in schools and other institutions, or from other work that has suddenly disappeared. These losses come on the heels of dramatic income declines in recent years. A 2018 Authors Guild survey found that the mean of writing-related incomes was down over 40 percent in 2017, compared to a decade earlier. New York City writers and the organizations that foster and elevate their work need your support just as much as other artists.

We hope that you and our representatives on the Council address the financial and health needs of those who provide the city with its essential services, including our first responders and healthcare professionals, and that they continue to fund programs that provide the sick, homeless, disabled, undocumented, marginalized communities, and youth with the care and attention they need. As you contemplate how best to use relief funds to shore up the arts, we call upon you to recognize the vital role the literary community will play in bearing witness to these troubled times through support in the city’s forthcoming budget via the reforms outlined above.

New York City Literary Action Coalition

Aaron Zimmerman, New York Writers Coalition

Angela Abreu, Dominican Writers Association

Catherine Poneck, Pratt Institute Book Club

Damien Tillman, NY Writers Meetup

Daniel Gallant, Nuyorican Poets Cafe

Diane Richards, Harlem Writers Guild

Jafreen Uddin, Asian American Writers' Workshop

Ken Fremer, Encounters

Kendall Williams, Morningside Writers Group

Mary Gannon, CLMP

Mary Rasenberger, Authors Guild

Rachel Valinsky, Wendy's Subway

Raymond Turner, National Writers Union- NY

Suzanne Nossel, PEN America