Paying For The Arts

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:05

A new report highlights severe shortfalls in city arts funding

Emily Diamond has been the art teacher at P.S. 6 on the Upper East Side for the past 16 years.

She knows she's one of the lucky ones: the school, and its parents, have worked to ensure she has the supplies she needs. But, having worked at other schools around New York, she also knows that such support is no longer a guarantee.

"Art supplies are expensive, let's face it," Diamond said. "When you're a specialist, you are basically working alone. Lots of schools just don't have the money, so many art teachers don't feel supported."

A recent report from city Comptroller Scott Stringer shows the extent of the funding gap. Twenty-eight percent of NYC schools are without a full-time, certified arts teacher, the report states, and 30 percent are without any certified arts teacher at all, despite a state mandate that they be provided. Over the last seven years, there has been a 47 percent decline in funding to hire arts and cultural organizations to provide programming for students.

Stringer, in an Our Town op-ed, notes that the arts funding shortfall hits lower-income neighborhoods particularly hard, with nearly half the schools without art teachers located in the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn. "You'd think that with a $25 billion budget, our Department of Education could afford to provide arts education and comply with state law," Stringer wrote. "But New York City's financial support for arts education has been shrinking dramatically."

The comptroller says bringing a full-time, state-certified art teacher to every school that does not have one would cost the Department of Education $26 million, a drop in its annual budget.

Diamond worked at a public school in Queens for a time before joining P.S. 6, and remembers being asked to take on many different roles in addition to art -- monitoring study halls, homerooms, and helping other teachers. That, she says, is common among art departments that have little to no funding. "What I really feel is that as an art teacher, you really have to love kids and love the chaos of the art room," Diamond said.

While the shortage of arts funding has been on teachers' radars for years, the striking numbers in the Stringer report may finally bring the issue to a larger public debate.

"Making sure that the arts are included in our schools at every age level is essential in providing a well rounded education," said City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer.