At the Harlem Arts Alliance monthly meeting Oct. 5, it was announced that three of the oldest Black theatres in New York were de-funded by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Hundreds of arts and community leaders attended in support of The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc., New Federal Theatre and New Heritage Theatre Group – all part of the Coalition of Theatres of Color. The directors or producers of the companies – Karen Brown, Woodie King, Jr., and Voza Rivers, respectively – called for letters of protest to be mailed or emailed to the cultural affairs department, which is headed by commissioner Tom Finkelpearl.
As noted on its website, the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs is the largest cultural funding agency in the nation, with a fiscal year 2014 expense budget of $156 million and a capital budget of $822 million over the next four years.
Rivers, executive producer for New Heritage Theatre Group, said this about the decision by a panel of their peers, “They don’t believe it’s possible for us to produce our programs using such a small staff.” It was claimed that the theatres did not produce the programs they promised.
Rivers and King, founding director of New Federal Theatre, agreed they no longer have peers but “people that do not like us, and have no understanding for what we do and our impact in the community.” Brown, executive director of New Ensemble Company, said the Black community is hurt the most by the department’s decision.
A flyer circulating on social media reads:
We are being informed that panels “of our peers” have determined OUR VOICE to be undeserving of city cultural funding. We need your support! Please write to and make your voices known to The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Express your concerns regarding the drastic cuts in funding and/or the re-funding to three of our historic Black theatre organizations.
Supporters are encouraged to write to: New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, 31 Chambers Street, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10007. With Finkelpearl on indefinite sick leave, as noted at the meeting, emails are requested to be sent to: Kathleen Hughes, assistant commissioner of Program Services, KHughes(at)culture.nyc.gov.
Although not stated, contacting the Borough president’s office and New York City Council representative also would be impactful.
To affirm “our art, our culture, our heritage is relevant,” NEC’s website noted the following attendees: Linda Walton, director of Harlem Arts Alliance; Jonathan McCrory, National Black Theater; Rome Neal, Nuyorican Poets Cafe; Michael Green, Shades of Truth; Marcia Pendleton, Walk Tall Girl Productions; Robin Bell Stevens, Jazz Mobile; and The World Famous Apollo staffers; as well as members of the Latin, Native and Asian communities.