Saturday, February 9, 2013

LOCAL2013: State of the Borough Address

On Thursday, I attended Scott Stringer's final State of the Borough Address as Manhattan Borough President -- although really, it also served as a campaign event for his run for comptroller. (Since I've been asked five times since Thursday, the Comptroller controls the city's finances).

The event looked back on seven years of Stringer's term as MBP and gave him a chance to reflect on his accomplishments -- working to lower property-tax on vacant properties, working to support gay marriage, etc.

A few thoughts:

What was fascinating to me, however, was the accomplishment that Stringer chose to highlight through the keynote speech. The keynote was delivered by Sade Lythcott, CEO of the National Black Theater, which was on the verge of being shuttered due to four years of lawsuits with Applebee's. Stringer had stepped in to mediate the dispute between both parties, which prevented the National Black Theater from being closed.

There was a lot to brag about in Stringer's package, but that's the narrative he decided to make the centerpiece of the evening: how an important cultural institution was protected from being closed.

Now, during Stringer's term, plenty of other theaters did not make it, so it's worth putting it in the larger perspective, but for those of us who have despaired that politicians would ever value the arts and their integral part of society, at this event it wasn't even a question.

I was tracking how people were talking about the arts and culture over the course of the evening. The gentleman from the Met described Sade as "Creative. Entrepreneurial. And dedicated to her borough." Sade said that "Harlem is what it is because of its arts and culture. And Stringer himself said that his goal was to make New York a "Vibrant and creative city," and wanted it to be a home for "creative class jobs" to make New York a "Financial and Creative Capital" in the world.

The first two sections of the Performing Arts Platform deal with getting underutilized made available to artists to help increase the artists' access to inexpensive rehearsal or performance space, as well as the need for affordable housing. Stringer, while MBP, authored reports on how underutilized space could meet affordable housing needs -- not too dissimilar to the proposals we've outlined. The same can be done for the arts; especially as it comes to city property which is underutilized.