An Open Letter from New York City Literary Arts Organizations to New York City Council Members
To: New York City Council Members Van Bramer, Gjonaj, Moya, Cumbo, and Borelli
We write to you as New York City literary arts organizations committed to fostering the wellbeing of the city’s community of writers and other literary professionals struggling amid the COVID-19 epidemic. We request you include writers and the literary community, with the consideration for the essential role they play in the cultural vibrancy and social connectedness in our city, as you allocate resources to foster a revived New York City in the forthcoming budget.
We are deeply appreciative of your commitment to the arts in New York demonstrated in your respective roles as leaders on the City Council’s Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations Committees. The New York Department of Cultural Affairs is a premier cultural agency with many programs and grants that help ensure New York remains an extraordinarily vital center for the arts.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a significant impact on the arts economies, and we commend Councilman Van Bramer’s recent petition calling on the mayor to ensure a portion of federal relief funds are directed to artists and arts organizations. The petition is a timely call to action that recognizes the critical importance of the arts in city life, including in times of crisis. We are, however, struck by the omission in the text of a key component of this artistic community: the novelists, nonfiction authors, poets, essayists, playwrights, translators, and other writers who enrich the vibrancy and global stature of the city, and the literary groups that support and showcase them. New York City’s publishing industry employs more than 50,000 people according to a comptroller’s report, many of whom are themselves literary writers. They also need your support.
We, the undersigned literary groups, seek:
- 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.
- 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 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.
In times of national crisis, we have long turned to writers for inspiration, understanding, comfort, and enlightenment. 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. Our city cannot afford to let this literary legacy lapse by ignoring the needs of our writers 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 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 mean writing-related incomes were 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 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. But 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.
Asian American Writers Workshop
The Center For Fiction
Dominican Writers Association
Fordham Political Review
Harlem Writers Guild
Morningside Writers Group
New York Writers Club
New York Writers Coalition
Nuyorican Poets Cafe
PEN America Translation Committee
PEN America Children and Young Adult Books Committee
Pratt Institute Book Club
The Literary Freedom Project
The Poetry Project at St Mark’s
Urban Word NYC