Who’s Up Next as New York Culture Czar?



In the first weeks of the administration of New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio, art and culture observers await the appointment of a new Commissioner for Cultural Affairs. The new commissioner will replace the outgoing Kate Levin, who served from 2002 to 2013 under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) is the largest cultural funding agency in the country, according to a statement on its website, disbursing funds to dozens of museums and other cultural organizations citywide. The agency currently provides $156.1 million in support to programs at 900 organizations, according to a department spokesperson.

Some of the names that have been mentioned by art-world insiders as possible appointments are actress Cynthia Nixon, an early supporter of De Blasio’s campaign; Randall Bourscheidt, who served as Deputy Commissioner for Cultural Affairs in the 1980s; Tom Finkelpearl, director of the Queens Museum, who was previously director of New York City’s Percent for Art program; and Susan Chin, executive director of New York’s Design Trust for Public Space, who was previously assistant commissioner for capital projects at the DCA.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office declined to comment on when a new cultural commissioner would be appointed or the process by which a commissioner is chosen.

“We need a visionary candidate who can make a strong case for what culture contributes to the city of New York,” said Mary Ceruti, director of Long Island City’s SculptureCenter. This year SculptureCenter received just over $50,000 from the Department of Cultural Affairs for general operating support in a competitive process. It also received an allocation of $2.75 million toward construction on a $4-million addition and renovation, scheduled to open in the fall, primarily through the Queens Borough President’s office, Ceruti told A.i.A.

“The most important thing is [that the new commissioner be] someone who comes in with a catholic, all-embracing stance, understanding the importance of all of the arts in New York City,” said Jamie Bennett, director of ArtPlace America, a public-private partnership of foundations, financial institutions and federal agencies, speaking to A.i.A. by phone. Bennett served as Levin’s chief of staff from 2006 to 2009.

Among DeBlasio’s transition team members are heads of several cultural organizations, mainstream and less so: Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem; Marta Moreno Vega, president and founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute; Karen Brooks Hopkins, president of the Brooklyn Academy of Music; and Arnold L. Lehman, director of the Brooklyn Museum.

“What impresses me is that more than 10 to 15 percent of the people on the transition committee are people I would describe as hardcore arts people,” Bennett said.

During Levin’s tenure, the organization’s budget grew from $137.7 million in 2002 to $156.1 million at present. Staff increased from 33 to 49, according to a spokesperson for the department.