Get Political For Your Art 

Jennifer Conley Darling 

On Tuesday, March 12, 2013, the League of Independent Theater gathered over 200 of its members at The Players Club in Gramercy Park to hear from a large pool of political candidates running for office in this year’s New York City elections.

What was the objective of the evening? On behalf of the membership, the League has set out to endorse certain political candidates  running for Mayor, Manhattan Borough President, Queens Borough President, Public Advocate, and several open seats on the City Council in Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens.

Executive Director of LIT, John Clancy, sent a rallying cry for boots on the ground through November’s election. LIT is the only [political] advocacy organization for independent theater in NYC and the membership must send a clear message to the city’s political leaders about our needs.

David M. Pincus, the renowned Community Board 4 Manhattan arts supporter and co-chair of CB4’s Quality of Life Committee: Arts, Culture, Education and Safety, kicked the evening off reminding the crowd that it only takes a few hundred votes to win a close City election, and now it is time for the indie theater community to rise up, make a difference and take its seat at the political table. Playwright and Community Board 2 Manhattan Arts Task Force member, Robin Rothstein, spoke of her advocacy for small theater and how each of us can be involved and make a difference.

New York City Councilmember and Chair of the Committee on Cultural Affairs and long time friend of independent theater in NYC, Jimmy Van Bramer, took the podium stating ”if we can band together through this forum, the landscape of the arts in NYC would change drastically.” Van Bramer then introduced the current Manhattan Borough President, Scott Stringer who began his keynote speech saying "every neighborhood begins when the artists arrive." 

Paul Nagle, Executive Director of the Cultural Strategies Initiative (CSI), moderated four panels, of five candidates each, which included opening and closing remarks, lightning round (yes/no/show of hands) questions, and open questions. The hot topics included affordable housing for artists, healthcare, and the economic impact study on the benefit of independent theater in NYC.

A brief overview of the candidates points include:

Panel One:

Kevin Coenen Jr. (Mayoral) spoke on losing small theaters and the misappropriation of funds, saying the solution is to listen to the people.
Robert Jackson (Manhattan Borough President) has a daughter who is a dancer and wants to allocate space to the performing arts.
Julie Menin (Manhattan Borough President) led a successful campaign to use a 200 million dollar fund to build a performing arts center in the World Trade Center and is looking to build affordable housing for artists.
Peter Vallone, Jr. (Queens Borough President) supports Astoria Performing Arts Center currently and is building an amphitheater in Astoria Park.

Panel Two:

Jenifer Rajkumar (CC Manhattan 1) wants to focus on creating the economic impact study for indie theater – vows to commission this study.
Corey Johnson (CC Manhattan 3) wants to see the Land Use Committee repurpose empty space such as the post office near 34th Street for arts. He also wants to stop cutting arts from schools.
Yetta Kurland (CC Manhattan 3) spoke on the loss of art space to luxury condos. She’d like to see a certain percentage of Pier 40 turned into artist housing if residential use is ever approved, or a community-based venue for artists to utilize.
Ben Kallos (CC Manhattan 5) is a supporter of The Tank. He has already created an electronic system for all voting records to be put online and will work to implement the economic impact study for indie theater now. He also has created an arts calendar for his membership.

Panel Three:

Marc Landis (CC Manhattan 6) supports 78th Street Theater Lab and secured a beautiful residency for them in Hawaii. Housing and healthcare is a big passion for him.
Mel Wymore (CC Manhattan 6) wants to see the arts platform created by LIT expanded even more to include larger amounts of Land Use for new commercial buildings. The bigger the building, the more space to be allocated to non-profits.
Mark Levine (CC Manhattan 7) helped found the Actors Federal Credit Union. He stated all non-profits, small theater companies and artists are small businesses and should be treated as such.
Cheryl Pahaham (CC Manhattan 7) is a grass roots organizer looking for more community space.
Angel Molina (CC Manhattan/Bronx 8) wants to build a hip hop arts space celebrating the art form in the South Bronx and wants to see more spaces like this created for the younger generation throughout the City. He spoke to some of the platform points that may be politically problematic, such as “no-cost facilities”.

Panel Four:

Letitia James (Public Advocate) created the Cultural Equity Group to work with the CIGs, not against them. She is currently working to restoring the Paul Robeson Theater and has represented the arts sector for years.
William Russell Moore (CC Bronx 18) wants to create a for-profit economic engine via a performing arts space. He wants a fully funded multicultural center.
Laurie Cumbo (CC Brooklyn 35) is the Executive Director of the Museum of Contemporary Diasporan Arts in Brooklyn. She founded and built this museum and knows the struggles artists face.
Kimberly Council (CC Brooklyn 37) has a district with no performing arts space and she wants to change this. She will create affordable housing ensuring high quality materials are also used to build these units.
Cathy Guerriero (Public Advocate) has a husband who runs a theater company. She wants to put together a think tank of artists to do research and write grants for the arts sector.

The arts platform created by the Political Action Committee within LITNY states:

LIT’s endorsement will be based on the individual candidate’s willingness to enter into a substantive and serious conversation with LIT’s Political Action Committee on the following performing arts platform. As a pro-performing arts elected official, I will work to:

  1. Create access to low-cost and/or no-cost Community Facilities Spaces for all City non-profits that are currently available and remain unused throughout the City through the creation of a Community Facilities Space Database. 
  2. Create access to empty and unused City property to be re-purposed as temporary rehearsal, office and (if appropriate), performance space.
  3. Include non-profit performance venues in the favorable electricity and utility rates enjoyed by religious institutions and the VFW.
  4. Implement a proposal that would reduce or eliminate property tax assessments for those non-profit organizations that have an artistic mission and/or rent performance space to similar non-profit performing arts groups with artistic missions of their own. This proposal was unanimously ratified by all twelve (12) Manhattan Community Boards.
  5. Secure affordable permanent low-cost housing for working artists.  In addition, work to provide access to affordable healthcare for these artists, depending on the status and reach of the Affordable Care Act at the time of negotiations.
  6. Support the commission of an economic impact study for the independent theater territory.
  7. Work with the Department of Cultural Affairs to expand the Cultural Institutions Group to include the independent theater sector’s anchor venues.
  8. Install plaques at sites of historical import and rename streets after the founders of the independent and Off-Off Broadway community.

What do we do next?

If you want a voice for independent theater in NYC, join the League (it’s free!), research the candidates and vote on your endorsements. For more information, please visit

Special thanks to Kia Rogers, who provided additional reporting for this story.


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