On Thursday, November 21, 2013, Pen Parentis’ executive director was honored to participate in a panel discussion on the State of Cultural Institutions Below Canal Street

The panel was held at 48 Wall Street in The Museum of American Finance. Moderating (and hosting) was the Chairman of the Lower Manhattan Marketing Association, Clive Burrow.

On the panel were:

Julie Menin (Former Chairperson Community Board 1)
Sam Miller (President Lower Manhattan Cultural Council)
Jonathan Hollander (Founder and Director Battery Dance Company)
Mary Cooley (Senator Squadron’s Office)
and Milda DeVoe (Founder Pen Parentis, Ltd)

dansquadronheadshot_7348Unfortunately Dan Squadron was not there himself, but Mary Cooley was there from his office.

It was a magnificent event. The space was soaring and gorgeous, and the networking breakfast had lots of movers-and-shakers both from the Arts and from the local press and political scene. We reunited with some old friends and made some new ones.

Then the panel began.

It was an interesting blend: two politicians, two directors of arts organizations and the president of LMCC – which rather bridges the gap between political and arts nonprofit. The questions flew fast and furious: what is the current state of the arts below Canal (up and stronger every year, with huge setbacks every time we are hit with a disaster like terrorism or major hurricanes.) But we have strong advocates in government—Daniel Squadron’s office revealed how he personally stood up for a long-running dance company that was having rent issues, getting them a 40% reduction in rent. In general, politicians really want the arts to succeed. Artists want the arts to succeed and put their all into it. Even business would like the arts to succeed – we all win when the arts are strong.

One problem that the Arts face is that in a bad economy, the arts are often one of the first things to be let go. People do it on a personal level in their budgets (when your own finances are tight, you stop going to the theater and might even stop making donations to your favorite nonprofits) – and governments do it too.

So the issue was brought up that NYC has no overall “plan” for culture. An issue that, as it happens, was extremely timely. Only the day before two NYC Council members put forth a bill to the Mayor to pass a requirement that NYC have a Cultural Plan in place (most major cities already have one) by 2015. We also discussed whether Lower Manhattan needed a plan like that—and that led to an interesting discussion of where, exactly “Lower Manhattan” was…it seems that the LMCC changes the definition from “below Chambers” to “below Canal” to “below Houston” – depending on the partner’s needs. Julie Menin also admitted that there was a lot of gerrymandering in Community Board 1’s boundaries.

Some ideas were tossed around to increase the participation of big business with small and especially mid-sized arts organizations, and the Executive Director of the Knickerbocker Orchestra spoke up that at a certain point, an arts organization would need donations in the 5-6 figures rather than the 3-4 figures that small orgs like Pen Parentis, Ltd require.

We broke up and a representative from Howard Hughes Corporation remembered how Pen Parentis Literary Salons used to be part of the Seaport Semester when we were first starting out – that was an amazing blast from the past. It was so wonderful to be reminded of the welcome that our Literary Salons have had in the community – from the very beginning.

Now we just need to get the after-work crowd to put us on their monthly agenda! There is always a next step, isn’t there?

It was a truly inspiring and illuminating event. I was so honored to be a part of it.