Courtesy Jersey City Arts Council
Courtesy Jersey City Arts Council

Mayor Steven Fulop is seeking withdrawal of a planned November referendum to create an “Arts and Culture Trust Fund” for Jersey City arts organizations and educators, according to a press release issued by his office yesterday.  The announcement was met with immediate pushback from arts organizations and some members of the municipal council.

If on the ballot and approved, the referendum would raise approximately $800,000 for the fund through a special levy.  But the mayor now says the coronavirus pandemic is making such a new tax too burdensome.

“We were the first to put out an actionable plan supporting sustainable funding to benefit our burgeoning arts industry and our residents, but the world is changed today, and we want to minimize the impact on our taxpayers as much as possible,” the mayor explained in announcing his request.

Art House Productions, a leader in Jersey City’s arts community, strongly disagrees.  Speaking on its behalf, executive director Meredith Burns, said:

“As a homeowner here, I understand the burden of taxes, especially now, however I know the entire city will receive so much in return with a designated arts fund. I think there are options to explore before we cancel an important piece of legislation that the mayor’s office, cultural affairs and the arts community has worked so hard for.”

Samuel Pott, artistic director of Nimbus Dance Works, noted that many arts groups are on thin financial ice due to the Covid-19 crisis.  “Many groups will not survive without intervention. If the arts referendum is pulled, what is the city doing to ensure the survival of the nonprofit arts sector?”

Heather Warfel Sandler, chair of the Jersey City Arts Council, added, “The JCAC fully intends to see this Arts Trust effort through.” That said, she did note, “We have one chance to ask the voters, so carefully weighing the best time to generate support for this is crucial.”

Councilman Rolando Lavarro said he understands the mayor’s motivation.  “Still, it should be noted that the decision to pull the referendum doesn’t have to happen today or in May.  Legally, it could be made as late as mid-August. Between now and August, I think the City should work with artists, social service providers, economic experts and other stakeholders to better understand the needs, hardship and loss that is out there.”  Councilman James Solomon echoed the sentiment.   “The conversation is premature. The Council has until August to determine if the referendum should move forward. We must carefully weigh the economic pain of taxpayers with the financial struggles of artists and arts organizations, who may need emergency funding to remain in existence.”

The mayor’s decision does have supporters. Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey joined in the mayor’s request, but promised to “continue to fight for them and support” the arts organizations.  To other supporters, such as councilwoman Denise Ridley, the issue is simply one of timing.

“I believe the best way to prepare as a municipal government is to find ways to cut back on spending, give residents breaks where we can and do our part to support residents’ needs. Art is an important part of Jersey City culture and definitely something that should be revisited once we are on more stable ground,” she said.

Header: Courtesy Jersey City Arts Council

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