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Panel Recap: Libraries as Culture Hubs

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Last Thursday night, Tom Galante, Linda Johnson and Tony Marx, the Directors of the three New York City library systems, engaged in a lively discussion convened by MAS and moderated by New York Times reporter Sam Roberts at the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. This evening followed on the heels of an initial discussion that took place last October at the MAS Summit for New York City, where the Directors discussed the common challenges and opportunities public libraries are addressing across the city.

Attended by several hundred, the evening’s discussion included highlighting the remarkable diversity of cultural offerings at local libraries, ranging from live performances to exhibitions, special events and festivals, reflecting the interests of local users.

For many New Yorkers, their local library is their only access to arts and culture, as programs and resources are free and close at hand. Time and time again, New Yorkers recall their experiences of cultural programs and activities that took place in libraries — often as children — seeing their first dance performance, viewing a foreign film, finding a book on a topic of special interest that was not available at school or home, or hearing poetry read aloud for the first time.

Inevitably, the panel’s discussion honed in on the annual threats of city budget cuts, and the uncertainty that creates within the systems. The per capita spending through the three New York systems falls far short of the public investments in other cities, particularly in Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and Toronto. Diminishing budgets force branch libraries to choose between adding to digital collections or extending the hours of operation.

The evening also included passionate and challenging remarks from Queens City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and Julie Sandorf, President of the Charles H. Revson Foundation.

MAS is proud to continue the Arts Forum series, presented for many years by the Alliance for the Arts. The Arts Forum is a sponsored project of the New York Foundation for the Arts with funding provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. The series continues later this month on April 24th with Measuring Vibrancy: The Impacts of Arts and Culture Investments in Placemaking. We hope you’ll join us.