Latest batch of L.M.D.C. grants receives mixed reviews

BY ALINE REYNOLDS  |  Some Downtown organizations have been on pins and needles since last September, waiting to find out whether they would receive a chunk of the $17 million in cultural and community enhancement grants from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

The suspense is over now that the L.M.D.C. has announced the list of recipients. Last week, the agency announced the 38 groups that were approved for funding. The approvals were made by a six-member advisory committee that was assigned the task of sifting through 266 applications that amounted to a total of $191 million in funding requests. Members of the advisory committee were not available for interviews.

The goal of the grant program was to spur long-term revitalization in Lower Manhattan, build audiences, encourage collaborations, enhance existing infrastructure or create new infrastructure and sustain jobs, according to the L.M.D.C.’s Request for Proposals.

“I think we’re very happy with the wide range of institutions that were funded,” said L.M.D.C. Chairman Avi Schick, who approved the allocations at the agency’s Sept. 7 board of directors meeting.

As for the final decisions, Schick said, “The [panel] wanted to make sure they dealt with every segment, and that the organizations were financially and fiscally viable — so that if we grant them money, they can use it properly and provide new services that the community so desperately wants and needs.”

When asked when exactly the funds would be released, Schick said it is “a process” the L.M.D.C. hopes to start “soon.” He did not disclose a specific timeline.

“We want to make sure we get this money out the door and work with the institutions to get the money programmed and spent,” said Schick.

Groups that received funding were excited to hear the news. Grand Street Settlement received $1 million in funds to replace a narrow elevator in a New York City Housing Authority apartment building they jointly operate at 80 Pitt Street on the Lower East Side. The organization previously received $1.5 million from the L.M.D.C. to replace the building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system.

“We think it’ll help us serve our constituents more effectively,” said Grand Street Settlement Executive Director Margarita Rosa. “We know that, to bring this building up to the level where we could serve constituents in the best way possible, we needed to make some structural changes and improvements.”

The Flea Theater also received $1 million from the L.M.D.C. for a three-theater performing arts complex the organization is building on Thomas Street in Tribeca.

“We feel terrific about having received additional funds,” said Carol Ostrow, the Flea’s producing director. “I think the L.M.D.C. recognizes that there needs to be a home for the performing arts in Lower Manhattan.”

Arts organizations that didn’t receive funding felt there was a disproportionate amount of funds granted to capital projects and larger institutions, such as the Seaport Museum New York and Pace University. Approximately half of the 16 cultural projects entail construction or renovations to existing spaces, amounting to between 40 and 50 percent of the total funds in this category. Less than one-fifth of the projects involve programming or exhibitions.

“It was quite clear the projects that were funded were, for the most part, major capital projects,” said Kim Whitener, producing director of Here Arts Center, a theatre, dance and music group based in Hudson Square that was not among the list of grant recipients.

The allocation of funds, Whitener said, should have been more balanced between capital projects and programming.

“From our perspective, it’s about them being more clear as to what the guidelines are, and what they expect to be funding,” said Whitener.

“When I saw the list of who was awarded, it certainly seems that construction projects and renovations were the ones that were considered,” echoed Catherine Porter, development director of Dixon Place, an experimental theater group that also didn’t receive funds. The organization is seeking financial assistance to undertake an archival project in celebration of its 25th anniversary and provide its commissioned artists more resources to help hone their craft. Since Dixon Place didn’t receive the L.M.D.C. grant it was hoping for, Porter said she’d begin soliciting help from universities.

Dance New Amsterdam, a 27-year-old contemporary dance organization, was also denied funding, some of which would have been directed toward the organization’s academic and artistic development and performance programming.

The organization is still recuperating from a rough financial period in which it accumulated more than $500,000 in rent arrears.

“It’s disappointing, because we’re the only public contemporary dance program Downtown that is open to everybody,” said D.N.A.’s Executive Director Catherine Peila. Not being awarded funds, Peila added, “questions one’s faith in the L.M.D.C.’s commitment to the field of American contemporary dance.”