Accustomed to minimal funding, eight major Queens cultural institutions are struggling to survive in the current recession with severe budget cuts. Borough reporter Ruschell Boone filed the following report.
The Queens Botanical Garden considers itself to be a place where people, plants and cultures meet. But with operating costs growing and public and private funding on the decline, the Queens Botanical Garden has been forced to make significant cuts.
"We've already had five layoffs. There are potentially more coming up," says Susan Lacerte, the garden's executive director. "We've had furlough days where all the staff except the guards had 10 days of no pay."
Programs like "Seed For Seniors" and the annual Arbor Day celebration have also been slashed. Lacerte says more cuts are likely, since funding from the city is expected to drop by 36 percent and corporate and other private supporters are also planning to give less next year.
"Our corporate support at the moment is looking like it's going to be half of what it was, and the result is that we cannot provide the level of public service that we have because we don't have the funding," says Lacerte.
The garden is one of eight major Queens cultural institutions that have been hit hard in the economy, and they are all expecting to see steep cuts of between 31 to 54 percent in their budgets for next year.
The hardest hit location will be Flushing Town Hall.
"We've laid off or significantly eliminated the hours of over seven positions here at Flushing town Hall and we've trimmed public hours," says Ellen Kodadek, the town hall's executive director. "We are now only open on the weekends to the general public. We've cut down on our exhibition program and some of our performing arts program to the community."
It's disturbing news for Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, who says compared to other boroughs, Queens gets the least amount of funding for its cultural institutions.
"Manhattan gets $18.05 per capita, Brooklyn gets $6.35, the Bronx get $9.73, Staten Island gets $8.73. Queens gets $2.88," says Marshall.
As a result, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall says she is lobbying the City Council, which is expected to pass their budget at the end of June, for more funding.
"Every single budget is a fight. We're always trying to get more money," says Marshall.
But in this tough economic climate, it's hard to tell where the extra money will come from.