Without an artistic flourish, Tom Finkelpearl, the man charged with leading the city’s culture and arts agenda, is exiting the stage.
It was an unceremonious exit for a commissioner many describe as passionate about the job, liked by the cultural community, but not quite adept at navigating the politics found at the intersection of arts and government.
Speaking at an unrelated press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio would not say if he fired Finkelpearl.
"Personnel matters are personnel matters. They are treated with respect and discretion. Each situation is different," de Blasio said.
In a statement, Finkelpearl said his job was "deeply gratifying" as he got to witness the indispensable role that art and culture play in the lives of all New Yorkers.
Finkelpearl's exit comes as the administration continues to battle criticism over a plan to change public monuments around the city and build more statues to honor women and people of color, a project led by First Lady Chirlane McCray.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who chairs the City Council's Cultural Affairs Committee, said Finkelpearl was highly regarded by the arts community.
"The timing of it is suspect, it doesn’t seem like there is any reason for Tom to go, so I’m disappointed because I think Tom did some terrific work on behalf of the cultural community. It doesn’t seem this was the way he wanted to go," Van Bramer said.
The most recent controversy ended in a fight between the mayor and an actor Chaz Palmienteri after he called McCray "racist" for not building a monument in honor of an Italian immigrant patron saint. Sources say the Commissioner was pushed out, as the mayor grew frustrated with the sustained criticism of McCray's project.
The mayor denied the snafu had anything to do with it.
"No, not at all," de Blasio said when pressed about the departure.
As part of leading the City Department of Cultural Affairs, Finkelpearl was tasked with leading "CreateNYC" the city’s Cultural Plan, a multi-pronged approach to bringing some equality to the city’s cultural institutions. De Blasio’s take on ending the tale of two cities, the cultural institution edition.
Announced by the mayor in 2017, it was intended to make institutions more accessible to all New Yorkers; it demanded more diversity from the organizations, if seeking funding organizations would have to provide information about the demographic make-up of its leadership. The plan increased funding, taking from the largest members on Museum Mile to give to smaller groups.
Sheila Lewandowski, runs the Chocolate Factory Theater in Long Island City, she credited Finkelpearl and the mission of the city’s cultural plan for recent changes she says will move the city in the right direction.
“A plan that was introduced to fix or try to fix so many decades of consolidation of power and money? It’s going to take some time,” Lewandowski said. "I think we are in a better place than we were when this administration moved into Gracie Mansion. The increase in the budget for culture and the arts, the push for greater diversity, this has all happened with commissioner Finkelpearl and mayor de Blasio and lots of support from the council."
Finkelpearl will serve until the end of this year, and de Blasio said he will conduct a nationwide search for a replacement.