It feels like ancient history: A new mayor sworn in three months after 9/11 with the city’s cultural fabric fraying, its tourists jittery if they visited at all, its museums losing funding and its streets and soundstages home to only seven television productions.
Twelve years later, the cultural life of New York City is as vibrant as it has been in decades.
It would be inaccurate to credit Mayor Bloomberg — or, lest we forget, his abundantly-endowed private foundation — with all the good news, yet as Hizzoner leaves office, the number of tourists is expected to hit a record 54.3 million this year, funding is up to cultural institutions, and 27 TV series — such as “The Good Wife” and “Girls” — filmed here in 2013.
Many in the arts community will miss Mike Bloomberg.
“Mayor Bloomberg has … a deep understanding of how important Broadway and arts and culture is to New York City,” says Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of The Broadway League, echoing many in the culture business.
Another day, another film being shot here: Ben Stiller filming a scene from “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”
Bloomberg the billionaire quietly donated $ 200 million of his own money to the Carnegie Foundation to help arts programs since 2002. In the public sphere, he increased cultural and arts funding by 30%, and supported tax credits to lure film crews back to the Big Apple.
“His position is that culture is central to the city’s economy, identity and quality of life,” says Kate Levin, Bloomberg’s longtime commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs.
There were major achievements in all spheres of cultural life:
The mayor’s support for public art played an important symbolic role in the city’s cultural rebirth after 9/11. After years of rejection from prior mayors, Christo and Jeanne-Claude finally got approved to construct “The Gates,” which transformed Central Park into waves of saffron in 2005.
Mayor Bloomberg’s right there (second from l.) as the Barclays Center is unveiled.
“That was the first time after 9/11 that the city was on the front page of every media outlet around the world for something not having to do with disaster or destruction or the economy,” says Levin. “It repositioned New York as a creative place, a vital place, a whimsical place. It was a great way to give the public back its city.”
Other installations followed, including Olafur Eliasson’s New York City Waterfalls in 2008 and Tatzu Nishi’s “Discovering Columbus” at 59th St. last year.
The projects did more than generate hundreds of millions in economic benefits, but they created a buzz that the city had lost.
“The arts have become an important part of the conversation — we are now a city of eight million art critics,” says Public Art Fund President Susan Freedman.
Craig Warga/NY Daily News
Mayor Bloomberg speaks during a ceremony to open the second section of High Line Park that stretches from 20th St. to 30th St. on Manhattan’s West Side.
The Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting also rebounded under Bloomberg.
“In 2002, it was the epitome of runaway production. People were going up to Canada to make movies,” says the office’s commissioner, Katherine Oliver. “And now ‘The Tonight Show’ with Jimmy Fallon, Brooklyn’s own, is moving back to New York, which is an incredible symbol of our comeback.”
Today 130,000 New Yorkers work in film and TV, and its economic impact is estimated at $ 7 billion.
“This is up $ 2 billion, and up 30,000 new jobs under our watch,” says Oliver, crediting Bloomberg’s push to streamline shooting permit applications for production crews, as well as rewarding local film projects with tax credits and free advertising.
Above, an episode of “Girls,” one of the shows being shot here in New York under Mayor Bloomberg’s watch.
The Great White Way has been on a roll, with attendance in the 2012-2013 season surpassing 11.5 million — more than the city’s 10 professional sports teams combined. The season grossed $ 1.14 billion.
Again, Bloomberg doesn’t get all the credit, of course, but Hizzoner has shown the theater community so much love that he was given an honorary Tony Award in June.
“The special Tony wasn’t given lightly,” says Chris Boneau, co-partner of the theater press agency Boneau/Bryan-Brown. “He was an incredible ambassador who was gung-ho about theater in general. He came to shows on a regular basis.”
Many fine arts institutions scored city-funded facelifts under Bloomberg, including Lincoln Center’s six-year, $ 1.2 billion overhaul completed in 2010, and revitalizing the Queens Museum of Art, Queens Theater in the Park, and the New York Hall of Science.
On the eve of his departure from City Hall, Mayor Bloomberg also greenlighted the conversion of the old Childs Restaurant on the Coney Island Boardwalk into a new, 5,099-seat concert venue.
The mayor also fully backed the development of the High Line into a world-class park. It now spans from Gansevoort St. to W. 30th St. The mayor also wrested control of Brooklyn Bridge Park from the state, setting up its completion along the Brooklyn waterfront.
And under Bloomberg’s watch, the Barclays Center got built, creating a second world-class concert venue to match Madison Square Garden. Without it, would anyone be talking about Miley Cyrus?