Department of Cultural Affairs NYCulture City of New York Department of Cultural Affairs NYCulture City of New York










About Cultural Affairs

1869 - 1964   |  1965 - 1980  |  1982 - 1995  |  1998 - 2007


1869 -   A Group of Private Citizens
proposes a unique idea: New York City should construct and maintain a building for a museum of natural history, while a private board should build the collections and operate the institution. The City’s farsighted leadership agrees with the proposition and partners with the private sector to create what is today the American Museum of Natural History. By the end of the 19th century, this same model gives rise to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences, The New York Botanical Garden, and the Bronx Zoo.

1898 -   The Art Commission
is created, an 11-member panel that reviews permanent works of art, architecture and landscape architecture proposed for City-owned property.

1934 -   Mayor Fiorello La Guardia
appoints a Municipal Art Committee to advise City government on ways to stimulate New York’s cultural life during the hardships of the Great Depression. The Committee uses funds from the Works Progress Administration, the emergency Relief Bureau, and a number of foundations.

1943 -   Mayor Fiorella La Guardia
and other City officials join with a number of prominent New Yorkers to create the City Center of Music and Drama as a municipal theater offering “hundreds of thousands of people...the opportunity of hearing the best [in music and drama] at prices they could afford.” The New York City Ballet and the New York City Opera both eventually became constituent organizations of City Center Theater.

1959 -   The Handel Medallion,
the highest award bestowed by New York City to individuals for their contributions to the City’s intellectual and cultural life, is created to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of George Handel.

1960 -   Carnegie Hall
narrowly escapes demolition when the City purchases it in 1960.

City funds finance the construction of the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, home to Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival, providing free theater performances. At this time, the City also initiates program funding in the amount of $60,000.

1962 -   Office of Cultural Affairs
(OCA) is created by Mayor Robert F. Wagner and Robert W. Dowling to promote and stimulate the cultural life of the City. Dowling is selected to fill the unsalaried position of Cultural Executive. A six-member staff is paid through the Mayor’s office.

1964 -   OCA Receives
its first City-appropriated operating budget and program funds, totaling $100,020. City support for cultural programming is made available for free school concerts of the Brooklyn Philharmonia (now the Brooklyn Philharmonic) and the outdoor summer performances of the Metropolitan Opera, and Prospect Park Summer Theater.




1896 - 1964  |  1965 - 1980  |  1982 - 1995  |  1998 - 2007