Mayor names new commissioner of Cultural Affairs
by Jess Berry
Apr 09, 2014 | 703 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that Tom Finkelpearl will head the city's Department of Cultural Affairs. (Photo: Michael O'Kane)
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that Tom Finkelpearl will head the city's Department of Cultural Affairs. (Photo: Michael O'Kane)
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Mayor Bill de Blasio formally announced at the Queens Museum on Monday that Tom Finkelpearl, president and executive director of the Queens Museum, will head the city's Department of Cultural Affairs.

Finkelpearl is now in charge of a $156 million budget and represents the arts for all of New York during a time when, de Blasio emphasized, culture and the arts are more important than they have ever been in the city’s history.

“This is truly a joyous day,” de Blasio said. “It is a joyous day for all of New York City. It is a joyous day for the cultural community of our city. It is a joyous day for the borough of Queens.”

De Blasio has taken three months to announce a new commissioner, but said that he thought he “found the right man.” De Blasio described how he and Finkelpearl see eye to eye on the goals of the commission, which he said were “to make arts something for everyone, to reach all across the five boroughs, every neighborhood, people of every background and bring them in deeply into the extraordinary cultural life of this city.”

Finkelpearl’s work at the Queens Museum over the past 12 years seems to align with these goals. He has hired community organizers for outreach efforts and oversaw a $68 million renovation of the museum, which largely focused on further integrating the institution into the surrounding neighborhood.

De Blasio acknowledged and applauded these efforts, noting the diversity of Queens and the museum’s part in celebrating that diversity.

“It is a true statement, and one that Queens should be very proud of, that Queens is the most racially and ethnically diverse of the city’s boroughs and, by many measures, the most diverse county in the United States of America,” de Blasio said. “This museum exemplifies Queens. It exemplifies all that is good about this borough.”

Finkelpearl became the executive director of the Queens Museum in 2002. Before that, he served as a public affairs officer at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1. He then spent three years at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine as the executive director of programs before returning to P.S. 1 in 1999 as deputy director.

He graduated from Princeton and received a Master of Fine Arts from Hunter College. He is married to Eugenie Tsai, who serves as the contemporary art curator at the Brooklyn Museum.

Finkelpearl took the stage to a standing crowd and spoke of his own beliefs regarding the importance of art. He said that while both the personal experience and the economic benefits of art have been well argued, there is one benefit that has not been discussed enough.

“There’s a middle ground, which has to do with the social value on the community level, and I think that this is an argument that hasn’t been well-made by the city,” Finkelpearl said. “But if you look again at what happens on the community level with artists in all the neighborhoods of New York City, there’s something extremely valuable, moving, that’s good for communities, and I intend to try to understand how we can best express that.”

He also is a strong proponent for increasing arts programs in New York City schools, an initiative which de Blasio said was also close to his own heart.

When asked about specifics regarding the budget, however, Finkelpearl declined to comment, saying it was too soon to talk about his hopes for funding, which is far from set in stone.

“There’s no comment that I could make that would be responsible at this point,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process.”

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