NYC's New Media and Entertainment Commissioner Shares Goals For the City's Music Scene

Roland Le Breton
Anne del Castillo

As a native New Yorker, Anne del Castillo grew up scrounging for tickets to see David Bowie, Duran Duran and others perform at iconic venues like Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall. "I really wanted to go see [Bowie], but I was grounded," she recalls of one show. "So I told my mother I won the ticket."

Now, the music lover has a different kind of gig at hand. As the newly-appointed commissioner of Mayor Bill de Blasio's Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME), she's tasked with supporting the city's thriving arts scene as a whole -- from its local artists and music venues to its film and theater communities.

Del Castillo was officially appointed to the role last month, but she has served as acting commissioner since her predecessor Julie Menin's departure in February 2019. She comes from a strong film background, having held posts at companies like American Documentary, PBS doc series POV and the Austin Film Society before joining the MOME as general counsel and COO in 2015.

Since coming on board at the Mayor's office, del Castillo has become well-acquainted with the robust slate of music programs introduced under Menin, who played an instrumental role in bringing the Grammy Awards back to New York City last year after a 15-year absence. The music industry itself was only brought under the MOME's domain in 2016.

As commissioner, del Castillo will now work to strengthen and promote diversity within the city's media and entertainment industries -- encompassing music along with film, television, theater, publishing, advertising and digital media. She'll also oversee the work of the Office of Nightlife and its senior executive director Ariel Palitz

As she settles into the new position, del Castillo discusses her to-do list.

Billboard: Coming from a background in film and television, how have you adjusted to working in a government role?
Anne del Castillo: Making the transition to government, and just getting a rhythm for it, was pretty significant. I had the benefit of working on the operations side [of film and television] and really understanding the processes and how things move through city government and what it takes to get stuff off the ground. I think that experience will help me hit the ground running. Because my experience is primarily in film and television, I’m having to ramp up pretty quickly in areas like music and advertising. It’s one thing to be a consumer, but it’s a totally different thing to be setting an agenda for the industry.

What's top of mind as you set your goals for your first year as commissioner?
I want to ensure opportunities for New Yorkers across the board. When I’m talking about diversity, I’m speaking very broadly about diversity. I’m talking not just about race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, but also age and ability. It’s really important to take the whole of New York City into account when we’re looking at how we’re creating opportunities in the industry.

You just unveiled programming for the third annual New York Music Month. What are you doing differently this year?
I think initially, we were focused very much on industry. What we really wanted to do this year was to expand public programs, so that there are more opportunities for people from across the five boroughs to participate. One thing that’s new this year is we’re doing a series of free concerts in conjunction with parks, particularly in the Bronx and Queens. We’ve expanded our walking tours. Those are really great opportunities for people to connect to the history of music in New York. We’re doing a new radio program called CityFM, to cast a broader light on what’s happening in the music scene in New York City.

As commissioner, Menin kickstarted an outreach program for the music industry, appointed the first “nightlife mayor" and even brought the Grammys back to the city. How do you plan to build on that work?
Under Julie, I think the focus was just creating awareness about music’s steeped tradition in New York City. So we focused on big things, like bringing the Grammys back. We also commissioned the first music economic study, to frame the conversation around music in New York.

Moving forward, the focus should be two-fold: Supporting the creative communities that nurture local talent, and also trying to support industry growth and sustainability. What companies are forming around the music space? How do we support them and make sure they can continue to grow here? The music scene in New York is as diverse as the city itself. I want to continue getting to know all of the different stakeholders. We need to get a full sense of the scope and breadth of the industry, from the genres to the artists, the communities, the venues.

What do you see as your biggest challenge in achieving that?
The challenge is also the strength. I often joke with some of the artists who lament when you could come to New York and live on $10 a day. New York is a little bit of a victim of its own success. It’s a really rich cultural epicenter, and with that comes a pretty high cost of living. Our agency cannot solve that. But I think there are ways to at least create community, and resources that can make it a little bit easier to convene and do their work. While we may not be able to do anything about the cost, at least we can streamline some of the processes, so that businesses can become a little bit more efficient.

You're also aiming to capitalize on the city's emerging augmented reality and virtual reality industries. What can you tell us about that?
It’s actually not so random. AR/VR and tech cut across every industry that we serve. It’s really changing the way that people are consuming and distributing and making music, film, television, theater. We’re working with the New York City Economic Development Corporation to identify growth opportunities and create career pathways for people to work in that space. We have a lot of tech companies here, and innovation hubs, and I would love to see how we can leverage that growth to support the media and entertainment industries and the job opportunities in those sectors.

What's one accomplishment you're excited about already?
We had our One Book, One New York competition and campaign. The book that was selected was by Patti Smith, Just Kids. You want to talk about the convergence of the sectors that we’re serving? What’s funny is I worked with Patti peripherally when POV did the broadcast premiere of Dream of Life with her. When we announced the winner, she had just played Webster Hall the night before. She’s 72 years old. And she was so excited to be the winning book. This is a woman who’s toured the world, she’s this iconic New York artist, and she’s so excited! I said, "We’re doing something right."

Would you ever try to bring the Grammys back to New York again?
There are many major musical events that we could host here in New York City. I’d love to give everybody a shot to do that. Of course, we’d welcome them back.