Arts Supporters urge City Government to #RestoreArtsFundingPHL
Philadelphia is often celebrated as one of the premier destinations for arts and culture in America. We boast world-class museums, countless festivals and wonderful performance arts. With all that the cultural sector contributes, I sometimes wonder what our city would be like without it. I know – it’s scary. What would the Parkway look like without the Art Museum (just don’t mention that Rocky statue), the Rodin and the Barnes? What would Philadelphians do on First Fridays if they couldn’t gallery hop? What would Claes Oldenburg do if we returned his Clothespin, Paintbrush, Three-Way Plug and Split Button? Sure, they’re ordinary household items, but something tells me he couldn’t fit them in his garage.
Since 1991, the Philadelphia Cultural Fund has provided vital operational funding for many of our city’s arts and cultural organizations. This year’s 273 grantees include a diverse group of organizations from institutional icons like the Franklin Institute, to cult favorites such as Pig Iron Theatre Company, to organizations that reflect the diversity of our city like Artistas y Musicos Latino Americanos. For many of these organizations, funding from the Cultural Fund is their lifeline, and without it many could not operate. Sadly, the Cultural Fund has been significantly underfunded since 2010.
The recession hit Philadelphia hard, forcing the Mayor to make some difficult funding decisions, and the Cultural Fund’s budget was slashed from $3.2 million to $1.84 million. The consequences were swift and immediate, including the elimination of the Youth Arts Enrichment Grants, which provided project support for arts-education programs serving students in the Philadelphia school district. Despite the decrease in funding, demand for grants grew, and the Cultural Fund saw an increase in applicants and the number of grants distributed. The result was smaller grants to organizations that were barely getting by to begin with.
In the face of these funding challenges, our cultural sector continues to have a major economic impact. The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance’s 2012 report, Arts, Culture & Economic Prosperity in Greater Philadelphia, found that the nonprofit cultural sector contributes $1.2 billion in direct expenditures and $1.6 billion in indirect expenditures (dinner and a show is an established date night tradition, after all), for a total impact of $2.8 billion on the Philadelphia economy. That’s more than the movies Avatar or Frozen made at the box office worldwide – in other words, if it was a movie, the Philadelphia arts and cultural sector would be a massive box office smash. Additionally, the sector generates 29,844 jobs, $766 million in household income for Philadelphia residents and $119 million in tax revenue for the city. Maybe if Idina Menzel sang a song about the cultural sector, our elected officials would pay more attention. (Ed. note: If you read this, Ms. Menzel, please do!)
Given these numbers, it’s clear that the City of Philadelphia is shamefully undervaluing and underfunding the sector, and it is time for that to change. For the fourth year in a row Mayor Nutter has declined to restore the Cultural Fund’s budget, despite Cultural Alliance reports showing that Philadelphia has one of the lowest per-capita government investments in arts and culture, falling behind Denver, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Portland, San Francisco and New York. With such a high rate of return on investment, Philadelphia should be investing more – not less – in this vital economic sector.
Fortunately, the City of Philadelphia is filled with arts supporters, and on April 22, 2014 we will celebrate the first-ever Philadelphia Arts Advocacy Day. To mark the day, the Cultural Fund and the Cultural Alliance will testify before City Council to urge them to restore the Cultural Fund’s budget to $3.2 million. If you care about this sector and everything that it does for this great city, please tweet, sign the petition and come to City Council, so we can show the Mayor and our councilmembers that Philadelphians want to #RestoreArtsFundingPHL.
Nicole Allen is the Director of Policy and Community Engagement for the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. You can follow her grandmother at @JuanitaWhite5 and her mother at @DebChandler718. She is an unapologetic dog lover (follow her dog at @deweycarmichael). For all other inquiries @nikkiallen32