In his new budget to cope with the revenue loss driven by the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Jim Kenney on Friday proposed the elimination of the city’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy — a $4 million cut that would end grants to hundreds of cultural groups in the city.
The shutdown of the arts office would also spell an end to the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, which this fiscal year distributed over $3 million to community organizations all over the city.
The Cultural Fund is the only such support offered by the city to its growing population of artists, performers, and arts organizations. In the last year, the Cultural Fund disbursed 349 grants, the most in its 25-year history.
The Art in City Hall program, administered by the arts and culture office, is also eliminated, leaving exhibition spaces throughout City Hall with a barren future, and depriving artists of an opportunity in a period of shriveling opportunities.
The mayor also slashed Mural Arts, proposing to reduce its funding from $2.45 million to a little over $2 million. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, whose building is owned by the city, had its support cut from $2.55 million to just over $2 million. In his budget, Kenney said, “These organizations have demonstrated outside fundraising capacity.”
In explaining his budget, Kenney said the epidemic had forced him to propose a “drastically revised” spending plan for the coming fiscal year, which starts June 1, one that emphasizes “core municipal services.”
In an email sent to arts leaders around the city, Maud Lyon, president of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, called the moment “difficult and extremely distressing.”
“We know that many of the recommended cuts and funding reductions will tear into the essential fabric that makes our sector so vibrant and diverse,” she wrote. “Most notably, the elimination of the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy and the defunding of the Philadelphia Cultural Fund have the potential to destabilize our community in a way we have never experienced.”
Many in the city’s arts and cultural community were stunned by the recommended elimination of the office and fund.
Kelly Lee, head of the office, could not be reached for comment Friday. She is reportedly moving to a new position in the city government.