After being decimated by the pandemic, Philly’s arts sector needs restored funding | Opinion
Without action, we risk losing one of our city’s greatest economic engines and falling impossibly far behind other cities.
On Thursday, I will introduce a budget amendment to make a long-overdue investment in Philadelphia’s creative arts economy. The $1.4 billion in federal stimulus funds available to the city provides us with the opportunity to save Philadelphia’s ailing arts and culture economy and restore pre-pandemic funding for the Philadelphia Cultural Fund.
Specifically, my amendment proposes the creation of a new $45 million creative arts recovery fund, which will ensure the sector’s survival and growth in its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and support one of Philadelphia’s top economic engines. Prior to the pandemic, the region’s creative economy was valued at $4.1 billion and accounted for $1.3 billion in household income, $225 million in state and local tax revenue, and over 55,000 full-time jobs.
After incurring devastating losses in 2020, the industry is struggling to survive and recover. As chair of City Council’s Committee on Global Opportunities and the Creative/Innovative Economy, I’ve held a series of meetings over the past year, culminating in a public hearing on May 7 to receive testimony from industry leaders on the reopening and recovery of the local creative arts sector. Stakeholders from the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pennsylvania Ballet, and leading venues like World Café Live and Chris’ Jazz Café attended the hearing. Their message was clear: We need help from the city.
The city has long underfunded arts and culture. Yet despite that continued lack of investment from city government through the years, Philadelphia has historically been recognized as a hub for culture, music, and film. This did not happen overnight. The sector has taken many decades to build and grow. But after the devastating and unforeseen challenges brought about by COVID-19, the industry may collapse. While the $1 million transferred from Council’s recession relief fund in support of small arts and culture grants is an important first step, the city needs a more permanent and transformative solution.
After hearing the expert testimony in Council on May 7 — and briefings held over the course of the pandemic — I am confident that a $45 million fund is a worthwhile and necessary investment for our city. In addition to the recovery fund, I am also proposing the full restoration of the city Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE), the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, and the Greater Philadelphia Film Office. Fiscal year 2021 funding levels for the OACCE and the Cultural Fund — totaling $4.4 million — accounted for less than one-tenth of 1% of the city’s $5 billion operating budget.
Restoring pre-pandemic levels for the OACCE and the Cultural Fund will bring a return of arts education to communities across Philadelphia and provide much-needed financial assistance to artists and nonprofit organizations most in need. Outside of the arts, my amendment would also reallocate just under $30 million to restore funding for “livable communities” programs, such as the Housing Trust Fund, Land Bank, and the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Without action, we risk losing one of our city’s greatest economic engines and falling impossibly far behind cities like Chicago, where Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently committed $60 million in public funding to restore the arts economy. Now is the time for all concerned citizens to join me and ensure the arts in Philadelphia do not just survive the pandemic but flourish.
David Oh is an at-large member of City Council and the chair of Council’s Committee on Global Opportunities and the Creative/Innovative Economy.