Everybody loves the arts.

Especially, it seems, when running for mayor and speaking to an auditorium full of arts supporters.

So it was yesterday afternoon at a mayoral forum on arts and culture at the Academy of Natural Sciences on Logan Circle.

One Democratic candidate, businessman Tom Knox, assured about 200 in the audience that the arts would be "one of the cornerstones of my administration."

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, also on the May 15 Democratic primary ballot, noted that the arts represented a critical "billion-dollar-plus" segment of the local economy that required "a dedicated source of funding."

Former City Councilman Michael Nutter, who allowed that he still draws "stick figures," nevertheless called for the restoration of the city's Office of Arts and Culture, which was shuttered several years ago.

Republican contender Al Taubenberger, who did not participate in the full debate, got the opportunity to note that arts activities in Philadelphia bring in far more revenue than "the sports teams bring in."

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and state Rep. Dwight Evans did not attend the event, although they were invited by the organizers, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and the Arts and Business Council of Greater Philadelphia.

There was little disagreement among participants on the importance of the arts to the city's economy. But given the relatively small amount the city contributes to arts organizations annually - the city's Culture Fund stands at about $2.1 million - the big question is how to boost and then stabilize public funding.

Nutter said he would work on a series of tax credits that would benefit arts organizations. Fattah said a dedicated regional tax was another possibility.

Knox suggested city tax credits could also be used to funnel money into the arts. He added that the city "misspends" enough money annually that the Culture Fund could probably be boosted to $10 million in a year. He gave no specific examples of "misspent" money.

Contact culture writer Stephan Salisbury at 215-854-5594 or ssalisbury@phillynews.com.