Parks and arts - what's not to like?

Very little, if you asked a cluster of would-be Philadelphia mayors at a Wednesday night forum dedicated to green space and cultural vitality.

Only Republican candidate Melissa Murray Bailey said she would not restore the 40 percent cut Mayor Nutter has proposed for the Philadelphia Cultural Fund next year. The fund, which provides general operating aid to nearly 300 organizations, received $3.14 million this year; Nutter proposes $1.8 million for next year.

"Education is our number-one priority," Bailey told the forum, cohosted by the Philadelphia Parks Alliance and Groundswell, an advocacy program of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. "Unfortunately, that means other things get cut."

Democrat Doug Oliver hedged by saying he would not cut the fund, but would seek to channel money into programs to bolster arts programs that have been largely eliminated from schools.

All the other Democratic candidates present - Lynne M. Abraham, Anthony Hardy Williams, James F. Kenney, and Nelson A. Diaz - said they would not cut the fund, citing the importance of the arts to the city's overall economy and to the crippled school system. T. Milton Street Sr., also a Democratic candidate, did not attend.

Similarly, candidates supported making the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy, which oversees all the city's arts initiatives, a permanent agency.

Williams said he would make the office a "full-fledged department" that would work with the School District and other agencies "to provide resources" to schoolchildren.

Abraham said she would beef up the Office of the City Representative to help bring cultural programs back to schools and after-school programs. She called cultural education "the single most important thing" in providing education in all areas, including mathematics and science.

Similarly, candidates speaking at the forum at the Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia were loath to suggest cuts in funding for the Parks and Recreation Department. Nutter has proposed $57.7 million for the department.

No one wanted to cut that, and virtually all said they see the Fairmount Park system's 10,000 acres as one of the city's greatest underused and underfunded assets.

Park safety also came up, with most candidates suggesting busier parks and better lighting would help people feel safe. Abraham also suggested that in more remote areas, "infrared cameras from planes" might help overtaxed police.

Kenney and Diaz suggested dedicated regional funding was essential to protecting the city's cultural assets.


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