Peggy Amsterdam, 60, of Center City, whose longtime advocacy of the economic and social importance of the arts in Philadelphia drew national recognition and included a successful push to stop a state-proposed tax on arts and cultural activities in 2009, died of cancer at home Saturday.

As president of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance since 2000, Ms. Amsterdam doubled the organization's membership to 385 arts and cultural nonprofits and greatly expanded its reach to the broader community.

"Her vision was that arts and culture was a part of everything that makes Philadelphia special, and that we think not of arts and culture narrowly as a sector but rather as a point of leverage for all the things that make Philadelphia better, whether that includes education, economic development, community development," said Tom Kaiden, chief operating officer of the alliance.

Ms. Amsterdam vigorously sought to make the case that the arts were key to the city's revival and were vulnerable without civic and financial support.

In 2004, she helped lead the fight against a city proposal to eliminate millions of dollars dedicated to the arts. The city eventually rescinded 80 percent of the proposed cuts.

Ms. Amsterdam, arguing that the arts were important to the local economy, said then in an alliance speech quoted in The Inquirer: "That we were fundamentally defending art as an economic-development tool suggests a deeper, long-term problem. It suggests a lack of understanding and value for culture's lasting role in civilization."

One victim of the 2004 budget was the city Office of Arts and Culture, which Ms. Amsterdam helped to get reestablished in 2008.

This year, she called on supporters of the arts to blitz Pennsylvania legislators with opposition when the state proposed extending the sales tax to cultural performances and venues.

Faced with an outcry, the measure died.

Mayor Nutter said, "Her passion and enthusiasm was particularly inspiring to me, and it was impossible to have a conversation with her that did not revolve around how to improve what we do, how to better fund it."

One of the ways Ms. Amsterdam demonstrated the importance of the arts was through detailed research.

She was a founding member of the Cultural Data Project, which was launched in Pennsylvania in 2004 and which is establishing a national standard for reporting and tracking data on arts and cultural groups.

"She got so many things done and was really somebody who wanted the data, wanted the facts, and you can see that in her work over the years with the cultural alliance," said Philip Horn, executive director of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

Under her leadership, the alliance commissioned studies in recent years that examined the impact of and challenges faced by the region's arts organizations.

The research found that every $1 local governments invest in arts groups yields $5 in tax revenue. Another study found that 40 percent of cultural organizations surveyed were in the red and that more than half were in danger of closing.

"She added the human touch to that data, so she understood the practicality and the importance of the research component, but then she was able to actualize that because of the human contacts and the pure enthusiasm that she had for telling the story of the value of the arts," said Robert Lynch, president and chief executive officer of Americans for the Arts, where Ms. Amsterdam was a board member.

Gary Steuer, who directs the reincarnated city Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy, said the cultural alliance under Ms. Amsterdam went beyond the norm by conducting nationally recognized research on the nature of the cultural consumer and how to build audiences for the future.

The alliance examines engagement in the arts in Philadelphia under a $6.3 million marketing program aimed at doubling cultural participation by 2020.

Ms. Amsterdam is survived by sons Jon and David; her mother, Janet Spiegelman; a brother, Charles Spiegelman; and a granddaughter, Elizabeth Amsterdam.

A memorial service will be held from 11 a.m. to noon Wednesday at the Philadelphia Theatre Company, 480 S. Broad St. A reception follows at 12:30 p.m. at the World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations to the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.

Contact staff writer Maya Rao
at 856-779-3220 or mrao@phillynews.com.