Friday, December 18, 2009

Everybody Is an Artist!

The City of Philadelphia’s visual art exhibition program Art In City Hall, in collaboration with the National Arts Program Foundation, last night opened the 10th National Arts Program at Philadelphia, an exhibition featuring works of art by City of Philadelphia government employees and their families, including children.  Participants of this year’s exhibit come from many different departments and agencies in City government, including DHS, Law, Commerce, Free Library, Prisons, Police, Fire, Water, Courts, City Council and more.

The exhibition is open to the public from December 17 to February 19, 2010 and is located on the fifth floor of City Hall, north corridor.

The thing I love about this program is how it engages the full scope of Philadelphia's public employees, and shows that we have social workers, police officers, fire fighters, code enforcement officials, attorneys, administrators, etc. who are artists. These are people who make MAKING art a part of their life, and there is some great talent out there. For years Business Committee for the Arts (now part of Americans for the Arts) encouraged similar programs in business. Here is a link to a synopsis of a Forum held in DC a couple of years ago on the impact of art in the workplace programs.

Friday, December 11, 2009

New Arts Attack by Coburn and McCain

This past Wednesday Senators Tom Coburn and John McCain issued a new report purporting to identify 100 projects funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that they feel raise questions about the effective use of these funds. This report has been covered in the media (see this Wall Street Journal story) and once again has raised the point - why is investing in the arts as part of recovery somehow considered to be, by its very nature, inappropriate? 

The list includes a number of arts projects funded by the NEA's stimulus grant program as well as other ARRA categories. A quick overview of the arts related projects on the McCain/Coburn list: $225K for Shakespeare theatre festivals in several different communities. $100k to "Anti-Capitalist, Socially-Conscious Puppet Shows (which includes $25K to Philadelphia's Spiral Q Puppet Theatre). What they define as "Clown Theatrical Production" - actually our own Philadelphia-based Pig Iron Theatre Company which got a $25,000 NEA stimulus grant. $13k to a public art piece in Fort Smith AK. $400k for "Jazz Festivals" (also through the NEA, including the Monterey Jazz Festival. Another work of public art in Washington State. A horse museum in Lexington KY. A storytelling festival in Utah. A dance troupe that has trained its dancers to do weatherization work and got a grant for this purpose ($935k). $2.6 million to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for a geothermal project that seems to be presented as frivolous because they actually have money in the bank and hosted a President Obama's signing  ceremony for the stimulus bill.

I am sure there is legitimate questioning that can be engaged in about how stimulus funds are being spent, and that in the rush to get funds out quickly with a bewildering array of programs and criteria, there may be some questionable investments. BUT embedded in this list are a few very disturbing assumptions. First, the list seems to indicate that arts-related stimulus investment are somehow by their very nature inappropriate. An arts job is somehow not a "real job." The fact that an arts festival or program may attract significant tourism and ancillary expenditures thus magnifying the impact of the stimulus, seems irrelevant, or even - worse - somehow suspicious. Arts projects that can superficially be made to sound suspect because of their name or the nature of their work ("Pig Iron," "puppetry", "Shakespeare Festivals") especially get singled out. The fact that an arts group may have an endowment or be in the black (see the Denver Museum example) would somehow seem to make it subject to derision.

The Pig Iron grant retained a critical staff-person and helped support an internationally-recognized theatre group whose last production "Welcome to Yuba City" attracted huge audiences and was a virtual sell-out: employing many artists, technical and management staff and stimulating the economy in the Northern Liberties neighborhood where the production took place. Similar story with Spiral Q - NEA $ helped retain their production manager position, which if not retained would have resulted not just in a lost job, but a 50% reduction in their program capacity and services to children, magnifying the loss.

This morning Tom Kaiden of Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance went on Fox News to respond to this report, and I am sure this is not the last we have heard of this (as much as I would hope so). You can view the video clip here. The Cultural Alliance staff, working with input from many sources, including Americans for the Arts, has put together great background information to respond to these allegations, and I am sure will be glad to make it available to anyone who gets questions about this from the media, donors, etc.

I suppose it can't be repeated enough: An arts job is a job just like construction or retail or manufacturing. Investment in the arts as part of the stimulus bill is a minuscule share of stimulus spending, and a thoroughly appropriate component. Arts stimulus spending is actually one of the BEST investments we can make - the arts money is getting out into the community creating or saving jobs relatively fast (compare to other stimulus spending), the money for the most part stays local (no outsourcing in the arts), and there is an unusually high multiplier effect with arts spending, due to the related visitor/audience spending. Artists and those who work in the arts are voting, tax-paying citizens, whose kids go to the local schools, who buy their groceries in the local supermarket, who pay their mortgage, just like anyone else.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Obama on the Arts

Andrew Taylor posted this Obama quote from the Kennedy Center Honors that I thought I would share: “In times of war and sacrifice, the arts — and these artists — remind us to sing and to laugh and to live. In times of plenty, they challenge our conscience and implore us to remember the least among us. In moments of division or doubt, they compel us to see the common values that we share; the ideals to which we aspire, even if we sometimes fall short. In days of hardship, they renew our hope that brighter days are still ahead.

Well said Mr. President (or at least, great speechwriter...)!  Thanks for sharing Andrew.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Susan Stamberg on "Why Museums Matter"

Susan Stamberg of NPR gave a great talk this past Friday at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the subject of "why museums matter."  In fact, though she used visual art and museums as a theme, she was really talking about the larger issues of the importance of the arts.

Her talk was wide ranging and much more personal than the usual arts advocacy "why the arts are important" talk, which was why it was so refreshing. Also, having heard Susan on the radio for so many years, it was also a treat to finally see and hear her in person - voice connected to a real live human being.

It was hard to take notes during her talk, because I did not want to be distracted from her words by trying to write them down. A few phrases stuck with me from her remarks. She rhetorically asked why we don't ask "why do we need rain," that art "soaks us with discovery." She noted (and believe this may have been a quote from someone else) that "art will save the world, if anything can." She recounted a New Yorker piece by Lawrence Weschler (later turned into a book) about interviewing the judge for the war crimes trial at The Hague of the perpetrators of the atrocities in Sarajevo, who was asked how he managed to survive - to keep his humanity through the horrific testimony he had to listen to day in and day out. His answer?  He periodically walks over to the Vermeers, to reacquaint himself with the stirring beauty human beings are capable of.

She quoted Robert Frost - "Home is the place where when you have to go there, they have to take you in," and drew parallels to the museum as a "second home" for us of sorts - a place that takes us in with no questions asked.

She made the interesting observation that from her many stories over the past few years on shows at PMA that she has found the curators there to be wonderful communicators in a way that is far from common. An audience question later asked whether the museums she has seen somehow reflect in their curatorial approach, their personality, the City or region in which they are located, and she said that seemed to be generally true.  I was able to join her for a small dinner afterward, along with some PMA staff, and this led to a conversation about whether PMA reflects the personality of Philadelphia and if so how. I actually believe there is truth to this, but that is for a future entry...

Wish I could more succinctly sum up the talk, but it was really a series of musings, meditations, on a life of trying to convey the power of art through the medium of sound, of radio, helping her listeners to "see" the art through only the sense of sound.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

More on Flash Mob Art

As a follow-up to my earlier post, here is a link to the work of Duncan Speakman, an artist using MP3 players and sound to create a "subtle mob" as he calls it. Here is the direct link to his newest project, called "as if it were the last time."

It is almost as if we need to create a new art form category of experiential, immersive, participatory art. I don't feel that any existing art form categories adequately capture this new developing body of work.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Urban Arts Interventions

The newest "guerrilla musical" by the New York-based group Improv Everywhere is called "Grocery Store Musical" (photo on left) was just recently shared with me and is very cool. It got me thinking about this whole new trend towards finding ways to insert art into our everyday lives, in ways that are designed to jolt us out of our complacency, our routine. Many have seen the Belgian train station choreographed dance, which has been seen THIRTEEN MILLION times. A special favorite of mine is a flash mob dance routine that appeared in an episode of Weeds (featuring a great song by Michale Franti and Spearhead!). Check it out here. And in Philly a flash mob dance was organized on the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps. (With apologies to the organizers, not in the same league as the best of this sort of work - keep trying!)

There is a group called "Urban Prankster" that has a web site and documents these sort of flash mob projects all around the world, but they go far beyond choreographed dance and/or singing routines. One project placed a huge Claes Oldenberg-like Fork sculpture literally at a "fork in the road." How far apart are these projects from the long tradition of public art and mural-making? Don't Christo and Jeanne-Claude's work also fit into this tradition? Recently in Philadelphia two giant totemic "Heads" by Jun Kaneko were installed in the City Hall courtyard. They arrived earlier than expected, and therefore were installed with no advance warning or press, or even signage explaining them at the beginning - in many ways that was part of their delight. Not intended to be in this tradition of guerrilla art, but they were mysterious, enigmatic, and jolted people a bit as they walked through the courtyard. I think the difference between this new trend and the traditional concept of public art is that it usually temporary and ephemeral, unplanned and unpublicized; it is also as much about the performing arts as visual art. Also, humor and joy also seem to be much more prevalent. The work usually wants to make us smile.

It does seem like we are at a moment in history when these projects are blossoming and particularly resonating with people. Perhaps it is our increasingly alienated and homogenized society, and these "interventions" especially surprise and delight us. Perhaps it is that many people have grown jaded with getting their cultural experience in traditional museum and theatre settings and this is the way to reach them. Or perhaps it is the ARTISTS who are seeking new challenges and want their work to startle and amuse people in a way that seems harder to do in an institutional space. Finally, I think some of this work is being fueled by technology. You Tube, Twitter and even advances in miniaturized cameras make it so much easier to organize, execute and share these "arts interventions.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Creative Industry Workforce Grants

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal Community Development Block Grant program received $1 billion in additional funding. Philadelphia's share of that allocation worked out to about $14 million. As part of its effort to foster the cultural and creative economy sector as an integrated component of building healthy communities, the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE) was able to create a new $500,000 grant program as part of Philadelphia's plan for use of these funds, with the support of both the Mayor and the City Council. This grant program will include the nonprofit arts and culture community as well as for-profit arts, entertainment and creative businesses, and is a part of the Office's larger strategy to nurture and develop this sector by providing specific programs and resources to the creative industries. This grant program also intersects with The Commerce Department’s business services, neighborhood development, business attraction and job creation efforts.

Grants will provide funding for the construction or renovation of permanent offices or facilities linked to job creation (including permanent jobs, and temporary construction, installation, architectural and engineering jobs). Eligible projects include new or renovated office space,mixed-use facilities, artist workspace and creative industry incubators designed to retain and attract businesses and jobs.

In conjunction with the purpose of ARRA funds, the applicant must demonstrate that the project can start within three months from the award date. The project must also meet federal CDBG eligibility; i.e. located in a low/mod income neighborhood, serving a low/mod income customer or creating low/mod income jobs. Eligible applicants include, but are not limited to nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, community development corporations, for-profit creative businesses, microenterprises, and other businesses with projects that meet the eligibility requirements outlined in the RFP. Grant range is $20,000-$100,000. The application deadline is  FRIDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2009, and organizations must apply online through eContractPhilly (Opportunity # 21091112130103)

There will also be a public meeting on November 23, 2009 from 3pm-5pm in the Mayor’s Reception Room, City Hall, Room 202, and anyone interested in applying is STRONGLY advised to attend this meeting. Please direct all questions via email to An FAQ sheet will be developed to answer most questions, rather than responding to individual e-mails. PLEASE DO NOT CALL THE OFFICE WITH QUESTIONS.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Public Art: Imagining the Next Fifty Years

Philadelphia's two original Percent for Art programs, the program of the Redevelopment Authority, and the City of Philadelphia program, have collaborated on a celebration of the 50th anniversary of their creation in 1959 - the first such ordinances in the nation. More info is available here. A wonderful exhibit has been mounted at the Art Institute of Philadelphia gallery on Chestnut Street which features the work of student photographers from four of our leading arts colleges - Moore College of Art, University of the Arts, the Tyler School at Temple, and the Art Institute - interpreting the City's public art collection through their photographs. The idea was to not just highlight the work of art, but show it "in action," as part of the life of the City, and as perceived by young artists. In addition, a symposium was held last Thursday that featured a panel of artists and curators - Andrea Blum, Dennis Oppenheim, Damon Rich and Adelina Vlas, with Aaron Levy from the Slought Foundation as the moderator. It was a fascinating, if incomplete, conversation - much more to delve into on this subject than could be covered in the allotted time. A commentary on the interest in this subject is that this panel was competing against a World Series game and still had a full house! (OK, it DID end early enough for us to get home by about the third inning - there is a limit to how much we can sacrifice for art...) Rather than recap the conversation myself, there is a great entry here on the Plan Philly website by Todd Bressi that I recommend.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Raising Awareness of the Arts (in Canada?)

There is interesting news out of Canada about a new arts awareness campaign that is being launched. I know many of the folks involved in this from my years running the national Arts & Business Council, followed by my years at Americans for the Arts after the merger of the two. I attended a few of the Canadian Arts Summit gatherings, of which this campaign is (indirectly) an outcome, and worked closely with the Canadian equivalent of the Arts & Business Council (CBAC, now known as "Business for the Arts"). I had always felt the Canadian Arts Summit is a great model to replicate in the US - there is frankly nothing like it here. Since 1998, the convening brings together every year the board chairs, executive director or managing directors, and artistic directors of the 50 largest Canadian arts organizations across all disciplines - museum, opera, symphony, theatre, dance, presenting, etc. This makes for fascinating conversations at the highest level about governance, cultural policy, audiences, and artistic trends. This is different from what Americans for the Arts' National Arts Policy Roundtable does, different from Aspen - NOTHING akin to this happens in this country that brings together artistic, managment and volunteer leadership from our most influential organizations representing a broad array of geography and artistic practice. It is not perfect - arts councils and service organizations are not represented, nor are small grassroots groups. But in terms of clout and high-level networking, this gathering is quite a powerhouse.

And this awareness campaign is an outgrowth of that. Again, this appears to be very different from "Art. Ask for More" - the Americans for the Arts PSA campaign. That campaign is about very specifically targeting parents to advocate for more arts education in their schools  a valuable message but a much narrower one. The Canadian effort is about raising broad public awareness of the importance of the arts in our lives and in our communities, and I think - like the Canadian Arts Summit - that is something we very much need in this country.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Conundrums of Cultural Policy and Planning

As the Mayor's Cultural Advisory Council works with me on developing some concrete goals, strategies and tactics for both the short and long term (if not a full-blown cultural plan) I can't help but reflect on the challenges of the balancing act this process entails, especially in the current climate. We have a wide array of organizations truly struggling right now with their financial stability, from the Philadelphia Orchestra down to very small one-person operations in danger of literally ceasing operations because they must lay off the one paid staff member. On a pure hard-nosed economic calculation, a large organization like the Art Museum or the Orchestra has the most significant impact on the economy - attracting tourists, generating restaurant revenue, employing workers, etc. As a City looking to bolster its revenues which ultimately serves all citizens, the impact of an institution on the City's economy MUST be an important factor in evaluating City investments. On the other hand, a large City like Philadelphia requires a diverse ecosystem of arts and culture to maintain its cultural vitality and overall creative economy, and while each small organization by itself may not be a crucial component of our economy, taken collectively they are equally important. Similarly, maintaining the vitality of our cultural activity in Center City is undeniably important to our economy, yet our cultural resources must also be dispersed in a way that benefits all our citizens and all our neighborhoods. The arts are not just an economic stimulant, but a vehicle for neighborhood transformation, personal enlightenment and education.

As an Office, we also have the charge of supporting our creative economy sector - the for-profit side of the arts and culture industry, including art galleries, music clubs, design-related businesses, etc. These businesses are ALSO important to the success of a diverse and thriving creative City.  And we must also make sure we support all artistic disciplines, as well as the wide array of different cultures often served through culturally-specific arts and community-based organizations. Not to mention the necessity of working with the School District and other arts education leaders to ensure that all our young people have access to the arts in and out of school. The heritage segment of our sector has also felt especially under-resourced and under-appreciated, especially given its prominence as a community asset.

This is all by way of saying this is an immensely complex task, where there are an almost infinite array of needs and issues to be addressed, where most if not all of them are important, and where in the current economic climate the resources are not available to significantly increase our financial commitment to ANY of the competing needs.

Yet, we do have SOME tools at our disposal, we can reallocate resources, or use existing resources more wisely. Not every strategy is about money. And anything we do is an implicit or explicit statement of policy priorities, and therefore must be strategic. Perhaps a personal shortcoming of mine is always seeing all sides of an issue, seeing with clarity all the complexities, all the competing "right" answers. Biases or blinders would undoubtedly make the trade-offs involved in setting priorities easier. I don't have any easy answers, but I am glad that this group of a few dozen of Philadelphia's most valued thinkers on cultural issues are there to work with me on mapping out our future. Finally, even though the current climate makes major new initiatives that require new resources impossible, it may be an ideal time for planning, to chart our course for the future, when calmer financial seas will prevail.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cultural Consumers Are Still Consuming

A new study was issued this week by consultant and author Patricia Martin, who writes a great blog on the cultural consumer. I have worked with Pat for many years, and she always has interesting things to say, and good insight into the "zeitgeist" of the cultural consumer - the folks who form our audiences, visitors and arts participants. The "American Life and Culture Survey" reinforces what many arts groups are seeing - in the difficult economy consumer spending and attitudes towards cultural engagement have not changed all that much - people are still buying books, going to performing arts events, attending and renting movies, etc. One big finding: Millennials create; Boomers consume - 82% of younger respondents said their peers consider them creative, and one third of this group blog. The older Boomer group create less, but consume at a higher rate, participating in cultural experiences and acquiring art.In a sign of the economic times, even though attendance may not be down, consumers are much more actively seeking free cultural experiences. I wonder how this trend is going to intersect with the fact that tight budgets are forcing many arts groups to cut back on discounted and free admission and tickets - are we shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot?

Also of interest is that 90% of the cultural consumer group agreed that the arts help to keep the local economy strong and create growth. More than 90% stay informed about political news and vote locally and nationally. The success on the recent arts tax battle is proof of the power of this group when aroused and harnessed. Access the study here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ignite, ArtBlog, Independence Starts Here...

Had the great experience of participating as a speaker in the most recent Ignite Philly 4 at Johnny Brenda's this past  week. Here is how they describe the program: "Ignite Philly is part of a worldwide network that entertains and educates people in short 5 minute bursts. Ignite Philly is the local group, and is our way to highlight great ideas coming to life here in Philadelphia.Each presenter is on stage for  a total of 5 minutes (20 slides, at 15 seconds each slide). These talks are a ’spark’ if you will, they are lightening fast and leave people with a new idea to mull over and talk about." As a presenter, it is a very interesting presentation challenge, similar to Pecha Kucha now all the rage at conferences - you've got to be REALLY concise and engaging. The thing about Ignite is that it is not a conference. The atmosphere is more alternative music concert/battle of the bands or poetry slam. I spoke about the state of public art in Philadelphia (see my recent post on the subject). It was a very cool experience, and also made me feel very OLD...

Roberta Fallon and Libby Rossoff recently interviewed me for The ArtBlog, one of the great local blogs I follow and so I thought I would share it with you here. They also have a great map-based gallery guide that I think is the best resource of its kind in Philadelphia.

Last week I participated in a press conference for a new initiative called Independence Starts Here. This is a great new program to increase access to the arts for people with disabilities. It is a collaboration between Art Reach, The Philly Fun Guide of Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and Amaryllis Theatre Company. Primary funding for the project comes from the PNC Arts Alive grant program. The great thing about this program is that it addresses not only helping arts organizations make their programs accessible for audiences with visual or hearing impairments, but also helps connect those programs to the audiences that will take advantage of them. A whole new "access" area has been added to the Philly Fun Guide web site, and partnerships with an array of disability services organizations will get the word out directly to their constituencies. This marketing component is where so many arts access programs fall short. Organizations do a sign-interpreted performance, for example, and when deaf audiences don't show up the arts groups stops interpreting, saying "we tried it but nobody came." And the deaf arts lovers say "we don't go because we have no idea how to find out what is available." Voila!  At least for Philly, Independence Starts Here seems to be a pretty effective way to bridge that gap.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Today we issued a press release announcing the completion of a new study of Philadelphia's public art landscape. The text of the release follows:

Philadelphia, PA - The City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy announces the completion of a year-long study entitled Philadelphia Public Art: The Full Spectrum performed by PennPraxis, the clinical arm of the School of Design of the University of Pennsylvania, and funded by the William Penn Foundation.  The study was undertaken to assess how public art is currently commissioned, managed, and conserved by the City and other local public art organizations and to make policy recommendations on how to best utilize this tremendous resource relative to the city-wide goals of neighborhood revitalization, economic development, and the creative economy.

“This study will be an essential tool as we develop a strategy for how to take what is arguably already the most extraordinary public art city in the country, and take it to another level,” said Gary Steuer, Chief Cultural Officer for the City of Philadelphia and Director of the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. “It identifies both our extraordinary assets as well as the opportunities to do even better.”

The study was initiated by the Philadelphia Public Art Forum, a coalition of public art administrators convened by the Fairmount Park Art Association, with the goal of providing information about the breadth of public art programs in Philadelphia and developing strategies to enhance their effectiveness.  Other cities’ public art programs were investigated for comparison and for consideration of “best practices” in the field.  The commencement of the study coincided with the opening by Mayor Nutter of the City’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy in 2008, and its completion in 2009 is simultaneous to the 50th anniversary of Philadelphia’s “Percent for Art” programs (1959 to 2009), which were the first in the nation. 

Harris Steinberg, Executive Director of Penn Praxis said: “Public art has been an integral part of Philadelphia’s urban fabric and character for centuries. We have an historic opportunity, with Gary’s leadership in the new Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, to improve upon and explore new forms of expression tied to our identity as a world-class city.”

Philadelphia Public Art: The Full Spectrum details the unprecedented diversity and multiplicity of public art entities that have arisen in Philadelphia over time, which have led to the world-renowned collection of public art for which Philadelphia is known.  The recommendations in the study will be useful for the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy as the City looks to enhance the “full spectrum” of public art assets in the City – from the City’s own Percent for Art program to the similar program at RDA, to Fairmount Park Art Association, the Mural Arts Program (now celebrating its 25th anniversary), the Airport art program, SEPTA’s program and a vast array of other entities. 

The principal recommendations include creating a comprehensive public art vision, organizing and strengthening the Office, strengthening the existing programs, better communicating the story, integrating public art better into planning, and creating new funding opportunities. Some of the gaps or opportunities identified include needing to find a mechanism to maintain this very large collection, much of which is in need of maintenance and conservation, and the need to implement more large-scale temporary public art installations.

The Office has already made progress with many of the study’s recommendations including:
  • Orchestrating the Corian Bench Innovation Project, a Design Philadelphia exhibit of temporary public benches in locations throughout the city.
  • Working with city economic development agencies to integrate public art in major civic development projects such as the design of Pier 11, Dilworth Plaza and the Delaware River Master Plan.
  • Collaborating with the Opera Company of Philadelphia and the Locks Gallery for a temporary installation of Jun Kaneko’s “heads” in the City Hall Courtyard.

The Office is laying the groundwork for a temporary art program planned for fiscal year 2010 and a public art committee of the Mayor’s Cultural Advisory Committee is reviewing the study and will advise the Office in developing the broader public art vision.  A celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Public Art is scheduled for October 29th at the Art Institute of Philadelphia.

The City of Philadelphia’s Public Art Program of the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy consists of the Percent for Art, Conservation and Collection Management Programs, supporting the commissioning of new works of public art and overseeing the preservation of the City’s public art collection -- considered one of the most impressive in the country.  In 1959, Philadelphia became the first city in the U.S. to enact a Percent for Art ordinance to beautify and adorn architecture and public spaces.  In recent years, dozens of public artworks have received conservation treatment to repair the effects of acid rain, vandalism, and nature, and to ensure their preservation for future generations. 

The report can be accessed online. The printed copies of the report will be available from the Office by end of October.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Barnes video - part II

This is a second video that has Williams and Tsien demonstrating the model, and also shows a number of renderings.This is a wonderful way to come to understand and appreciate their design, I think, short of having them personally walk you through it. They did a very successful presentation earlier this week to a few hundred cultural and civic leaders, along with landscape architect Lori Olin. I think this design is about as good a solution to this challenge as is imaginable. The existing Barnes is a very special place, but I think this new facility will come pretty close to replicating that experience, or even (dare I say it) enhancing it, while at the same time making the collection much more accessible and accommodating more visitors, adding a new temporary exhibition gallery, more classroom and support space, an auditorium, and a beautiful landscape addition to the Parkway. If construction proceeds on schedule the building should be done by end of 2011 and ready to open to the public sometime in early 2012.

Video of the new Barnes design

Here is a video created for the Philadelphia Inquirer's Web site that has Tod Williams and Billie Tsien explaining their design for the new Barnes on the Parkway. A great way to see and understand the philosophy behind this extraordinary new building.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Update on Arts Sales Tax and State Budget

Well, it now looks like at long last Pennsylvania has a state budget deal, 100 days+ into the fiscal year. Still being worked out are the mechanics for how it will get approved and some minor differences between the House and Senate bills, but it appears to have support from the House, the Senate and the Governor, so barring any last minute glitches, it should be enacted, it is just a question of process and timing.

The good news is that the arts tax is NOT in the budget.  However, none of the alternate taxes discussed (cigars, smokeless tobacco, natural gas) were included in the budget deal, so the final budget does include some significant cuts on the expense side. The total state budget is down by $500 million due to declining revenues, so needless to say that means many expenses are being cut. The arts areas of the state budget have been on a seesaw throughout this budget process, eliminated in one version, restored in another, cut severely in yet another. How did we end up now that the pendulum appears to have stopped swinging? Below are the numbers as reported today by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.

The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts will see its administrative budget cut from $1.2 million to $992k (24%). Grants to the Arts will be cut from $15.2 million to $11 million, a cut of 28%. There is also a line for "Cultural Preservation Grants" in the Executive Offices budget at $3.1 million. This is a new category and it appears it is a repository for preserving some support for nine museums previously supported under the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, as well as other cultural organizations yet to be named (see below).

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission's General Government Operations budget is down to $19.5m  from $25.8m last year (this $ goes towards operating state-owned museums and historic sites). Museum Assistance Grants are down to $1.8m from $3.8m last year. The so-called "Non-preferred line items" are all at ZERO. Here is what was supported through these grants last year in Philadelphia: UPenn Museum $329k; Franklin Institute $713k; Academy of Natural Sciences $437k; African American Museum $333k. My understanding is that these groups are not actually being totally zeroed, but are now  in the "Cultural Preservation Grants" budget, but at levels that may be down 50-75% from their levels last year. 

The Department of Community and Economic Development has also been an important source of support for cultural-related programs and activity. Here is what happened with DCED: Cultural Exhibits and Expositions: zero ($5.5m last year); Marketing to Attract Film Business: zero ($489k last year); Tourism -- Accredited Zoos: $1.2m ($2.2m last year); Cultural Activities: zero ($3.4m last year). Some cultural groups had been supported through a line called "Community Revitalization" - also zeroed in this year's budget.

In the Education budget, the Governor's Schools of Excellence, which included $ for the Governor's School for the Arts, has gone to zero from $3.1m last year; Non-State Related Universities and Colleges -- University of the Arts: $271k ($1.2m last year)  Professional development for the arts is in at $346k, level funding. Public Television funding will plummet, from $8 million to $1 million, affecting both WHYY and MiND in Philly.

Clearly, this is very much a "good news/bad news" scenario. The "arts tax" has been removed, and that is a good thing, and PCA has been preserved, which is also a good thing, but on the expense side the arts funding areas of the budget have seen some pretty significant cuts, and that of course is bad. Needless to say, there was no guarantee that even with an arts tax, the cultural funding budgets might not have been exactly as outlined above. And there is no proof that arts funding was in any way singled out for punishment because of the sharp outcry to the arts sales tax. Cuts of this magnitude were on the table before the arts tax was even raised, and many other areas of the budget are also being cut. Preliminary conversations I have had with some folks in the arts community indicate that many leaders feel that if there had to be a trade-off, some level of funding reduction is preferable to the arts tax - this feeling is especially true at larger institutions that would have been hard hit by the tax, but are not non-preferreds (or have other large line item state funding) and therefore get relatively modest money from PCA.  Many of the non-preferreds and other groiups that had been getting significant dedicated funding will find their budgets and operations very hard hit by these significant cuts. Groups benefiting only from PCA grants will see a more modest impact.

Also much discussed within the film community is that the film tax credit funding is in the budget at the same level as the existing obligations to films already shot or already committed. What this means is that no incentives can be offered to any new productions, leading to fear that there will be a virtual freezing of film production over the next year, as productions will seek other communities that are offering incentives.

Apologies for another long post, but I thought it was important to convey this information. It is also important to note the the elimination of the arts tax from the budget is the result of a massive statewide (and even national) advocacy effort, of citizens, parents, audience members and cultural workers making their voices heard. And all those voices would have just been noise if not organized into a cohesive chorus by Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and the other advocacy groups in our region and around the state.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Welcome House

Was able to pop in on the opening celebration of Design Philadelphia at Love Park last night. It was also the opening of The Welcome House, a very cool temporary art installation by artist Marianne Bernstein, and a project of First Person Arts in partnership with InLiquid. First Person Arts is an organization that for the past three years has been using the arts for public engagement. This is exactly the sort of project I would like to see much more of throughout the City. It is art that is temporary, of the highest quality, wakes people up and confronts/engages/delights them in the course of their daily routine. Last night's celebration of Design Philadelphia was also remarkable - a party whose participants ran the gamut from hipsters to the homeless. Minima, the gallery in Old City which specializes in contemporary furniture design, was able to arrange for the installation of an array of very sleek white outdoor furniture in the park, so for the run of this installation the park will each become Philadelphia's newest open air lounge. The First Person Arts annual festival will take place November 3-8 at the Painted Bride.

Friday, September 25, 2009

What They Were Thinking: The Arts Sales Tax Issue

So no sooner did we succeed in getting the bill passed in Harrisburg that averted the disastrous Plan C (on 9/17) than we were forced (the evening of 9/18) to face the sudden announcement that the budget agreement in Harrisburg included a new sales tax on arts and culture, an action that had received absolutely no discussion or debate beforehand. Surprise!

So what exactly happened?  In Pennsylvania, like most states, arts activity admissions and tickets are exempted from sales tax. The budget deal in essence removed that exemption, which would impose the 6% state sales tax on all such revenue. Since Philadelphia has an extra 2% sales tax (or will, after the new 1% for five year tax is added) the local tax in Philly would be 8%. Another wrinkle - the state budget deal also eliminated the exemption for commercial entertainment activity such as concerts and commercial theatre. This would cover everything from small music clubs to major rock concerts. Since Philadelphia imposes a 5% amusement tax already on this activity (and over 100 other PA municipalities also impose similar amusement taxes), the tax on them would be 13% unless some special action is taken! However, under the law municipalities may only tax sales the state is not already taxing, so unless the state "grandfathers" existing amusement taxes, the state's sales tax would trump the amusement tax. The net result for Philly would be a loss of 3% of our amusement tax.

The legislators estimated $100 million in revenue from these taxes, a figure that further investigation suggested might be considerably above reality. They were seeking ways to close the budget with new revenue to deliver a budget with a funding figure for education that would be acceptable to the Governor. There has also been an uproar over the exclusion of sports and movies from the new sales tax. It appears the reason for excluding sports is that stadium agreements essentially prevent the tax from being imposed (too complicated to go into the details), and with movies it is probable they were not considered because they are not subject to sales tax in ANY other state, making it a step that would arouse huge wrath from the motion picture theatre industry nationwide that would not want that precedent set.

The arts community throughout the state has now mounted a full-court press to fight the tax. It is not clear yet if that fight has a real chance for success. There is a simultaneous "Plan B" of trying to be at the table to ensure that if it is imposed it is structured in a way that does the least damage to this fragile sector - and I include the commercial concert business and small music clubs that are also very fragile right now. Can "memberships" be excluded from the tax - an issue of huge importance to museums?  Would already sold subscriptions for this season be exempted?  Since there has been talk of an "arts fund" being created with at least some of this revenue, can we ensure that these new taxes at the very least go towards ensuring sustained support for arts and culture without cuts at the state level, or maybe even generate some extra $ to go into an actual fund?  Many of the larger arts group had dedicated funding in the past, funding which is now threatened - does this new deal restore those funds with part of this money?  Similarly, funding for heritage museums and sites was also cut in earlier versions of the budget - can this now be restored? Finally, can we find a way to not "double tax" and damage our vital music clubs and concert venues?

This an extremely complicated and rapidly changing issue, and arts leaders and their lobbyists have been aggressively pressing their case. Of course, so have all the other areas negatively impacted by the budget. And ultimately, a balanced state budget is desperately needed. So if this tax is successfully beaten back, it would  probably only be because a substitute revenue stream was found, which is likely to arouse the ire of whatever "special interest" group might be negatively affected by a different new tax or fee.

Also of concern - and this raises a larger issue for our field as a whole - is that it appears this tax was "easy" to impose because of the perception that the arts are an activity benefiting the wealthy, educated elite who can easily pay the extra tax. This tax was not seen to affect a broad public constituency, and therefore was seen as politically easier and less painful to impose because it would have minimal impact on the average citizen. This is one of the biggest challenges our field faces - changing this perception. An even bigger challenge is that for many institutions this percpetion may be accurate. Demographically arts patrons ARE richer, more educated and - frankly - whiter - than the average population. We tout the wealth and education of our patrons when we want to secure a sponsorship from Lexus or BMW, and we love those black tie galas, but when we advocate with the government we are transformed into champions of average folks, school children, diverse populations, the elderly, neighborhood transformation. And we ARE those things as well - the arts touch every citizen whether they know it or not, and have a profound effect on our communities and our lives. We are both sides of that coin, Janus-like, and that makes for very complicated messaging, and challenging advocacy.

More information on the advocacy effort is available here on the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance web site.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Global Creative Economy Convergence Summit 2009

OK, maybe the title is a bit of a mouthful - how many buzzwords can we fit into one conference title? But this upcoming conference in Philly should be really worthwhile for anybody in the creative industries. Full disclosure: I am a little self-interested because 1) I have been serving on the steering committee for the summit, 2) it is in Philly, 3) I am speaking on a panel.

The Global Creative Economy Convergence Summit 2009 features some great keynoters, including Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love; Peter Shankman, founder and CEO of The Geek Factory; Jane McGonigal, Director of Game Research and Development, Institute for the Future;and Randall Kempner, ED of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (part of the Aspen Institute). There are sessions geared towards creative economy entrepreneurs, as well as those more like myself who are looking at this issue more from a public policy and strategy perspective. There are a bunch of tracks, including one on the connection between creative economy and sustainability.

The GCECS conference is being produced by Innovation Philadelphia, and takes place October 5-6 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. You can register here.

I am especially looking forward to the conference, because as my Office shapes its creative economy strategy it will be extremely valuable to soak up ideas and best practices from around the country (and world - Global is in the title after all!).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Arts and "Plan C"

The State House is scheduled to act this Thursday on the bill that would allow the City to close a $700 million gap in its five year budget. Without this action the City will be forced to implement the "Plan C" budget which would be crippling to the City on many fronts, and would effectively eliminate all City cultural programs.

For those that have not been following this saga closely, the budget approved by the City Council and the Mayor required action from Harrisburg on two items - authority to raise the local sales tax by 1%, and some changes in the City's pension plan. The House eventually passed a bill - 1828 - that gave the City what it needed. The Senate then considered the bill and passed it with an array of amendments designed to rein in pension expenses throughout the state. That bill is what is now going back to the House. If the House passes it without amendment it will be signed by the Governor and the City's budget will be balanced. If the House passes a budget with further changes that the Senate does not agree to, the City will be forced to begin the process of implementing Plan C.

In the Arts, Culture and Creative Economy area, this means that notifications will begin going out to the field late tomorrow, providing details on what programs and services will be lost. Much has been written about all the horrible cuts included in Plan C - closure of all branch libraries, closure of recreation centers, 50% reduction in trash pickup, suspension of most programs and operations of Fairmount Park, police officer and fire fighter layoffs. But there has been relatively little coverage of the arts cuts included in Plan C.  Here is a summary of what will be eliminated:

  • All funding and staff or the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, including suspension of the Art in City Hall program and the Public Art program.
  • City funding for the Philadelphia Cultural Fund
  • City support for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Atwater Kent Museum, and African American Museum of Philadelphia
  • City support for Mural Arts Program
  • City funding for Avenue of the Arts
In related areas, the cuts to Commerce will include virtual elimination of the Art Commission and the Historical Commission. Other cultural programs and support that take place through Recreation, Records, City Representative and other departments are also largely eliminated. In terms of timing, staff will be notified if they are being laid off on September 18th, and all cuts and layoffs will become effective as of close of business on October 2nd. This is also when all program eliminations will take effect. If the House and Senate agree prior to September 18th, the notices will never go out, and in fact if there is agreement anytime up until October 2nd, we can pull back from the precipice. After that point, while programs and staffing can still be restored it gets much more complicated. Some staff may take retirement and not be able to or interested in returning to work; they may also find employment elsewhere. It will be complicated in many cases to restart programs, reopen facilities, etc.

There is hope that with pressure from their constituents, state legislators from both legislative bodies and both sides of the aisle will find a compromise before this comes to pass. It goes without saying these cuts will be crippling to the City and a significant blow to its citizens.

The shame of all this - if it does come to pass - is that there was so much hope and so much progress being made in our City arts and culture work and the sector as a whole, despite the difficult economy.

So let us hope this is not the case, that this becomes just a bad memory. BUT, citizens must take action to ensure that Plan C is just a piece of history - it won't happen by itself. Citizens can't just assume it will all work out, or leave it to others to act. And those that care about arts and culture need to ensure their voices are heard - that they care about the cultural life of the City and view these cuts as unacceptable.

Chief Cultural Officers - or whatever titles they have - come and go. But the existence of the Office itself should not come and go. Now that the Office has finally been reopened, let's ensure it stays open, and becomes so firmly established in the coming years that no future economic crisis or change in administration could ever again threaten its very existence.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

"On the Wings of Music": Fostering cross-disciplinary, multi-organization partnership - a case study

I spent part of yesterday watching two huge sculptures by the artist Jun Kaneko be un-crated and erected in the courtyard of City Hall. Very exciting!

The temporary installation of Kaneko's giant "Heads" at City Hall is part of a City-wide celebration that has been dubbed "On the Wings of Music: Art, Opera and You." Stimulated by the Opera Company of Philadelphia's production of Madama Butterfly, which opens on October 9th, a production with set and costume designs by Jun Kaneko, a quite extraordinary multi-faceted partnership has been created:

* From now through 10/24 the two "Heads" will be facing off in the City Hall Courtyard.

* Also through 10/24 five of the artists equally large and dramatic "dango" sculptures will be installed in Commonwealth Plaza of the Kimmel Center.

* From now through April of 2010 the Philadelphia Museum of Art will be displaying four of the "dangos" at their Perelman building.

* The fabrics for the costumes of Madama Butterfuly were custom-made by students at The Fabric Workshop.

* The Locks Gallery, a private art gallery, will be mounting an exhibit of the artists work from 9/22-10/31.

* And, of course, there is the Opera Company production, which runs 10/9-10/18. Plans are afoot to add even more exciting elements, if funding allows. Stay tuned!

The Web site for the program goes live in around 9/8, and is

All of this makes me think how good - relatively speaking - Philly is at these sort of partnerships. People here can be self-critical, talk about how we need more collaboration and partnership, and that is certainly always the case - we can always do better. But I think this partnership is just one of many examples of multi-faceted, multi-organization, public/private partnerships that seem to happen a lot here. I frankly think such partnership is the wave of future, not just here, but throughout the country and even the world. Even the largest arts organizations need to learn how to forge partnerships, for example: to serve underserved communities not by trying to duplicate the work of community-based organizations or compete with them, but to PARTNER with them.

I encourage everyone to check out Kaneko's work all over town!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Design Philadelphia 2009

It was gently brought to my attention that in highlighting NxtUp Philly in a recent post, I had not really devoted much attention to the individual components of that initative. Let's start with Design Philadelphia 2009.

Design Philadelphia 2008 was happening right about the time I was starting my position last October, and I have to say it was a great introduction to the robust design sector in Philadelphia, as well as the City's ability to come together and make great things happen. This is largest event of its kind nationwide, and just blew me away. So what is it? Here is how they describe it:

From October 7th to 13th 2009, over 125 diverse and dynamic exhibitions, lectures, building tours, book signings, open studios, runway shows, and workshops will take place in boutiques, galleries, museums, universities, warehouses and city streets, underscoring the impact creative industries are having on Philadelphia and the region.

As the city evolves from its industrial past, it is building a future founded upon knowledge, networks, and culture. We have a unique environment for design exploration and development ­­– an incubator – for students and professionals alike. In this setting, DesignPhiladelphia is making the case for the way in which design is central to economic, social and cultural growth.

DesignPhiladelphia emerged in 2005 to unite the design disciplines – from architecture to interior design, fashion to product design, multi-media to graphic design – and celebrate their contribution to this renaissance. This citywide cultural initiative recognizes this region’s distinguished design history and celebrates its contemporary significance as a center for creative advancement.

One of the things we struggle with in the arts, I think, is the increasingly gray area between for-profit art and non-profit art, between "art" and "design." The great thing abut Design Philadelphia is that it does away with those artificial dividers, and engages nonprofit arts organizations, for profit design firms, individual artists - and the entire city of Philadelphia - in an exploration of "everything design." Very cool!

Friday, August 28, 2009

NxtUp Philly brings together an array of creative economy events this fall

Philly is not only home to a robust arts, culture and heritage sector. It also has a thriving creative economy. Coming up this fall is the Global Creative Economy Convergence Summit, Design Philadelphia, Ignite Philly Fashion Week, etc.

NxtUp Philly brings together all these events and others with a 12-day calendar of events starting Oct. 5. It provides a showcase of creativity and innovation. Anyone in art, design, film, business, architecture, fashion, food, and any other creative field can post a program to the event calendar at

There’s no charge for listing. You’ll be able to preview and edit at later date if need be. The events calendar will go live on September 10th and be supported with advertising [City Paper], postcard and other promotions.If you enter your events in next three days they will be listed in a dedicated City Paper insert which will run Oct 1. So there are plenty of opportunities to extend the reach for free.

The organizers for NxtUp Philly include Josette Bonafino, executive director of the Multicultural Youth eXchange; Ian Cross, CEO of I-SITE; Hilary Jay, founder and director of DesignPhiladelphia and executive director of the Design Center at Philadelphia University; Neil Kleinman, professor of multimedia and communication and senior fellow in the Corzo Center for the Creative Economy at the University of the Arts; Kelly Lee, CEO and president of Innovation Philadelphia; Scott Tattar, senior vice president and director of public relations at LevLane Advertising and Public Relations.

And, of course, once the site goes live you can use to navigate the huge array of events that will be going on during October related to creative businesses.

Great Philly coverage in today's New York Times!

Today's New York Times features not just one but TWO major stories highlighting Philadelphia culture. 
This story  covers an array of less well known Philadelphia cultural organizations and spaces, including Fluxspace, and a new Mural Arts Program installation in West Philly called "Love Letters." It also celebrates our robust food scene, including the wealth of BYOBs. The other story is a review of the new Duchamp show at Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Mural Arts Project piece also got some nice coverage in the Wall Street Journal.

I think these stories are a reminder of the work of national and international significance that is taking place in Philadelphia every day. It has become almost a stereotype that Philly locals don't appreciate what is in their own backyard. Attention like this from the outside helps to reaffirm our extraordinary cultural (and culinary arts!) assets. I suppose one of my advantages in doing my job is that in many ways I DO see Philadelphia with the eyes of an outsider, and can truly appreciate it all, without taking it for granted.

Getting started!

Welcome to my blog! Don't know where this will be take me, but thought it would be useful to (to me and perhaps to others) to periodically muse about the issues I am observing and grappling with.

It is clear that arts and culture as a sector is especially challenged in our difficult economy. Our share of private philanthropy, after some years of slowly creeping back up after many years of decline, now seems to be slipping back down again. many funders are seeing the arts as less important given the crisis being faced by many human services areas facing their own huge challenges.

But are we in part to blame for this situation?  Have arts organizations and arts leaders failed to make a persuasive "value proposition" case for what they do as having real social value?  Is it that the work itself is not resonating with the public as powerful and relevant?  Have we inappropriately equated "popular" with "pandering" and developed an attitude that is in fact somewhat elitist?  I am not saying all these things are true, just these are questions I ask myself, and I think we all must ask ourselves.

Here in Philadelphia, our arts culture and heritage sector is extremely robust and vital to our community. Yet, for all its success and scope, it is also fragile, and I wonder if the downturn takes too long to recover, how much of the sector will survive. I worry if the "best" organizations, the ones doing the most dynamic or relevant work will survive, or just the ones with one or more board members with deep pockets. I worry how well the sector as a whole is serving the ENTIRE community, which includes vast numbers of people in poverty, far removed (geographically and socially) from our Center City. And if we are not serving this broader population well, are we truly fulfilling our role as public charities, even if we are creating great art?  As someone who must look at the arts from a public benefit perspective, these are things that occupy my thoughts. Of course, there is the economic benefit of the arts, which ultimately benefits the entire City, as it generates tax revenue and jobs, especially in the hospitality industry.

It is looking increasingly likely that the City will get the legislation it needs from Harrisburg that will allow us to avoid the horrific cuts that would otherwise have been required. that means that funding of our cultural programs will be saved, including support for my Office, which was slated for elimination. There are so many exciting plans for the future and I am pleased it looks like we will be able to "live to fight another day."