Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Rocco comes to Philly

Yesterday was a jam-packed day, with NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman's whirlwind visit to the City of Brotherly Live and Sisterly Affection. The visit was documented in an article in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. It was great to be cited as "a model arts city."  After a morning meeting with the staff of The Reinvestment Fund, Rocco and the rest of the NEA visitors, which also included Deputy Chair Joan Shigekawa, our little band went on a quick tour of the City's cultural sites, but with a special emphasis on the role of the arts in neighborhood transformation. Rocco has been a big fan of the work done by Jeremy Nowak and the Reinvestment Fund in partnership with Mark Stern and his Social Impact of the Arts groip at University of Pennsylvania. In fact that work was funded by The Rockefeller Foundation when Joan was there before moving to NEA. We drove by Painted Bride and had a stop at Asian Arts Initiative before ending up at Crane Arts for a tour and a group conversation with about 25 invited arts and civic leaders. Despite his crazy budget-address-week schedule the Mayor was even able to stop by for a bit, which was a great emblem of the kind of importance he places on the arts and creative industry in the City.

The lively conversation touched on many issues, such as: The role of the City in fostering cultural revitalization of communities. How to avoid the gentrification which so often follows. Whether to invest in communities where there are naturally developing clusters of activity, or focus on neighborhoods where there is a virtual absence arts of activity. How to engage the many areas of local, state and federal budgets that are not arts-specific but should be investing in the arts as part of achieving their goals (transportation, HUD, commerce, etc.). This is something Landesman has been really working on at the national level, and I hear he has been making real headway building dialogue with Cabinet members that should lead to some concrete initiatives.

Then we had more touring - a stop at the site of the future home of Taller Puertoriquenno, a quick visit to Please Touch, and then ending with a stop at the public-private partnership of World Cafe Live with WXPN. Throughout Landesman was truly engaged, attentive and curious. Very impressive!  And of course along the entire trip we saw MANY murals and Jane Golden was along to give a little background on each of them. And we learned in the course of conversation that Rocco's grandfather was actually a muralist who emigrated to St. Louis from Europe to paint murals here.

The day ended with a panel discussion put together by University of Pennsylvania at the University Museum. The panel conversation was preceded by a tribute to Peggy Amsterdam by David Thornburgh of the Fels Institute of Government at Penn, and a keyonte address by Rocco. The diverse panel featured the directors of Ballet Austin and the National Council on Traditional Artsl, Mark Stern from Penn, Greg Rowe from Pew, and musician Donald Harrison. The panel was moderated by Nick Spitzer, host and producer of the NPR program "American Routes."

I think a big take-away of the day was that here in Philadelphia people often see the glass as half empty. We are acutely aware of what we are not doing, what we could do better: the neighborhoods that have not yet benefited from having a vital cultural infusion, the usual tug between supporting our cultural jewels and supporting emerging arts, and community-based arts, the challenge of better supporting the entrepreneurial creative community, the need to support the culture of our immigrant populations. (just to name a few...) It is refreshing and gratifying to be reminded that viewed objectively from the outside, we have been doing a lot really well and need to be proud of that. This is what drew me to Philadelphia in the first place. It was great to see that Rocco looks at Philly through the same eyes that I do, and really likes what he sees.

1 comment:

  1. Great posting, Gary - and you are right, it sure does make you proud of what all we have going on in Philly!