Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cultural Journalism - Alive and Well in Philadelphia? (Or At Least Not Dead...)

Much has been written about the decline of cultural journalism in America, an outgrowth of the larger challenges being faced in the journalism sector. The now defunct Columbia University National Arts  Journalism Program published a study in 2003 "Reporting the Arts II" that followed the original "Reporting the Arts" that was published in 1999. RTAII found that during this period when the number of arts organizations was growing, editorial coverage of the arts was flat or shrinking in most markets. Philadelphia was one of the cities studied and here is the link to the Philadelphia section of the report. The big news at that time was a dramatic decline in the average length of arts and culture stories, though the number of stories remained steady. And perhaps it is not a coincidence that the National Arts Journalism Program itself at Columbia now longer exists

Now the Knight Journalism program has partnered with the National Endowment for the Arts  to launch the Knight/NEA Community Arts Journalism Challenge, designed to find a solution to how cultural journalism  can survive and even flourish in an environment where many communities have lost their daily newspapers - the primary source of arts media coverage - or seen a sharp decline in the space devoted to the arts, as well as number of arts journalists employed. Five proposals were funded with $20,000 grants to further develop their ideas, and three organization will get an additional $80,000 for implementation. One of the selected ideas was in Philadelphia: a partnership between the Philadelphia Daily News and Drexel University to expand arts coverage by using Drexel student journalists to generate some of their content, called "Art Attack." This effort is already underway.

But I have to say, for all the talk of gloom and doom in local cultural journalism, I believe Philadelphia is faring pretty well, and we should not lose sight of that. Yes, our daily newspapers have struggled, and, yes, I am sure it is a challenge for the remaining arts beat writers. I suspect the writing staff has been reduced, perhaps compensation cut, column inches reduced. Yet, robust and engaging reporting and criticism is still happening and a very high level. The recent three part series of articles by Peter Dobrin on the Curtis Institute is a great example of that. Here are links to the first article, the second article, and the third article. That is a lot of "ink" for in-depth coverage of a classical music education story. But even more notable, is that all this coverage is clustered under a multi-media area of the Inquirer's Website called The Curtis Factor, which includes even more content, including video as well as a new piece of music commissioned by the paper from a Curtis composer as part of the story. I can't remember ever hearing of a newspaper commissioning a piece of music as part of a story.

We also have at the Inquirer and Daily News excellent reporters like Stephan Salisbury, who covers general stories about the arts that have elements of policy, civic and community issues, etc. Not to mention writers/critics like Howard Shapiro, David Patrick Stearns, Inga Saffron, Wendy Rosenfield, Toby Zinman, Carrie Rickey, Molly Eichel, Ed Sozanski, Gary Thompson (and all those Drexel students participating in the Art Attack program). I know I am missing some - apologies and please don't hold it against me, whoever you are! We even had the Inquirer recently publish an editorial citing our recent Number One ranking for Culture from Travel + Leisure and calling on policy makers to "face up to the need to create a sustainable funding source for the cultural assets that, even with strained government and corporate help, manage to earn so much praise." This was the second such arts-centric editorial in the past few months, the first being inspired by the recent Portfolio report issued by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.

And then there is the cultural coverage offered by such other print publications as Philadelphia Weekly, Metro Philadelphia, the Tribune, City Paper, Al Dia and Philadelphia Magazine. Most of them offer both reviews as well as thoughtful and important longer pieces such as the recent profile in Philly Mag by Stephen Fried (and most also have listings). A new arrival is JUMP Philly magazine which covers the local music scene, with occasional forays into other art forms. And I am not even mentioning the many regional newspapers and magazines that also cover Philadelphia's cultural scene.)

On the Web, radio and TV we have Peter Crimmins at WHYY radio, as well as the arts-related coverage offered by Newsworks, a program of WHYY.  On WHYY-TV we have FridayArts, a wonderful arts-focused news magazine program. Also on the radio at WRTI we have Jim Cotter and Susan Lewis and the "Creatively Speaking" program. While not journalism per se we have excellent representation on the radio in terms of paying attention to local musical artists in their airplay from WHYY, WRTI and WXPN. in addition, WXPN has their "The Key" program specifically covering the local music scene.

We have Websites and blogs like Broad Street Review, ArtBlog, and LocalArtsLive. Libby Rosof and Roberta Fallon at The Art Blog, in addition to their blog, also produce a regular audio podcast and video content.(Their ArtBlog radio takes place via Newsworks). And in addition to my blog, and the sites cited above, there are countless other blogs covering and commenting on the Philadelphia cultural scene. I am not going to get into the larger argument over whether such blogs constitute journalism, but they certainly help add to the dialogue, spark conversation and promote interest in cultural activities.

Is it perfect? Of course not. Is the community always happy with the quality and/or nature of the coverage they get? I doubt it. I don't mean to minimize the mighty challenges being faced by cultural journalism and journalists.

But my sense is that compared to other communities we are doing pretty well in terms of media coverage of arts and culture, both in terms of quality and quantity. It is a diverse media universe that encompasses both traditional print and broadcast media, as well as growing web-based and other media. Is it just that the gloom and doom sweeping the country has just not hit us yet? Perhaps, but I think something else is going on. I think the scrappiness and ingenuity that is part of Philadelphia's culture, and informs our arts and creative business community, is also reflected in our cultural journalism. Stuff is percolating here. "Legacy" publications are working to find new models. New efforts on the web - and even in print, like JUMP - are popping up. Entrepreneurs are somehow finding a way to make it work. And I think we - the cultural policy and arts workers - need to take a moment to acknowledge the efforts of our cultural journalists, even if we don't always agree with them. Our relationship with them is symbiotic - we need each other. And their efforts every day help make the Philadelphia cultural scene as robust and dynamic as it is.

Note: in the links above, for general interest publications I have tried where possible to link to the cultural coverage area of their website.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Philadelphia Ranked #1 for Culture by Travel + Leisure

Every year Travel + Leisure magazine runs a poll as part of its "America's Favorite Cities" feature. Readers of the magazine and visitors to their Web site are invited to rate cities on a wide array of criteria, both their own city as well as other cities they visit.

It is exciting news in Philadelphia that in 2011, this poll resulted in Philadelphia being named by visitors the #1 city in the nation for Culture. This is quite a coup, given the competition and how Philadelphia has ranked in the past. In 2010 we ranked #10 for culture. Here is the link to the 2011 results.

Now, the survey is really not scientific, but it still is a great barometer of the growing stature and recognition of the cultural scene in Philadelphia, which encompasses both arts and heritage. There are four sub-categories in "Culture": Historical sites/monuments, where we ranked #1 (up from #6); Theatre/performing arts, where we ranked #5 (up from #18); Classical music, where we ranked #2 (up from #10); and Museums/galleries, at #5 (up from #8). Live (non-classical) music is a category under "Nightlife" which also includes bars, singles scene, cocktails, etc. In this category we were up from 28 to 9.

So Culture is not the only area where Philadelphia made a big leap in the rankings, though it is the only area where we are now #1. In "Food, Drink and Restaurants" the city went from #22 to #3. In "Shopping" Philadelphia went from #30 (out of 35) to #5, and in the creative economy-related sub-category of "home decor and design" we rose from 29 to 9.

What is also gotten a lot of attention is the perception that the survey also ranks Philadelphia as relatively unwelcoming and dirty and Philadelphians as unattractive and unstylish. While there is some truth to that take on the ratings, there is also a lot more nuance. On the category "Quality of Life and Visitor Experience" we went from 31 to 18, with big improvements in "public transit and pedestrian friendliness" and in "public parks and outdoor access." Under the "People" category, in "Diversity" we went from 20 to 5, and in "Stylish" we went form 32 to 17. In "athletic/active" we went from 33 to 21, but it is important to note there are no East Coast cities in the top ten, which include places like Denver, San Diego, Seattle, Portland and Austin, known for their outdoorsy, athletic lifestyles. And yes, under "attractive" we are #25, but that is an increase from 33 last year. And, yes, we are #30 for "cleanliness", but in 2010 we were #34, and cities like New York City, Baltimore, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas , Miami and Memphis are also in the bottom ten in this category. W can't be in the top for everything.

Faced off "head to head" - a cool feature of the T+L web site, Philadelphia tops NYC, LA, Boston, Chicago, DC and Miami, some of our top competitors both for tourism and talent. The only other major City that seem to "beat" Philly in a head-to-head match-up for over-all rankings is San Francisco.

Another factor that bears mentioning is that Philadelphia is one of the few - if not only - cities where the residents consistently rank the City lower than visitors. Even in Culture, our ranking by residents puts us at #3 (tied with DC and Boston) as compared to #1 by visitors. This is clearly the much-discussed negativity about itself that still persists in Philadelphia. It is not a coincidence that the recent "Creative Connectors" project of Leadership Philadelphia, which selected 76 people as the leaders in connecting the creative sector, found that roughly 70% of the "connectors" were people that had moved to Philadelphia. This challenge of the City's negative self-perception was even evidenced in the press coverage of the great news about the Travel + Leisure ranking. In the Daily News, the story did not explicitly mention that we were rated #1, or what a significant leap this was in the ranking, and it also paired the news by emphasizing we were "bashed for being dirty, dangerous and home to some rather grumpy residents." We seem incapable of accepting good news without pairing it with a "yeah, but..."

On a more serious note, I also think we need to consider that the reason Philadelphia residents may rate their own city lower than visitors, is that they do not see the same City as visitors. They take our cultural and other assets for granted and are often unaware of the depth and breadth of what is here, in their own backyard. We are now discussing with the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation (GPTMC) and others some ideas about how we could better promote the city's assets to residents as effectively as we are selling the city to visitors. And while they are probably not the residents who filled out the Travel + Leisure survey, we also have vast numbers of residents who through poverty and lack of education and opportunity are not able to take advantage of our rich cultural assets. That also needs to be addressed.

Bravo to the cultural community, our artists, GPTMC, the Convention and Visitor's Bureau, the City Representative's Office, The Center City District and other BIDs and CDCs, and everyone else involved in both producing and maintaining our cultural assets, and communicating them to our visitors. This is a great city, that is only getting better every day.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Thoughts on Time, Age and Children

I know that my blog is usually pretty tightly focused on issues of professional interest, around arts, culture and creative economy. But as many readers of my blog may know, on August 27th I also became the father of a new baby daughter, and that has gotten me thinking about the nature of time and aging, especially as a somewhat "older" dad.

Dana Carvey - Grumpy Old Man
I feel sometimes like Dana Carvey's "Grumpy Old Man" character on the old SNL. (Here is a link for those that don't remember:  I know it is a stereotype at this point, but sometimes I am just astonished at how much the world has changed in my adult life, and with the accelerating pace of change it is mind-boggling to think how the world may be transformed by the time my newborn is an adult.

Xerox Telecopier, circa 1975
I am not that old and yet I remember working in an office - a United States Congressman - where some of the first modern fax (or telecopier) machines were installed. They used that old thermal paper that curled up and smelled like something was burning while a fax was coming in, and the system only worked with paired machines - we could only send faxes between our own offices in DC and NY. Someone would make a phone call and then you would have to manually put the receiver in the cradle of the fax machine. As primitive as that all sounds now it was a revelation at the time. To have a speechwriter type a draft of the speech in DC, fax it to NY, have the Congressman edit it and then fax it back for finalizing: brilliant!

IBM 8088, circa 1981
Just a few years after that I was the Managing Director of the Vineyard Theatre in NY when a helpful board member bought for me one of these newfangled IBM personal computer things - the original IBM 8088, with MS-DOS. You had to "swap floppies" - load one floppy drive to "boot up" the operating system and install your software into memory (Lotus 123 or Wordperfect as I recall), then remove that disk to install the disk with your files on it. Sometimes if you executed a command, like spell check, you would ask to remove your data disk, install a second program disk, and then swap again. The monitor was the old monochrome "green screen" variety, and you had to learn how to use that tauntingly simple but often infuriatingly cryptic "command prompt": c:\.  And yet, as primitive as this sounds, in light of what we have to work with today, it was revolutionary at the time in terms of my productivity. I could do MAIL MERGES - send out dozens, or even hundreds - of personalized letters to donors or subscribers. I could create spreadsheets that allowed me to enter a formula changing the assumption of percent of paid seating capacity sold from 65% to 75% and have the entire income statement recalculate numbers. (Of course, I printed those spreadsheets on a dot-matrix printer with pin-feed striped ledger paper - another now defunct technology!) This literally eliminated hours and hours of work with green ledger paper and an old fashioned adding machine. There are just a couple of examples of how this then very new, now very primitive, technology, was in fact a miraculous productivity booster - things we take for granted now used to be onerous chores.

Treo 300 - 2002
The list goes on and on - the first computerized theatrical lighting systems, database and contact management software, e-mail, the Internet, the Web, my first "Palm Pilot" Personal Digital Assistant, before there even were smartphones, let alone cell phones, followed by my first Treo 300 smart phone in 2002 - again, in its time, a miraculous productivity booster - I could be out of the out of the office at meetings for a full day and still get email, check my schedule, look up addresses and phone numbers, make notes, AND make and receive phone calls.

I still remember when my oldest daughter was maybe about 4 - perhaps 1990 or so - and got a birthday gift of a toy typewriter. She pulled it out of the box and exclaimed "Wow - a computer!" - I knew then that the days of the already dying IBM Selectric were surely VERY numbered. In her world "keyboard" already meant "computer". Typewriters were for the museum.Now that 20-something daughter is part of the generation that is steadily dropping their use of e-mail in favor of texting and social media.

So the world my new child enters may be radically transformed within just a few short years, in ways that if I could predict I would have had the success of Steve Jobs.

And yet - AND YET - think how much still remains the same,, and how constant the arts remain in our humanity. Symphony orchestras still make the original "wall of sound" (due respect to Phil Spector who brought it to pop music), and there is no substitute for listening to this music live in a concert hall. We still hold our children, and talk to them, and sing to them, and dance around with them. Artists make art (yes, some now use technology in their art and the nature of visual art is changing - no disconnect between art and technology) and many of those actually still use paint and canvas, pen and paper (Claes Oldenburg chose the paintbrush as the motif for his "Paint Torch" sculpture because the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts - PAFA - is an art school and museum still rooted in the tradition of painting.) We still glory in planting and tending gardens, and in transforming fresh ingredients into delicious home-cooked meals in the kitchen, and eating food communally, with family and friends. We still ride bicycles - an invention of the 19th century - to get around our 21st Century city, and increasingly recognize the practicality and utility of this "ancient" mode of transportation/recreation.  The Knight Foundation's Soul of the Community study found that the things that attaches us to place are communal social gathering opportunities like the arts, the physical beauty of the community - like the built environment, parks and green space, and openness. Might not the findings have been similar in Ancient Athens?

Finally, while it also has become trite to opine that "40 is the new 30", "60 is the new 50" etc., there is truth to the fact that we are living longer (and in better physical shape) and now view what used to be a time of "winding down" or retirement, as a time vibrancy and change. WE change personally now, reinvent ourselves, the way technology is so rapidly transformed. People change careers, move to new cities, start new families, learn new skills and art forms in a way that would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago. I still play basketball three times a week, and intend to keep doing it as look as exercise and ligaments (and luck) will allow me to. And I intend to be there at my newborn daughter's college graduation and maybe even celebrate with a little on one-on-one hoops with her. I don't think this is just a creation of Boomers who want to extend their middle age indefinitely. I think this is the new normal.

Musings of a sleep-deprived new/old father!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A-Plus Art - Student Art Celebrated at City Hall

Antonio Williams, Carver High School, 10th Grade
The newest show at the Art Gallery at City Hall is "A-Plus Art." This exhibition continues a tradition we began last year, where we partner with the School District of Philadelphia to cull the best art from their annual summer art exhibition at the School District headquarters (2,000 pieces!) and select about 50 pieces to be exhibited at City Hall.

This show once again highlights the extraordinary artwork being done by our young Philadelphia students: their dedication, talent, and discipline. Their work is made possible by the dedication and skill of their art teachers, and by the support of their parents. Without all these elements success is nearly impossible. The work covers a a wide array of ages/grades, and also many different neighborhoods of the City. (See the map and list of schools below)

The exhibit will culminate in a panel discussion on arts education on arts education issues, as well as a closing reception where every young artist will be presented with a certificate from the Mayor, recognizing the honor of being exhibited in City Hall.
Ricky Lee, Hancock Elementary, 2nd Grade

I blogged a few weeks ago about why arts education is important, a piece that was later adapted for Lorene Cary's blog. I encourage those who have not seen it to take a look (here is the link), if you need to strengthen the case that arts education is crucial not just for artistic and social reasons, but for economic development reasons as well. Recent unfortunate incidences of anti-social behavior by young people have obscured the fact that we have vast numbers of talented, dedicated, engaged young citizens in this City. The arts can play an important role in the lives of young people, and frankly resources invested in arts education in the long run save money that would otherwise have to be invested in law enforcement and prisons. Given the current challenges at the School District, we need informed and passionate advocates for the importance of arts education now, more than ever.

If you want to be inspired about the future of our City, represented by the young people who ARE the future, come to this show! [Exhibition closes September 30th]


Art Gallery at City Hall is open Monday-Friday (except holidays) 10-4. It is in Room 116 of City Hall, which can be accessed without going through security. Enter the East portal and turn right into City Hall inside the portal. Gallery will be on your right. The closing reception is September 30th, 4:30-7 PM. And the panel discussion will be in City Hall (room TBD) at 3:30 PM (Check here for more details, call 215-686-9912, or e-mail

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Some thoughts on Environmental Art

Jeanne Jaffe - Little Red Riding Hood as a Crime Scene (Schuylkill Center)

I was able to spend the day earlier this week at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education and spend some time taking in Facts and Fables: Stories of the Natural World, their new art installation. The installation explores how stories - narrative - affect our understanding of nature. The artists are Jeremy Beaudrey, David Dempewolf, Brian Collier, Chad Curtis, Susan Hagen, Blane De St-Croix, and Jeanne Jaffe.

The environmental art department at the Schuylkill Center is a truly important and unique component of Philadelphia's cultural scene - bringing together artists with the resources of naturalists and environmental educators to use art to raise awareness of the environment. Kudo's to Mary Salvante for founding this program, to Jenny Laden for leading it now, and to the Center itself for sustaining this commitment to the role the art can play in fulfilling its mission.

The art is definitely worth a visit, and if you have not yet been to the Center, make the trip. Yet another hidden Philadelphia gem and evidence that this City is filled with more green space and "wilderness' than any other major American City. While there we had an interesting dialogue about the different variations of "art and the environment" - from art that may comment on or illuminate an environmental issue, to art that may actually use the environment in the execution of the piece, or art that is designed to actually impact the environment in a positive way.

A great example of the last category is Mel Chin's "Revival Field" piece, that involved constructing an installation of plants in a contaminated field, plants that were specifically chosen due to their scientifically researched capacity to leach certain contaminants from the soil,  naturally, over time.His more recent Fundred Dollar Bill Project, to address soil contamination in New Orleans, while more conceptual and playful, still has as its ultimate goals CHANGING for the better our environment.

Mel Chin - Revival Field

Another example of art that does more than comment on the environment but actually interacts with it would be Soil Kitchen, the temporary installation by the artist collaborative FutureFarmers that the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy brought to Philadelphia earlier this year.

FutureFarmers - Soil Kitchem study

It is important to distinguish this work from the land art movement, like Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty (Smithson in fact coined the term "land art"). Not to do diminish the value of this work. Works like Spiral Jetty and Roden Crater by James Turrell, can have an extraordinary majesty and mystery, and an intimate relationship with nature and light. They are designed to change based on environmental changes and time. But they are not designed to specifically change the environment in a positive way, or even make an environmental statement. My conversation with Jenny Laden and Theresa Rose from my staff got me thinking about this important distinction.

Smithson - Spiral Jetty (from Wikipedia)

The role that artists can play in helping to address environmental and sustainability issues is something of great interest to me and my Office. We have been in discussions with the Mayor's Office of Sustainability about a deeper partnership, and have also been in discussions with the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation about how temporary public art can help raise awareness of, and interest in, the Delaware waterfront, which could also involve exploring wetlands and water quality issues. It is great to have so many great partners and organizations of like mind in Philadelphia (like the Schuylkill Center) - look for lots more great project to come in the coming years!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Deconstructing the Department of Alternative Affairs

The current exhibition at the Art Gallery at City Hall is called "The Department of Alternative Affairs" and it is a collaboration between three artist collective groups in Philadelphia: Little Berlin, Extra Extra, and FluxSpace. One of the especially vibrant aspects of Philadelphia's visual arts scene is a growing number of artist collectives, some (but not all) of which may also have physical spaces, usually in areas of the City where really affordable space can be found. We thought it would be valuable to invite in three of these collectives and give them the opportunity to figure out how they would like to use the gallery space.

What they have chosen to do is create a new "City agency" for the duration of their exhibit called "The Department of Alternative Affairs" (DAA). This conceit is carried through in the installation of desks and other office equipment in the space, at which members of the groups actually do their work. There are also performative aspects of the installation as well - more info below.

It is an interesting challenge for a public gallery space like this one to present work of this sort of a conceptual nature, and something we debated about a lot. There is probably more explanatory signage than the groups would have preferred, and the artists really wanted to make the DAA as "official" as possible, including an actual City web site, City email addresses, and City ID badges (not something we were able to do - but they found a way to create great "faux" elements that utilize the City seal). I think this tension is healthy. The majority of our visitors are tourists and City workers, or people in the building to deal with a City agency - not a traditional gallery audience. As a result we - and the artists who are sometimes on site - must spend a lot of time talking about the nature of art, and explaining what conceptual art is. Lots of folks peek into the gallery through our glass door - see some desks and chairs and lack of "art" on the walls, and are hesitant to come inside. The show has gotten some nice press coverage from Peter Crimmins on WHYY, as well as from DoN Brewer on Philly Side Arts.

I asked the director of our exhibitions programs, Tu Huyn, to provide his thoughts on the show. Here is what he had to say:

"The only attitude (the only politics--judicial, medical, pedagogical and so forth) I would absolutely condemn is one which, directly or indirectly, cuts off the possibility of an essentially interminable questioning, that is, an effective and thus transforming questioning."
 - Jacques Derrida, Points…Interviews 1974-1994

It has been 50 years since Jacques Derrida founded "Deconstruction", a philosophy and rigorous form of textual criticism that breaks apart structured modes of thinking revealing its flawed parts.  Through this questioning of the language used to build the foundations of our thinking, we are left with further questions about power and ethics, whether or not a restructuring of the way we think is possible, is the "immediacy" and existential process championed in Modern Art an illusion that is perpetually delayed...on and on?  Essentially, the introduction of deconstruction is an important chapter to the evolution of artists, writers, creative people as critics (and self-criticism of institutions) who not only question of the nature of art and its traditions (be it Western), but by doing so open up a questioning of cultural values and social structures.  Artists became institutional critics.  New structures of thinking emerged, post-structuralists in the age of Postmodernism, Feminism, social activists...the necessary progression of society.

This current exhibit revisits some of these challenges from a generation ago, even using some of its vocabulary, such as "hierarchy/non-hierarchical", "institutional critique" and "structure".  So, while the presentation of art isn't traditionally framed by a white wall or a pedestal, it has its historical context, its precedent in the Postmodern era.  That does not mean that these questions are irrelevant today even though the institutional critics of the 70s are now well established and accepted by the institutions of museums and the art world.  There will always be questions such as: what is art, what it should be, how it can be used, how it is used (as a vehicle, utility, forum...), who should be its authority and whether or not there should be such an entity to begin with, what role art plays in society, what does art do, what is the role of government and the arts, how can art be more accessible, what's the difference between fine art, commercial art, student art and who is to decide on this separation, its quality...on and on?  These are ongoing conversations, and they are healthy ones to have.

We are part of government and as Peter Crimmins from WHYY wrote in his article, we are an "agency up to its neck in city bureaucracy and politics."  So does an exhibit like this hurt the OACCE, seeing that it can also be regarded as a critique of our government hierarchical structure?  I think the opposite, that by allowing these upcoming artists to showcase their ideas about art, the art gallery becomes a forum to discuss these issues and at the same time highlight these three progressive artist-run spaces, their values and alternative approach to the artistic process.  We are embracing this emerging, experimental art scene and the overall spirit of artists as collaborators.  Their artistic process is a collaborative process, a non-hierarchical structure devoid of the traditional curator.  These artists are their own curators, not to mention, they are self-published, their own fundraisers, administrators, cheerleaders, volunteers....That is the other picture that's being presented in this exhibit.  As nonprofit, grassroots organizations that are run by artists, they are also proving that even though they do not sell a lot of art or seldom showcase works that are traditional objects worthy of sales, their work do in fact provide a valuable service.  The questioning of art traditions, cultural values, hierarchical structures is an old endeavor, but it is still a relevant exercise.

On Mondays, Daniel Wallace from Extra Extra puts on his pagan robe and meditates beside EE's video installation depicting a collection of tension building and collapsing moments, colliding and retreating structures.  On WHYY's, Peter Crimmins states that Wallace's Meditation Mondays is a pun on corporate focus groups.  While it happens as part of the Department of Alternative Affairs - one can make that connection - but I think it is also reflective or metaphorical of their creative process - art as necessary collapse and reconstitution of ideas.  The tension comes from duality, contradictory forces, which can mean many things obviously but Wallace's presence is a break from Western duality and introduces a triangle.  The third entity being the artist in reflection and meditation.

The microfilm reader questions the values of technological advances by looking at an obsolete piece of machinery.  Some things are lost information is transferred, digitized, such as the character of the newspaper, the advertisements, the elements that capture a time period, etc.  FLUXspace is also concerned about the accessibility of art - the mundane object is now placed in a new context as a work of art and has new value, which presents the notion that anything can be regarded as art.

Little Berlin is producing an exhibit called "authorLESSity", which asks anyone to email an image that he or she considers as great art.  They will print it out and make an exhibit (in whatever format) during the closing event on July 29th 5-7 pm.  They are also signing up other artists to work in the space and form further collaborations.

An end to this experimental collaboration may include further videos by Extra Extra working in the space, building sculptures...We will soon see.

Here is the official description of the show, with all the show details:

The Department of Alternative Affairs

The City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy introduces its summer emerging artists exhibition: The Department of Alternative Affairs.  Three artist-run collectives from the emerging Kensington art scene present a collaborative project as the new Department of Alternative Affairs.  Featured artists from Extra Extra, FLUXspace and Little Berlin are utilizing City Hall’s art gallery as a non-hierarchical workspace to create, perform and educate visitors about their respective organizations and Philadelphia's creative climate.  

Participating Artists:
Extra Extra: Derek Frech, Joe Lacina and Daniel Wallace.
FLUXspace: Nike Desis, Angela Jerardi, Susanna Gieske and Warren Miller.
Little Berlin: Kristen Neville-Taylor and Martha Savery (founders), Beth Heinly,
Kelani Nichole, Tim Pannell, Masha Badinter, Tyler Kline and Maria Dumlao.

The Department of Alternative Affairs (DAA) is the second emerging artist show in the Art Gallery at City Hall since the gallery opened in June of 2010.  This annual invitation to grass roots arts organizations is an opportunity to sample Philadelphia’s dynamic visual arts scene and to continually gain insight on the creative people behind it.  This year, the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy - with assistance from an independent City Hall Exhibitions Advisory Committee - is highlighting artist-run spaces, their values and creative, curatorial processes as an alternative to more traditional presentations and notions of art. 

The Art Gallery at City Hall has been transformed into office workspace where members of the DAA are serving a residency. The gallery is a stage for conceptual performances and a platform to educate and discuss the state of today’s artists as administrators, curators and volunteer workers at group-run art spaces operating on shoe-string budgets.  It’s an opportunity to recognize their uncompromising, yet collaborative spirit, and their challenge to accepted cultural values and structured modes of thinking. Each organization is presenting an installation of desks (two were created by the artists) and office furniture with unique mission statements.  Depending on which artist is on hand, each day may be a different experience for visitors.  During their residency, artists may forge collaborations as they interact with City Hall visitors and staff in this experimental process.

“This use of the gallery is a break from the tradition of art presentation and is a reflection of the unique process and sensibility of these three organizations,” says Mary Salvante, Chair of the City Hall Exhibitions Advisory Committee. “It is new ground for the gallery program as it provides an opportunity for the general public to be engaged by the artists and the installation in a nontraditional context.”

The Department of Alternative Affairs has extended gallery hours scheduled for Wednesdays 7/6, 7/13, 7/20, 7/27 from 5 – 8 pm;  an Open Web Studio workshop by Little Berlin on Monday, 7/18 from 5 – 8pm.  A closing reception, which will be a culmination of their experiences in City Hall will take place on Friday, July 29th, from 5-7 pm.

To learn more about the Department of Alternative Affairs, visit: 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Our Town Grants Announced by NEA

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) just now announced the recipients of grants under their new "Our Town" arts and placemaking initiative. $6.575 million in grants will go to 51 communities in 34 states that have created public-private partnerships to strengthen the arts while shaping the social, physical, and economic characters of their neighborhoods, towns, cities, and regions. NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman made the announcement during a press conference this afternoon. The full NEA press release and descriptions of all the grantee projects is available here.

I am very excited that the City of Philadelphia (the Office of Arts Culture and the Creative Economy, working with our Commerce Department) has partnered with The Reinvestment Fund (TRF) and University of Pennsylvania’s Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) to secure one of the largest grants awarded, $250,000, to build and launch a Creative Assets Mapping Database for the City of Philadelphia (TRF is the actual grantee). The multi-faceted project will further research related to the relationship between cultural engagement and economic development and will produce a web tool that can inform planning, marketing, policy development and public/ private arts investment strategies. Creation of this geodatabase will allow the City and other cultural leaders to monitor the growth in creative assets and assess their civic, economic and social impacts.

This initiative began with a simple question from Mayor Nutter a couple of years ago - "Can we map all the cultural and creative economy activity in the City and can we then use that tool to drive our policies and decisions?" The answer was that no such tool existed - at least not in a comprehensive enough form - so we began immediately to work with TRF and SIAP, national leaders in studying the impact of the arts at the neighborhood level (more information on their arts work is available here). TRF also operates Policy Map, the leading source of mapped social and demographic data.  We were able to secure a small planning grant from the NEA last year and since then have been working to develop our plans for this project.

Our Town grants range from $25,000 to $250,000 and represent a range of rural, suburban, and urban communities with populations ranging from just over 2,000 people to more than 8.2 million people. More than half of the Our Town grants were awarded too communities with a population of less than 200,000, and seven to communities with fewer than 25,000 people. Grants were awarded for planning, design, and arts engagement projects that strengthen arts organizations while increasing the livability of communities across America. By requiring a partnership between local government and an arts or design organization, Our Town encourages creative, cross sector solutions to the challenges facing towns, cities, and the arts community.

There were 447 applicants to this program, and we are truly honored to be one of the 51 grantees. We hope our project will not only help strengthen what we are doing in Philadelphia but also serve as a national model for other communities. MANY other exciting projects funded throughout the country, and I also congratulate all the other grantees. This is another example of the transformative work the NEA is doing now under Rocco Landesman's leadership.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thoughts on Arts Education as an Economic Development Imperative

A few days ago I spoke at a reception for the Philadelphia region music education organization Musicopia. Because so many other speakers were already attesting to the value of their work (which IS wonderful - check out their website), I decided I would focus on the larger issue of the value of arts education, with specific emphasis on what sorts of direct impact on a community quality arts education provides. To me, and to those of us in the field, this information, this perspective may seem self-evident. But to many, this may not be the case. A corporate foundation director came up to me afterwards and asked if could share my remarks with her to be distributed to her board, so they could understand the larger civic and economic value of arts education investments.

Unfortunately, I spoke without notes, but I thought it might be helpful to try and recreate my key points on my blog, with links so others can use it if they wish.

Arts education is a crucial civic imperative for an array of reasons, none of which undercut its importance simply as a human right for young people to have the benefit of the arts as part of their educational experience, not just at home (where they may or may not get it) but at school as well.

But why should a funder, a legislator, a business-person care about arts education, especially in these challenging economic times when it can seem like a frill?

Quality arts education has an array of positive social benefits, that translate directly to positive economic benefits. First, there is the area of workforce development. A 21st century economy needs a certain kind of worker. This is NOT just a worker who has done well on standardized tests and is competent in math and English. This is a worker who is strong in so-called "applied" (as opposed to "basic") skills. A young person who is strong in collaboration and teamwork, strong in communication and self-expression, understanding of ambiguity and nuance (it is not a rote, hierarchical, assembly line world anymore; in today's world there is often no "right:" answer - just the best course of action with the information available). These are skills that we KNOW arts education develops. A study done a few years ago by the Conference Board, in partnership with a number of workforce development organizations, called "Are They Really Ready to Work," showed that employers felt that their incoming workers were very poorly prepared in these applied skills, but that they rated the applied skills as the most critically important workforce skills that they needed. A follow up report called "Ready to Innovate" - conducted by the Conference Board in partnership with Americans for the Arts and the American Association of School Administrators - looked at how the views of employers aligned with those of school district leaders. It found a truly overwhelming - nearly unanimous - agreement among both the hirers and the educators that creativity was an increasingly important workplace skill. Those doing the hiring, however, found that they largely cannot find the creative workers they seek. Both employers and educators rate arts study as a very high indicator of creativity (#1 for educators, #2 for business just behind entrepreneurial experience). A recent study by IBM found that creativity was rated as the most important skill for future success as a CEO. I remember speaking at a conference with a very senior executive from a large food service company, who indicated that their HR team found engagement in arts education and arts practice as being the best indicator of success in the workplace - not just for executives and managers, but all the way down to entry-level waitstaff, kitchen workers, etc. They found that workers who played an instrument, acted in plays or were otherwise engaged in the arts were better members of their team, stayed in their job longer, were more productive, and were better at customer service.

And in 2009 Dr. James Catterall, a professor at UCLA, released a study "Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art,"  that followed up 12 years later with 12,000 students studied as part of Champions of Change, an earlier, seminal study of the impact of arts education on youth (also still worthwhile reading!). They found that intensive involvement in the arts in middle and high school is associated with higher levels of achievement and college attainment and also with many indicators of pro-social behavior such as voluntarism and voting. And while they found that intensive involvement in other activities like sports, also had positive outcomes, there were special and stronger results with the arts. In their research they also adjust for socio-economic differences so they are not just measuring the results of students with more advantages attending wealthier schools more likely to provide arts-rich learning.

And anecdotally, we see this in our own City, Philadelphia, and our own youth. Our Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison, sees that the young people engaged in arts education programs like Mural Arts are much less likely to get into trouble, and end up "in the system." Engagement in the arts by ex-offenders - arts education IS a lifelong learning issue - also significantly reduces recitivism. The dollars that we invest in quality arts education programs are not only helping to enrich the lives of our young, not only developing workers that our businesses needs that will help drive our local economy. They are also frankly getting many young people onto a different path in life that will also save our society and economy significant investments in police and prisons.

In effect, the same things that arts education produces in young people that makes them better people, happier human beings, also produces a wide array of social and economic benefits that helps our City. Hence the title of Catterall's study, a play on the "doing well by doing good" philosophy of socially responsible business. The research is clear: investing in arts education is one of the best investments we can possibly make - it builds a 21st century employment-ready workforce that is needed by business; it builds better citizens, more likely to vote and volunteer; it strengthens our communities by producing young people less likely to drop out, less likely to engage in criminal behavior; it makes our schools livelier, engaging, welcoming places of learning, and combined with integrating the arts into other subject areas, fuels the joy of learning and ultimately academic achievement.

In these challenging economic times, education funding and programs are seriously threatened, at the federal level, the state level, and the local level. In this climate, arts education resources are especially at risk, as there is a thoroughly misguided impression that arts education and training in schools is an "extra", a "frill", an "amenity" that is OK to invest in when we are flush, but expendable when purse strings are tightened. Perfectly smart people who are all about data, achievement, competitiveness and jobs, somehow have a blind spot when they support disinvestment in arts education - which actually goes against all their principles.

This is not a partisan issue - arts education should be supported by anyone who cares about a future for all of your young people, and anyone who cares about the health of our local and national economy. Shouldn't that include everyone?

[Note: I know there is much more research out there than the studies I have cited. These are just the studies that came to mind first - this is not an academic paper. Anyone who is interested in more research can go to the Americans for the Arts "Art: Ask for More" advocacy campaign website, which has great concise data, and links to other resources. The site has excellent tools for parents, teachers and other advocates for arts education. Another wonderful research is the Arts Education Partnership.]

Monday, June 6, 2011

Can't get away from that Art Czar nickname!

This past Friday, our local PBS station, WHYY, profiled the work of me and the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy on its monthly arts news-magazine program, "Friday Arts". The episode also featured a segment on the wonderful Wharton Esherick Museum, The Fruit Guys (a business devoted to promoting fresh fruit as an alternative to junk food in workplaces and schools), and Orchestra 2001 (a contemporary/new music ensemble that is associated with Swarthmore College. The embedded video below only features my segment but I encourage you to click through and watch the entire episode.

Watch the full episode. See more Friday Arts.

It may seem like shameless self-promotion, but since many may have missed the episode, and since those outside of the Philadelphia market were not able to tune in, I thought it would be helpful if I included the segment in my blog. I do think it captures pretty well the work that we are trying to do here. It also highlights some of the initiatives we have tried to support. I thought it might be helpful if in my blog I explain some of the locations of the scenes.

For example, I talk about the importance of DesignPhiladelphia to our efforts to highlight Philadelphia's strong design assets. What may be less evident is that the scenes of a reception in a large very high-ceilinged space with "curtains" of hanging diaphanous shapes, is a DesignPhiladelphia site-specific installation by the artist Aurora Robson in a multi-function space called the Skybox, at 2424 Studios in Fishtown, one of the City's many great creative economy workspaces.

Similarly, there are scenes of me, along with a group of other people, walking through an ornate decayed vacant building with a grand rotunda space. This space is Germantown Town Hall and this was a site visit with our colleagues from Public Property to show the space to the folks from Hidden City as a potential site for that program. Definitely a great building that needs a new, appropriate tenant!

The scenes where I am walking around in a hard hat in a reception at what seems to be a construction site were shot at the under-construction new Barnes on the Parkway. Since the footage was shot a few months ago, the building is, of course, much further along now. There are also some shots of the press conference at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for the ground-breaking of Lenfest Plaza, the new public space that will connect PAFA's two buildings (and feature a major a major new work of public art by Claes Oldenburg).

There are also some scenes shot in our new Art Gallery at City Hall space. Apologies to those organizations not included in the segment - it was really just chance as to what was going on at the time they were shooting. I am getting a little tired of the Art Czar thing; as I have often said, "look at how it ended up for the Czar - I don't want to end up the same way". But, I suppose it is the nature of the media to grab onto these shorthand phrases. And it should go without saying - but I will say it anyway: even though the focus of this piece is on me, my work would not be possible without: 1) the support and encouragement of a truly great Mayor,  2) the efforts of a very talented and dedicated staff, and 3) an amazing arts, culture and creative community that inspires me every day! For those that are interested, here is an additional segment - a more extended interview on what the "creative economy" is and why it is important:

Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What is Philadelphia's "Brand"?

Patricia Martin, author of RenGen, and an expert on corporate sponsorship and connecting brands with consumers, visited Philadelphia last week to work with some of our leaders in government and tourism who are responsible for marketing the City to potential sponsors. The meeting was organized by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (thank you GPTMC!), and in addition their staff, and me, also included representatives from the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, the City's Parks and Recreation Department, Historic Philadelphia and others. Pat writes about her Philadelphia visit (which included attendance at the Arts & Business Council's annual luncheon) here. For those of you that don't already follow Pat's blog, consider this a recommendation, and read her "Philadelphia Story" as a first intruduction! I wrote an entry in my blog not that long ago on some recent research she published on how arts groups can better understand and communicate with the Millennial generation.

Part of the discussion involved exploring the "brand" of the City, since in exploring how to better sell City promotions and events to potential corporate sponsors, it is clear that in a sense you are also selling the brand of the City. It was also clear that in all of our individual communications efforts, how we talk about the City in effect helps create and hone that brand, and there is much to be gained by being more strategic and coordinated in our language and messaging.

There was a really engaging discussion about how Philadelphia is perceived both internally and externally and how we can better communicate our core assets.

There was general agreement that as a City we have a "culture of ingenuity", and that this framework can be a useful construct to link our heritage (which essentially involved "inventing" America and the modern democracy, as well as Benjamin Franklin's famous spirit of intellectual curiosity and invention) to our 19th C. period as the "workshop to the world" when we were about designing and making just about every kind of product imaginable, to our current creative energy that ties together our arts & culture scene with technology and science. Think about this past week with PIFA, Philly Tech Week and the Philadelphia Science Festival all happening at the same time - how cool was that?. Our history is not frozen in time like Williamsburg VA, or Machu Picchu, but integrated into and still part of a living, breathing, creative metropolis.

We also discussed that we have a population that "looks like the future" - our increasing diversity mirrors the demographic shifts taking place throughout the country. Not only do we have ethnic diversity but we also have a huge Millennial population, by virtue of our array of colleges and universities in the region - a total of about 300,000 FTE students in the region attending over 100 different colleges. Yet we are not just a "college town." We also have a robust population of Boomers, Seniors and young families.

And - to put it bluntly - "we are NOT New York City."  By this we meant that we have many unique assets that preclude measuring ourselves in relationship to New York. We are not "the sixth borough." Yet our geographic location between New York City and Washington DC, combined with an excellent international airport clearly offers significant benefits from a business attraction, tourism and branding perspective. Our "place" does matter. This is not a knock on NY - I still love NY and love spending time there. This language is a useful shorthand, but Philadelphia needs to do a better job communicating what it IS without resorting to having to say what it is not.

It is interesting to have Pat's take on this as an expert, informed, "outsider" who has the opportunity to travel all over the country and can view Philadelphia's assets and image with that informed dispassionate perspective.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy Testifies Before City Council

On Monday, March 28th, I testified before City Council as part of the FY12 budget process. I was joined by Moira Baylson, Deputy Cultural Officer. The Office staff, and other cultural leaders such as Tom Kaiden of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, attended as audience (and moral support). In the end, the hearing was relatively free of contention, which in these times is always a good thing. However, since so much work goes into preparing the testimony, and it serves as a good report on the past year's activities and plans for the coming year, I am summarizing the testimony here, with a link at the end for a fuller version.


I am honored to have the opportunity to report on the Office’s accomplishments over the past year, and to explain how our Office plans to use and leverage City funds in Fiscal Year 2012. After spending two years reorganizing programs and staff from multiple departments, we are pleased to provide testimony from our new home, right here in City Hall. The opening of our new office and gallery in June of 2010 has allowed our staff to work together in one location and for the first time, has provided the public direct access to our office. With this change, we have gained tremendous momentum in the services and programs we offer to Philadelphia and in serving our larger mission: to support and promote arts, culture and creative industries; and to develop partnerships and coordinate efforts that weave arts, culture and creativity into the economic and social fabric of the city.

In Fiscal Year 2011, the Philadelphia Cultural Fund will distribute a little over $1.6 million to 200 Philadelphia cultural organizations. The Fund’s Youth Enrichment Program, in its second year, will distribute an additional $100,000 in grants. Last year the program distributed $350,000 in grants to eight organizations with exemplary youth arts programs such as Art Reach, Asian Arts Initiative and Kùlú Mèlé African American Dance Ensemble. Although down 42.5% from 2010, the Fund continues to achieve its mission of re-granting City funds to hundreds of deserving cultural organizations throughout our Philadelphia neighborhoods.

The African American Museum in Philadelphia, the first museum funded and built by a city to help preserve African American culture, celebrated its 35th Anniversary this year. The Office, through an annual grant of roughly $230,000 helps to ensure that the museum has adequate resources to deliver high quality programming and exhibitions to the public. Through its core exhibit, “Audacious Freedom: African Americans in Philadelphia 1776-1876,” the Museum details the freedom journey of African Americans in Philadelphia..

In December 2010, with funding from the William Penn Foundation, the Office released the report Creative Vitality in Philadelphia: A Three Year Index 2006-2008. Highlights from the report include a 7% increase in Philadelphia’s creative health from 2006-2008; a 70% stronger creative community than the national benchmark; and a nonprofit cultural sector five times stronger than the national benchmark. Areas identified for improvement, such as creative sector employment, which was 15% below the national benchmark in 2008, are priority areas for the Office in FY12. In January of this year we held a Town Hall meeting, which was attended by over 150 people. The Office shared the findings of the report and solicited input into how the City can better promote, unite and invest in the creative sector. We are currently investigating these recommendations, which will guide our strategy for the development of programs and policies that serve and add capacity to the creative sector.

We have also been working on how to better communicate about our programs and services, and this year will launch an official website, through the pro-bono services of Electronic Ink,  that will better connect all City programs and services to the arts and cultural community and creative businesses.We have also created an active social media presence through Twitter and Facebook.

With a $25,000 planning grant from the National Endowment for the Arts matched by funds from the William Penn Foundation, we have partnered with The Reinvestment Fund and Social Impact of the Arts Project at the University of Pennsylvania to create a creative assets mapping database. This initiative is a comprehensive effort to identify and promote arts, culture and creative assets in Philadelphia. It will also be an ongoing resource and tool for asset-based community and economic development.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Philadelphia Swings Into Spring with Jazz

Philadelphia will celebrate national Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) in April, for the first time in many years. This national celebration, sponsored by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and also promoted by the United States Conference of Mayors, is now in its 10th anniversary year.

Recognizing this quintessentially American art form is especially appropriate for Philadelphia, which has an extraordinary legacy of leadership in jazz. Beginning with Ethel Waters, and extending to John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Stan Getz, the Heath Brothers, Dizzie Gillespie, Sun Ra, McCoy Tyner, Grover Washington Jr, Stanley Clarke, Philadelphia has an illustrious roster of jazz greats who were either born here or lived and worked here for a significant portion of their life. Despite the demise of many of the City's historic jazz clubs, the City still has a vital, thriving jazz scene, with many venues and a strong and deep array of renowned working musicians. There is a nice succinct history of jazz in Philadelphia on the "Music of Philadelphia" page of Wikipedia.

A few months ago I organized a group of leaders in the Philadelphia jazz scene to discuss how to better support and promote this great art form. This followed a meeting with some members of the Clef Club's staff and board about how to revive its fortunes. I am grateful to Warren Oree and Gaciella D'Amelio of Lifeline Music for getting me started down this path. Working together, and with the Office of the City Representative, my colleagues in City government, we have organized a special promotion of Jazz Appreciation Month in Philadelphia.

This celebration was announced earlier this week right outside City Hall, on a chilly but sunny morning. With musical accompaniment from Warren Oree and the Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble, we announced a Citywide celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month in April, A new logo has been created (shared above), and banners have  been designed that will hang in the City Hall portals, and have also been produced in poster size.

L-R: Charles Truxon, Gregory Jones, Melanie Johnson (City Representative), Gary Steuer, Warren Oree; showing off the new Jazz Appreciation Month banner designs. Warren, Charles and Gregory are the Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble.

In addition to the banners in City Hall, and the logo that will be used throughout the jazz community, we have also created a website: that has information on how to celebrate jazz, including a complete list of the Coalition members, downloadable versions of the logo, and a special Jazz Month event listings site, organized with the help with our friends at the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and their Philly Fun Guide listings site. That special jazz listings site can be directly accessed here.

So with April beginning Friday, make your plans now for how to make jazz a part of your life this month, how you can support the art of jazz. And if you are not in Philadelphia, there are opportunities to support and experience jazz wherever you live. Here is a link to a great resource on the Smithsonian's site: it is called "112 ways to celebrate jazz".

As an aside, I have a somewhat personal connection to jazz, having been a major appreciator of the art form pretty much my entire adult life. In college at SUNY Purchase I was President of the student group charged with concert promotion and produced a jazz festival featuring the likes of Bill Evans, Elvin Jones and Betty Carter. Later, while Managing Director at the Vineyard Theatre in New York, we produced a concert series called Vintage Jazz at the Vineyard that highlighted jazz music from the 20's 30's and 40's, and featured many of the musicians from that era who were still around and playing, often paired with young proteges. That concert series was recorded and transformed into nationally broadcast radio programs. (Sadly, these radio shows, of which I think there were about 30, seem to have been lost to the mists of time. I never had the masters, and have been unable to track them down to make sure they are archived somewhere - it is a great loss, if in fact the masters are gone; most of these artists have now passed on.) Also while at the Vineyard I produced Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, a musical about the last days of Billie Holiday, that went on from its Off Broadway run to be produced all over the country. Growing up in NY, I sort of lived at clubs like the Village Vanguard, Sweet Basil, and The Blue Note. And more recently, my wife worked at Jazz at Lincoln Center for several years, during which I was a regular at their programs, including the extraordinary Essentially Ellington national high school jazz band competition.

Let's end with images of the two banners that will be "swinging" in the City Hall portals during the month of April!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Art-Reach Program Uses Art to Fight Violence - Funded by City $

Art-Reach students and staff in Art Gallery at City Hall with artist Ben Volta

The past year the Philadelphia Cultural Fund (the vehicle through which the City distributes funding through a competitive peer process) for the first time ever allocated a portion of the funding to go into a new "Arts for Youth" project grant program. This new grant program, which I encouraged, allowed a group of exemplary projects using the arts to address critical challenges facing our youth to be supported. Given that the process for the next round of grants for this year will be launched soon (at a significantly reduced funding level, due to budget cuts), and that City Council is now holding budget hearings, it seemed like an opportune time to highlight one of the projects supported in 2010

Art-Reach is an organization devoted to "enriching lives by connecting underserved audiences to cultural experiences so that they may benefit from and enjoy the transformative power of the arts." Teens from the Martin Luther King Recreation Center in North Philadelphia and Wissahickon Boys and Girls Club in Germantown spent 12 weeks last fall working with professional silk screen artists to create original T-shirts with an anti-violence theme. They visited a hospital ER where they saw the devastating effects of gunshot wounds, and that led them to explore designs around the theme of the human heart (the literal, anatomical human heart, not the cartoon Valentine's Day version). Last week a group of the teens visited me at City Hall to present me with a T-shirt. They were accompanied by artist Benjamin Volta, who worked with them on this project, Michael Norris, Executive Director of Art-Reach, and other staff from the participating organizations.

It was a great opportunity for me to see this grant program in action, to meet the kids, and also to talk to them a bit about what I - and the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy - do. The kids also got to see our new show at the Art Gallery at City Hall, and learn a little but about the history of City Hall. In the photos above we are standing in front of a large work of art created by the kids and Ben Volta. One of the things I especially like about this program is that the winning designs have been mass-produced and are now on sale at the Villa stores at 1231 North Broad Street, and 5700 Germantown Avenue, or online at The shirts are $10 each and all the proceeds go to teen programs at these two centers. So this not just an arts program, not just an anti-violence program, but also an entrepreneurship and micro-enterprise program; the work of these students will generate business revenue that will go back into programs serving youth. The kids are also learning that art has value, and that designs can actually be sold in the marketplace. Would love to have more resources to better support programs like these. Very inspiring - this is why I do what I do...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Philadelphia Population Reverses 50 Year Decline - How Are the Arts Involved?

The new Census numbers for Philadelphia are in, and the city managed to actually record a population increase, the first in 50 years. And while the increase was tiny - 8,456 residents, which represents a .6% increase to 1,536,006, the reversal of the decades-long decline is huge. Many older industrial cities are shrinking in population - Chicago, Baltimore - so this increase is especially notable. It is also notable because it confirms that Philadelphia has recaptured the "fifth largest American city" spot from Phoenix, which had passed Philly for a few years. (Click here for sample of press coverage.)

There are two big phenomena that jump out as you look at the detailed numbers, by neighborhood and by ethnicity. Clearly, the City is becoming much more diverse, and immigration, especially among Latino and Asian populations are a major contributor to the growth of the City. Philadelphia was a "majority minority" city in 2000 and that trend continues in 2010. The percentage of the population that is Asian has increased almost 50%, from 4.4% to 6.3%. And the Hispanic population had a similar scale increase, from 8.5% to 12.3%.  The Black population remained somewhat steady and the White population shrank from 42.5% to 36.9%.

In terms of neighborhoods, there are enormous differences from neighborhood to neighborhood. Center City East saw a 25% increase. Large double-digit increases were also recorded in Center City West, Fishtown/Northern Liberties and Bella Vista. The diversity make-up has also seen huge variations by neighborhood. In my neighborhood, Bella Vista, for example, the Hispanic population is up 170%.

Virtually all the neighborhoods that have seen huge population increases during this ten year period have also seen large increases in the number of arts organizations and artists living and operating in them. This is not an accident. Arts and culture are definitely part of the mix of elements fostering the population and economic resurgence of these neighborhoods, along with retail, restaurants and residential real estate development. Looked at by neighborhood, the population gain has largely been a Center City phenomenon, and there are many reasons for this - the great work by Center City District and Paul Levy; the impact of the cultural investments made by the City over the past couple of decades; the support those cultural investments have had from major foundations and individual philanthropists (Pew, William Penn, Lenfest, etc.); the growth of a vibrant Philly culinary scene; the real estate tax abatement program that helped spur development of new residential condominiums.  According to Center City District over the past ten years the number of arts organizations in Center City has grown from 314 to 415. Only NYC and DC have more downtown arts groups. The growth of cultural vibrancy in Center City has clearly been a factor in attracting more residents - and more residents attracts more retail and more restaurants.

From The Philadelphia Daily News, John Snyder, Staff Artist

Many of the City's poorest neighborhoods, however, were population losers, some by as much as 10%. The challenge going forward is how to help make these "shrinking" neighborhoods, many of which are filled with empty lots, abandoned buildings and declining commercial corridors, into good places to live and work. What role can the arts, creative economy and design play in solving this problem? Is there something that can be done proactively, while recognizing that great things can also happen organically (bad things can also happen organically, though...)? The new Philly Rising Collaborative program, initiated recently by the City,  is an attempt to address some of these challenged neighborhoods in a holistic and strategic way. The arts have been one element of this program's approach. The first commercial area to be targeted, for example, Market Street between 7th and 12th Streets, will include a program of free outdoor musical performances as a way to create a more welcoming streetscape. The North Philadelphia effort has involved a partnership with the Village of Arts and Humanities.

The connection between the changing demographics of the City and the arts should be obvious. Our "traditional" (i.e. not community-based, not culturally-specific) arts groups MUST find a way to connect with this growing component of the population if they are to survive and thrive. African American, Latino and Asian-American audiences (and donors!) must be engaged - this is 63% of the market in the City. Our audiences should be diverse not just when we do special "outreach" performances but for our day-to-day offerings and special events.Beyond the imperative to build audiences and supporters more representative of the larger community, the arts also have a role to play in efforts (like Philly Rising) that are seeking to revitalize neighborhoods.

These new Census population numbers are certainly cause for celebration - both because of the vote of confidence they represent for Philadelphia, and the demonstration of the role of creative vitality in how people choose where to live. But they are also another alert that we must redouble their efforts to ensure that our arts groups better serve the full spectrum of our increasingly diverse City.