Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mayor Nutter Honored by US Conference of Mayors and Americans for the Arts

L to R, the Honorees and Presenters: Bob Lynch (President, Americans for the Arts), Anna Deavere Smith, Tom Cochran (CEO-USCM), Mayor Elizabeth Kautz (Burnsville, MN), Mayor James Brainard (Carmel, IN), Herbie Hancock, Rocco Landesman (Chairman, NEA), Mayor Michael Nutter (Philadelphia, PA), Mayor Mitch Landrieu (New Orleans, LA)

At the 79th annual winter meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM), awards for artists and public officials were presented by USCM in partnership with Americans for the Arts. These awards have been presented each year since 1997. Theatre artist Anna Deavere Smith was presented with the National Artist Advocate Award, and jazz great Herbie Hancock received the Legendary Artist Award.

Public Leadership in the Arts awards were presented to New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Carmel IN Mayor James Brainard (small city category) and Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia (large city category). The press release on the awards can be found here.

This event is So important every year, as it provides a focus for efforts to inform and educate mayors about the critical role the arts play in their local economies and livability, Not only do they hear from folks like Bob Lynch, CEO from Americans for the Arts, Tom Cochran, CEO of United States Conference of Mayors, and Rocco Landesman, Chairman of  the National Endowment for the Arts, but they hear from their PEERS. They hear leading mayors like Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, a relatively newly-elected mayor who served previously as Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana and led a state creative economy effort. And they hear from the honorees, folks like Governor Bill Richardson, who as a presidential candidate issued the first arts platform of any candidate, paving the way for arts platforms to be an important element of many of the campaigns. Mayor James Brainard demonstrated that the arts are not just for big cities, telling how the arts have helped transform the downtown of his city of Carmel IN, and how campaign opponents have unsuccessfully tried to use his arts support against him.
L-R: Tom Kaiden, Gary Steuer, Mayor Nutter, Mitch Swain

And of course, there was Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (my boss) speaking passionately about the fact that "great cities support great art," that the arts are not only critical to our economy, and to tourism, but also to education, to neighborhood revitalization and livability. He acknowledged the tough economy has made it hard to provide the significantly increased cultural support he had planned to implement, but vowed to stay the course, to see cultural investment as economic investment in our City, and do all he can to move towards restoration of any cuts as economic realities improve. We did have a little Philadelphia/Pennsylvania posse in the house: in addition to me, and Desiree Peterkin-Bell and Tumar Alexander from the Mayor's staff, we also had Tom Kaiden, CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and Mich Swain, CEO of the Pittsburgh Arts Council and Chairman of Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania. His award was presented by National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman, who commented how Philadelphia was a model for the rest of the country in demonstrating the role the arts can play in revitalizing communities. He cited projects like the Crane Arts Building and Mural Arts, as well as the City's CDBG-R-funded creative economy workforce grants. He also cited the Mayor's re-opening of its arts and culture office and making its leadership cabinet level, and cited the Mayor as "one of my heroes". He encouraged everyone in the room to get on Amtrak and come visit! (Check out his account of the event on his blog which is linked above.)

The Mayor got to spend some time with Herbie Hancock and Anna Deavere Smith, two extraordinary artists who were also being honored. In addition to his musical accomplishments, Hancock has been a tireless music advocate and educator. In 2009 he performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Lang Lang at the Mann Center (I was there - great music, great venue, great evening!). And Anna Deavere Smith also had some Philadelphia connections. She is bringing her newest show Let Me Down Easy to Philadelphia Theatre Company in a couple of months, and performed excerpts of it at an Arts and Public Health conference at Penn last year (I was there for that talk, and strongly urge my "Philly Phriends" to catch her show at PTC!). She also graduated from what is now Arcadia University, adding a little extra Philly-area roots (though she hails from Baltimore).

The program also included a moving tribute to the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, featuring Caroline Kennedy (above) and Nancy Pelosi, as well as a video that featured archival footage and interviews with mayors from across the country on how Kennedy had influenced their public service.

In sum, a moving and rewarding event! Great way to start the year!


  1. It's good to see governmental leaders understanding how much the arts can contribute to cities and suburbs. In researching feasible ways to reverse a perception that a certain area is a "bad part of town," I found that nothing except the quirkiness of the arts and artists is likely to do the job.

    Artists will take a chance where there's inexpensive space. They take a shine to good architectural bones in very bad repair, or strange industrial ruins. Those of us who work in community development should really be taking advantage of that tendency.

    Like many things in community development, identifying a group of like-minded individuals is very helpful in persuading them to do something counter to the current reality. So I think it's important that we not only try to recruit one artist, but let's try to recruit 5 or 10 artists at once.

    The results are unpredictable, but likely to lead to revitalization of cities and a richer quality of life in the suburbs.

  2. "...the arts are not only critical to our economy, and to tourism, but also to education, to neighborhood revitalization and livability"

    It is wonderful to see that there are government officials who really get it. There are so many cutbacks being made in the schools- arts, music, and phys.ed. It is not just about giving kids something to do. It's about molding wholistic human beings who can contribute to society! Thank you!

  3. Thanks for your comments. Mayor Nutter really does "get it" and it is a special pleasure to work to advance his vision for our City. The tough economy makes it hard to do everything he wants to accomplish, but we are doing our best with the resources available. The key thing is to recognize the FULL value of the arts - and the most powerful and longest lasting benefit is the way it shapes our humanity and citizenship.