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.

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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.