Severe Budget Cuts To The Arts In Philadelphia Will Have A Much Wider Impact Than Just Our Economic Recovery

by Steven Weisz for The Dance Journal

OK, I get it! The state, cities, and even municipalities are hurting economically because of the widespread pandemic. They are all facing a budget crisis, the proportion of which has never been seen before. In addition to mounting expenses, the tax revenue base is also decreasing drastically with the rise in unemployment and the closure of businesses. The federal government is unlikely to step in or bail out the states and the cities they incorporate.

However, targeting the arts, which accounts for such a small part of these budgets, will not solve any of these issues but only exacerbate them. This past week saw these headlines in the Philadelphia Inquirer – “Arts groups upset over Gov. Tom Wolf’s sudden move to freeze Pa. grant money” and “Mayor Kenney calls for an end to city arts agency, cutting $4 million in cultural spending”.  Pennsylvania and Philadelphia are not the only locales facing this issue. New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio has also proposed cutting arts funding by as much as 35% in the 2021 budget. While still a major blow to the cultural sector, this is not quite as drastic as Philadelphia Mayor Kenney’s call to end arts funding completely.

The Philadelphia Cultural Fund has long been a lifeline for many of the arts organizations in the city. Resourced through the City budget, the Cultural Fund supports the largest and broadest community of arts and cultural organizations in Philadelphia. It was just this past March, that it announced grants totaling $2,928,500 that would provide 349 organizations with operating funds. The funding is also critical at a time when the city’s arts organizations have had to cancel programming because of the pandemic and shelter at home orders. The impact of losing this funding will be most felt by small and mid-sized community-based arts organizations of which about half have budgets of less than $150,000 and few if any paid staff.

Let’s face it, we are all in this together. Philadelphia will be looking at increases in taxes and massive city layoffs to get by until the economy can be restored. However, it seems that the arts are once again being asked to shoulder the burden of more than its fair share. In a recent editorial that I posted to the Dance Journal, I discussed how this pandemic has shown us in no uncertain terms the positive impact that the arts have on the economy, on our education system, and to each and every one of us in our daily lives.  It has been dance and the arts that have brought us together as a community and a city in a time of social isolation.  I thought we could once and for all do away with the tireless surveys and studies to prove the value of the arts economically, socially, and educationally. But if you need some hard numbers to prove the point that the arts and cultural industry are a big economic driver for the Philadelphia region, a 2017 report by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance accounts for our sector “generating $4.1 billion in economic impact and creating the equivalent of 55,225 full-time jobs every year”. The jobs that are created by arts and culture return $1.3 billion directly back to our communities. Arts and culture also generate approximately $125.6 million in state taxes and $98.7 million for local municipalities. These tax dollars pay for a whole range of crucial public services. The bottom line, cultural dollars have a profound impact on our city’s economic prosperity.

More than just being an economic driver in Philadelphia, the arts are central to our sense of well being, our own spirituality, and our own vitality. It is both collaborative and collective. It brings us together in a way that quite frankly I cannot adequately explain in words. It has to be experienced. It is literally the heart and soul of a city, this city.

YES, I get it!  These are hard times and we need to develop new models for how we create and fund the arts. We have already shown ingenuity during this crisis with virtual performances, classes, and educational offerings. We have entertained, help alleviate mental health crises, and have provided comfort to youth unable to attend school. As a sector, we are adaptable and will find a way to continue. Now is not the time to pull all funding from the arts or to hurt a sector that is already facing an unprecedented crisis. Most performers and artists are freelancers, already working without a guaranteed paycheck, limited or no health care, and lack of regular unemployment insurance or other benefits. Dancers and artists create from the heart and from their very being. In sharing their gift with all of us, they offer us hope and solace in a post-pandemic world that is now in need more than ever before.

So, plain and simple, if dance and the arts have had any impact on your life, I ask that you call upon City Council and open a dialogue with your representative and tell them your story. Your collective voices and their vote have the power to overturn the Mayor’s proposal and find another way to preserve Arts & Culture in Philadelphia.

Not sure who represents you? Click Here

City Hall, Room 494
District Office – City Hall, Room 313
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3290
(215) 686-3442, (215) 686-3443
FAX: (215) 686-1901

City Hall, Room 332
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3290
(215) 686-3458, (215) 686-3459
FAX: (215) 686-1931

City Hall, Room 580
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3290
(215) 686-3412, (215) 686-3413
FAX: (215) 686-1932

City Hall, Room 586
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3290
(215) 686-0459, 215-686-0460

City Hall, Room 404
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3290
(215) 686-3416, (215) 686-3417
FAX: (215) 686-1934

City Hall, Room 484
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3290
(215) 686-3444, (215) 686-3445
FAX: (215) 686-1935

City Hall, Room 508
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3290
(215) 686-3448, (215) 686-3449
FAX: (215) 686-1936

City Hall, Room 312
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3290
(215) 686-3424, (215) 686-3425
FAX: (215) 686-1937

City Hall, Room 577/584
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3290
(215) 686-3454, (215) 686-3455
FAX: (215) 686-1938

City Hall, Room 562
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3290
(215) 686-3422, (215) 686-3423
FAX: (215) 686-1939

Direct email/contact forms can be found on their web pages at
Calling is much more effective!

Public Testimony at Budget Hearings
Members of the public who wish to provide comments during public testimony periods in Council Chambers can be added to the speakers’ list by calling 215-686-3407 and leaving a message, or by sending an email to [email protected]
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