Artist Coalition For a Just Philadelphia responds to the proposed 2021 Philadelphia budget

The Artist Coalition for a Just Philadelphia has released a statement in response to the City Council’s proposed budget for 2021, which while restoring $1 million back to the Philadelphia Cultural Fund still leaves it severely underfunded.

For more than three weeks, the city of Philadelphia has taken to the streets, the internet, and the airwaves to reckon with decades of unconscionable violence, at the hands of police and our own city government. City leadership is too debilitated by their own fear and lack of imagination to take the first steps toward real justice. Luckily for Council, our city’s essential workers– artists, educators, organizers, and caregivers–– have done the imagining for them.

Artist Coalition for a Just Philadelphia has joined organizations including Reclaim Philadelphia, Amistad Law Center, and Philly We Rise in calling for a $120 million reduction in the Philadelphia Police Department budget – a 10% decrease that represents the amount that the PPD budget has grown under Mayor Kenney’s tenure. We collectively demanded that this city prioritize equitable funding to support and strengthen Black and Brown communities rather than criminalizing them––including supporting funding for community arts programs through the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. In spite of a global pandemic: we marched to City Hall, flooded City Council’s inboxes and voicemails, visited their homes, interrupted their meetings, and used every possible strategy to communicate. We shared one clear demand: the first step toward racial and economic justice in Philly has a price tag– $120 million reinvested directly into our communities, culled from the PPD’s 2021 budget.

We hoped our hundreds of thousands of calls, emails, tweets, testimonies, petition signatures, and hundreds of direct actions had been heard and considered. The City Council’s 2021 budget proposal was unveiled yesterday and it is not simply disappointing: it is insulting.

Let us be clear: the city that prides itself on being an arts and culture hub –– and sees a $4.1 Billion positive economic impact from the arts and culture industry –– has not “restored” the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. A $1.35 million budget for the arts that was originally $4.4 million is a 70% cut. This proposal amounts to $3.05 million taken from our communities and, with the closing of The Office of Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy, effectively eliminates any dedicated representation of our sector within the city government. A $3.05M loss will devastate community-based arts programs, and vital arts education initiatives that serve Black and Brown communities, employ Black and Brown teaching artists and amplify Black and Brown voices.

Meanwhile, the PPD budget has not changed. Materially, no resources have been removed from the PPD between the current budget and the 2020 budget. Removing a proposed $19 million increase does not constitute a decrease. Moving crossing guards and other staff from the PPD to the office of Brian Abernathy-–without changing their job duties or resources–is not a cut. We stand strong in calling for a decrease of $120 million from the PPD–– eliminate the line items that militarize the police force and support Philadelphia communities that have been historically under-resourced.

As community-based artists and arts organizations, every day we see the incredible impact of spaces filled with creative outlets, learning and growth opportunities, and material and emotional support. It is unacceptable to prioritize police over teachers, mentors, artists, youth counselors, caregivers, community hubs, socialization and support, and all the other resources provided by community organizations.

Our demands are rooted in a transnational movement; rural and urban communities across the country are taking decisive action to divest from the police. Sidestepping our demands is a willful act of violence against a city in crisis. It is tear gas at a peaceful protest; it is a knee on this city’s neck. We have taken the fight to your doorstep, because we deserve better, and we will not back down until our City Officials do better.

Artist Coalition for a Just Philadelphia is a collective of artists and grassroots arts organizations committed to using the power of the arts to uplift community voices in the fight for racial, social, and economic justice.

Our Demands:

We stand in solidarity with essential workers, educators, and organizers, and make the following demands to defending our cultural practices, platforms, and identities:

-Implement an ongoing divestment strategy from the Philadelphia Police Department, beginning with ZERO increase to the PPD police budget in 2021, a 10% decrease and reallocation of $120M to reinvest directly into Black and Brown communities, and funding essential services and the arts in Philadelphia. We reiterate this demand to all universities, schools, and businesses who hire private police forces.

-Preserve, protect, and invest in the Philadelphia Cultural Fund (PCF), and re-establish and expand the representation of the arts and culture sector of Philadelphia within city government.

A uniquely equitable funding source for arts organizations in Philadelphia, the PCF is immune to political whims and is peer-reviewed. PCF funding is specifically weighted to support small organizations. Nearly 50% of orgs that receive resources from the fund have an annual operating budget of >$150,000. Increase the amount given to the Philadelphia Cultural Fund and help our city create more than the $4.1 Billion in economic impact from Arts funding last year.

– Access to high quality, comprehensive arts education for all Philadelphia Youth, including those with disabilities, English Language learners, youth living in poverty, black youth and youth of color, LGBTQ+ youth, youth in foster care, and unhoused youth, without exception.