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Weekly Update – Town Hall meeting on the arts


This week’s Weekly has my story about the Fringe Festival Town Hall Meeting on the future of the arts in Philadelphia. Below is the copy with a picture.

Bohemian Rap City
A town hall meeting puts art on the mayor’s front burner.

A must-see Philly Fringe event for every artist and friend of the arts is the Culture, Creativity and the City town hall meeting at the Painted Bride Sunday. The free public meeting, organized by activist Matty Hart and a team of concerned art-worlders, is the first step in a campaign to put the arts on the front burner for the mayoral candidates—and keep it there for the next four years.

Town Hall Meeting convener, Matty Hart. Photo by Peter Lien.
Town Hall Meeting convener, Matty Hart. Photo by Peter Lien.

Like all town hall meetings, this one intends to bring the voice of the people to the higher-ups. Hart has gold-plated credentials as an organizer who puts the welfare of artists first. As founder and executive director of Spiral Q Puppet Theater, and national director of Public Engagement for Solutions for Progress, Hart has long advocated that artists have a seat at the policy table.

Hart says he got the idea for the panel after reading the arts platforms of the two mayoral candidates. He realized the mayoral hopefuls knew all about the needs of commercial interests, but nothing about the needs of artists. That bias spurred him to action.

Working with a team of like-minded organizers, and with financial help from numerous local foundations (and with in-kind support from nonprofit arts groups), Hart’s team organized a meeting that promises to dispense with the bull and actually deliver hard information about how three culturally enlightened cities—Baltimore, Denver and Phoenix—are helping artists while bolstering their economies by using the arts in their civic brand.

Artists add energy to a city’s cultural life. They also act as individual engines of economic development. (Like when Philly artists discovered first Northern Liberties and then Kensington/Fishtown, rehabbing buildings and creating small businesses.) Enlightened cities want artists to come, live and create the buzz that makes their city a destination. Enlightened cities also develop social policies that help keep artists in town.

But without a civic policy focused on artists—including grants for new businesses and for rehabbing buildings, and healthcare options for a largely self-employed population—many artists will ultimately abandon Philly for cities with more beneficial policies.

Right now we’re fortunate to have an influx of artists to Philadelphia despite having no civic policies to welcome them and some that actually discourage the arts (high wage, business and sales taxes; no office of arts and culture). This creative influx shouldn’t be taken for granted. It should be seized as the moment to enact new policies.

The mayoral candidates won’t be at this meeting but their advisers will be watching, in person or by proxy. Michael Nutter, the heir apparent to the mayor’s office, would be foolish not to listen.

Culture, Creativity and the City, a Fringe Festival Town Hall Meeting
Sun., Sept. 9, 5:30pm. Free. Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine St. 215.925.9914.