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Gary Steuer’s gang


People still filtering in to the Mayor’s Reception Room in City Hall for a Town Meeting for the arts.

First Friday, and there we were, cooling our heels in the Mayor’s Reception Room along with about 200 other people, waiting for a Town Hall Meeting for the arts community to begin.

We were a little irritated, since the meeting was First Friday, and we had places to go, and art to see. (In the end, we saw not much, even though we ditched the meeting early). But they meant well, we guess, thinking FF would bring people to town who might otherwise not be there.

Half an hour after the meeting’s anointed time, a camera crew came in and we sighed. Nothing happens without the TV people! Then a shlumpy, middle-aged guy with longish hair and a leather briefcase started tapping on the mike. It was dead. So he called everyone to attention the old fashioned way–with his voice.

A Barnes fanatic tries to hijack the city's meeting. (Photoshopped Phanatic by Ann Northrup, who would have made it perfect-looking if Roberta had let her.)
A Barnes fanatic tries to hijack the city’s meeting. (Photoshopped Phanatic by Ann Northrup, who would have made it perfect-looking if Roberta had let her.)

The crowd was easy to quiet down. Roberta whispered, “I’ve seen this guy in my neighborhood.”

He delivered a rant about how to give the arts kazillions more money–by halting the move of the Barnes. “Put that money into the Philadelphia arts community, where it belongs,” he said. For some reason we cannot understand, he got a smattering of applause. Not from us. Roberta politely hissed, if such a thing is possible.

We looked around the room and saw lots of folks we recognized, including Nick Cassway, from Nexus, and John McInerney, from the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. We saw Gail Isa from the Asian Arts Initiative and Hester Stinnett from Temple. The place was packed with citizens of the arts worlds, gathered together for a town meeting with the mayor and the city’s chief cultural officer. (We thought we were there to hear an announcement about the Mayor’s Cultural Advisory Council [MCAC], but that had already been announced in a press release earlier in the day. Our mistake).

People from the political side of things also were there, including City Councilman Frannie Rizzo, Chief Cultural Officer Gary Steuer (who we hear via rumor will have only a half-time assistant to get his job done), and Joe Kluger, the chairman of the new MCAC.

Mayor Michael Nutter at the mike

At last the Mayor stepped up to the mike. He apologized for the delay, saying he was held up by Brownie Troop 98. Who could blame him for giving the girls their due? Then he reminded us of the economic crisis, and said 200 people expressed an interest in serving on the MCAC.

“Culture will still see an increase over last year,” even with the cutbacks in the city budget, he said. “We are all in this together. We will not back off our commitment to art and culture.”

He declared Philadelphia “the number one art and culture destination, not just in the nation but anywhere in the world.” Who in that audience would be so churlish as to argue that point? In the same breath, he cited the Philadelphia Phillies as an example–they demonstrated that the way to win was “just stick to it and play your game.”

The Power Point presentation title page.

The city’s Director of Finance Rob Dubow then put arts in the context of the scaled back city budget. “Today was particularly painful for us. Today is the day we did our layoffs,” he said. He was the lead in to Steuer’s talk, complete with power point presentation of money charts!

Steuer said Mural Arts was taking a 12.3 percent cut, reducing their cut of the city pie to $2,600,000. And the PMA was taking a 4 percent cut, reducing their share to $2,400,000. He put the cuts in the context of the rest of the country. Relatively speaking, he said, he’d rather be in Philadelphia.

People jammed in to the meeting

Then the town hall meeting began:

One artist, who sold wares on the street on First Friday, wanted L&I and the police to take it easy in enforcing licensing of vendors, for the sake of the arts community and commerce.

Nutter replied that there needed to be a balance between the needs of commerce and industry and the use of sidewalk space. While not conceding much to the young man’s point, he said L&I and the police needed to show more understanding.

Andrew Brenner, a development officer from Settlement Music School, wanted to express support for Gary Steuer’s idea of including the arts as a work-place charity check-off, a la United Way. Steuer said at this point in time, it was just an idea, not a plan.

Frank Vagnone speaking and offering to help the city–but wanting to know how!

Frank Vagnone, executive director of Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks, which runs contemporary arts programs in Philadelphia historic houses, wanted to know what the people in the room could do to help Philadelphia get through this crisis.

“Has anybody ever talked to you about sainthood?” asked the mayor, more accustomed to people begging for handouts. He talked about the need to make sure cultural information would reach its audience, and the need to make sure the “richness of what’s going on in arts and culture doesn’t go away.”

Other early subjects included the casinos, and the use of corporate dollars for the arts, and city money going to large organizations rather than smaller ones.

“Part of Gary’s charge is to figure out how the city can be more helpful.” There was a line of people waiting to ask questions, but we had a we-gotta-see-some-art attack, and left.

We did grab a press release to see who was appointed to the new Mayor’s Cultural Advisory Council (more like a mob–42 members!!!). Here’s an annotated list (thanks to John McInerney of the Phila. Cultural Alliance for filling in who’s who:

Amy Adams, gallery director, Fleisher-Ollman Gallery. former executive director and current member of Vox Populi Gallery
Peggy Amsterdam, president, Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance
Jesse Bermudez, Asociación de Músicos Latino Americanos, ED
Lorene Cary, writer, founder and director, art sanctuary
Jennifer Childs, artistic director, 1812 theatre group
Mark Christman, Director, Ars Nova (produce avant garde jazz shows)
Ian Cross, principal, I-SITE
Diane Dalto, former head of the city’s Percent for Art Commission, Chair of PCA board
Karen Davis, President, Arts & Business Council
David Devan, Managing Director, Opera Company of Phila.
Vikram Dewan, President of Zoo
Anne Ewers, President of Kimmel Center
Carmen Febo-San Miguel, MD, President, Taller Puertorriqueno
Happy Fernandez, President, Moore College of Art and Design
Dawn Frisby Byers, Executive Director, Recording Academy, Philadelphia Chapter
Kumani Gantt, director, Village Arts & Humanities
Marian Godfrey, Senior Director, Culture Initiatives, The Pew Charitable Trusts
Tanya Hall, Director, Multicultural Affairs Congress, The Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau
Beverly Harper, President, Portfolio Associates
Gail Harrity, Chief Operating Officer, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Matty Hart, all round great guy! (with a social nonprofit)
James Haskins, Managing Director, Wilma Theater
Gayle Isa, excecutive director, Asian Arts Initiative
Hilary Jay, Director, Paley Design Center and co-director, Design Philadelphia
Harvey Kimmel, Philanthropist
Joseph H. Kluger (Chair), consultant with WolfBrown
Nancy Kolb, President of Please Touch Museum
Sueyun Locks, Owner, Locks Gallery
Martin McNamara, Gallery Director, Gallery 339
Leslie Anne Miller, Lawyer
Olive Mosier, Director, Arts & Culture, William Penn Foundation
Joan Myers Brown, founder and artistic director, Philadanco
Hal Real, President, World Café Live
Romona Riscoe Benson, President African American Museum
Kim Sajet, President, Pennsylvania Historical Society
Mary Salvante, Director of art programs, Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education
Carole Shanis, Chair of the Board, Philadelphia Art Alliance
Susan Sherman, President, Independence Foundation
Nick Stuccio, Founder and director, Philadelphia Fringe and Live Arts Festival
Ed Tettemer, independent marketing consultant
Thomas Woodward, Bank of America, Pennsylvania State President & Philadelphia Market President

Ex-Officio Members
Penny Balkin Bach, Fairmount Park Art Association
Moe Brooker, Art Commission
Jane Golden, Mural Arts Program
Meryl Levitz, GPTMC
Karen Lewis, Avenue of the Arts, Inc.
Cheryl McClenney-Brooker, Philadelphia Cultural Fund
Sharon Pinkenson, Greater Philadelphia Film Office
Siobhan Reardon, Free Library of Philadelphia
Vicki Sand, Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia

The Mayor also announced that he appointed Julie Hawkins, Director of Policy and Government Relations at the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, to the Philadelphia Cultural Fund Board of Directors.