The Philadelphia Cultural Fund should manage the new $1.3 Million fund for the arts
Morgan and Roberta write an editorial voicing their concerns and those of community members about the new $1.3 million arts funding initiative, and say it should be managed by the existing and reputable PCF.

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Philadelphia city hall captured from north broad street, with PAFA's paintbrush sculpture visible on the right amongst the tall city buildings.
City Hall, Philadelphia, pictured from North Broad Street. Photo courtesy M. Edlow, Visit Philadelphia

Dear Readers, as you may know, Councilmembers Isaiah Thomas and Katherine Gilmore Richardson recently proposed a transfer of $1.3 Million from the City’s recession relief budget to a new fund for artists and arts and culture organizations. It’s not a done deal yet, but new funding for the arts and culture sector — which was advocated for by the also new Arts and Culture Task Force — sounds great, right? [Ed. Note: This post has been corrected after input from Task Force members clarifying their review/advisory/non-managerial role in the new “Illuminate the Arts” grant. We regret the inaccuracy.]

As a reminder, this positive action follows the insulting and devastating blow the arts community received last Spring when Council passed the FY2021 city budget zeroing out the office of arts and culture and reducing by two thirds, the funding for the non-profit grants manager The Philadelphia Cultural Fund (PCF). But wait a minute; let’s look at the details of the new proposal.

The “Illuminate the Arts” proposal places the decision-making about arts funding into the hands of the recently created Arts and Culture Task Force, an advisory group made up of artists and leaders from many of the city’s top arts organizations. A Task Force grant review panel consisting of five Task Force members will review applications for the”Illuminate the Arts grants.

We believe that creating a brand new Arts and Culture Task Force and populating it with respected leaders of local arts organizations is great for Philadelphia. It’s an impressive task force of local leaders, and we’re thrilled to see them in new advisory positions. In addition to the 5-member grant review panel, the larger Task Force will make a fantastic research/advisory group and community public platform. These leaders are invaluable resources- they are in touch with the needs of the many diverse arts communities in Philadelphia. With their direct connections to their communities, they can present research and proposals for how Philadelphia can better serve its often neglected arts & culture sector.

However, we question why the administrative management of the “Illuminate the Arts” fund will be placed in the hands of a yet-to-be-hired individual operating out of the OACCE, which, by the way, operates at far less capacity than the 9-person office did pre-Covid, and just lost its public art manager, Margot Berg, who quit recently.

Meanwhile, The Philadelphia Cultural Fund was created in 1991 to combat cronyism and scandal through complete transparency. They are an independent 501c3 non-profit that is not a unit of government, subject to city council and other political pressure. They have existing procedures in place for handling distribution of funds and an impartial, decision-making paradigm that prioritizes equity and fairness. Perhaps even more important? They have a 30 year history of honoring their mission to justify that trust. Surely, the long established, reputable, transparent, equitable grant manager, PCF, would have been the natural place to handle this new arts grant funding.This begs the question– why is the initiative being placed elsewhere?

In a Philadelphia Inquirer article by Stephan Salisbury, Councilmember Isaiah Thomas’s spokesperson, Max Weisman, says that “The Cultural Fund cannot legally distribute funds to an individual or to a for-profit entity.” But, the article also quotes former Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance executive director Cathryn Coate who says that The Cultural Fund was set up to allow non-profit grantees to issue subgrants to individual artists.

Why was a broadening of the PCF charter not made to accommodate this new initiative? It seems there was no thought, no will, to change the PCF charter, but instead to go head-long into a historically corrupt system of the past, when Stephan Salisbury says “Grant-making was largely on an ad-hoc basis salted by councilmanic whim.”

We believe credentialing the OACCE to manage these grants is redundant, and competes with an existing and superior operational organization, the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. It’s irresponsible to set up two funding streams that will ultimately compete with each other for limited funds. This cannot be good.

We believe that the way the new Council-linked initiative will be managed and funded is a backward step that hearkens to the days of shrouded political patronage and inside dirty dealing. And, we object to a new system of funding that at best will duplicate what the Cultural Fund does so well, and at worst will cannibalize money from PCF in future Philadelphia city budgets, at a time when it’s clear that the art funding “slice” of the city pie is ever-shrinking.

Artblog is wholeheartedly and thoroughly pro-art and pro-artist. For these same reasons, we are thoroughly pro-Philadelphia Cultural Fund. Artblog has been a recipient of the PCF funding for the past two years and will receive 45% reduced funding this year under a transparent and clear decision that PCF made to split up its reduced revenue and disperse it equitably. We have been on their peer-review panels in their rigorous decision-making process. We believe in the PCF mission of fair and equitable funds distribution. And we do not want to see the PCF harmed by installation of a new funding stream, which may endanger their important work.

Philadelphia artists and art lovers, in the rush to cheer this new initiative, don’t forget to look at the details. The PCF is the natural and the best place to put the management of this new funding. Doing so is the least the City can do– especially after their June budget made clear how little they value our community and our contributions. If you’re reading this and agree with us, please know that it’s not too late to voice your support for PCF. Contact Councilmember Isaiah Thomas – (Isaiah.Thomas@phila.gov) and Council Member Katherine Gilmore Richardson – (Katherine.G.Richardson@phila.gov) and let them know you support the Philadelphia Cultural Fund and want the new money to be managed by the PCF.

Tags

artist grants, Arts and Culture Task Force, Cathryn Coate, greater philadelphia cultural alliance, Isaiah Thomas, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Max Weisman, office of arts culture and the creative economy, philadelphia inquirer, Stephan Salisbury, The Philadelphia Cultural Fund

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