The Philadelphia arts sector has been a hotbed of activity recently, on both a political and civic level, with some exciting developments underway as well as some new challenges. Last November, the city elected a new mayor — John F. Street, former city council president during the Rendell administration. Philadelphians had enjoyed broad support of the arts from former Mayor Edward Rendell, who was especially tuned into its economic impact. Mr. Street has so far been more focused on projects like a new sports complex, although he did appoint an Arts and Culture Policies and Planning Transition Committee.
The transition committee had several astute recommendations, such as the establishment of an autonomous Department of Arts and Culture that would “provide the stability and resources needed to capitalize on the cultural industry's capacities to advance the broader civic agenda.” [The present Office of Arts & Culture is housed within the Office of the City Representative and the Department of Commerce, apart from other cultural agencies, and has no operating budget of its own.] The committee also advocated expanded funding for the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, Philadelphia's primary source of funding for its arts and cultural organizations, stating that “an increase [of its present $1 million budget] to $5 million would bring Philadelphia funding in line with other comparable U.S. cities.”
The transition team further advised that the Street administration support the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance's (GPCA) marketing campaign which is designed to increase visitation and support of the city's cultural attractions by regional audiences. GPCA, through a two-year grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts, is developing its “Campaign for Culture” to focus on the inherent value of the arts to society. In addition, the Alliance has begun the research phase for the first “regional cultural plan” for greater Philadelphia. The plan's goal is to assess “the current state of arts and culture and to recommend future sector development strategies.” Model plans developed by other regions such as San Jose, Greater Cleveland, and Charlotte, North Carolina are being utilized to help the organization in its approach to this task.
On the state level, Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania and GPCA recently succeeded in pressing the state legislature to increase the appropriation for the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts from $11 to $14 million. Governor Tom Ridge has supported arts and cultural programs in Pennsylvania since taking office in 1995. Under his leadership, state funding for grants to the arts increased by 33 percent, from $9 million in 1995 to $12 million last year. Because of his commitment to the arts, Governor Ridge received the State Arts Leadership Award from the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Americans for the Arts last January.
Beyond the political realm, there are some exciting arts projects in the works in Center City Philadelphia. Several years ago, the main north-south artery, Broad Street, was rechristened the “Avenue of the Arts” by Mayor Ed Rendell. South of City Hall, the Avenue has already become the new home of the Wilma Theater, the Prince Music Theater (formerly American Music Theater Festival), the Arts Bank, Brandywine Workshop Center for the Visual Arts, and the Clef Club for Jazz and the Performing Arts. Groundbreaking for the brand new Regional Performing Arts Center took place in November 1998. This impressive, much-needed complex will house seven resident performing arts companies: the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pennsylvania Ballet, the Opera Company of Philadelphia, American Theater Arts for Youth, Concerto Soloists, Philadanco, and the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. Designed by Rafael ViÃ±oly, the center will contain a 2500-seat concert hall, 650-seat recital theater, and a 4000 square foot education center. On the north side of the Avenue, the Freedom Theater, one of America's oldest and largest African-American performing arts companies, unveiled its new $6.7 million John E. Allen Jr. Theater and training complex.
In late-breaking news: another Philadelphia area grantmaker has joined the Pew Fellowships, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and The Leeway Foundation in providing support for individual artists. The Independence Foundation recently announced the first recipients of its succinctly named Individual Artist Fellowships. Thirteen local performing artists received grants ranging from $3,000 to $10,000 to further their training or professional development. A second round of fellowships will be made to visual artists this summer. A unique aspect of the program is that both originating and interpretive artists are eligible. The Leeway Foundation recently announced the recipient of its first national award, The Leeway Laurel: Bernice Johnson Reagon was presented with this $100,000 prize and a bronze sculpture of a woman in honor of her lifetime achievement in the arts and her contributions to society.
River Algiers Trappler is program coordinator, the Leeway Foundation.