PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Many of Philadelphia’s arts and culture organizations have gone dark these past three months because of the coronavirus pandemic, and now they’re fighting yet another uphill battle — Mayor Jim Kenney’s 2021 budget proposal.
The $4.4 million cut essentially eliminates the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, which many nonprofits depend on to operate.
“It does affect what we feel is the reputation of our city,” said Elizabeth Grimaldi, executive director of the Fleisher Art Memorial in Bella Vista. “It’s not just for our organization, but it’s for the morale of artists and arts organizations in every neighborhood.”
Fleisher provides art education to some 20,000 Philadelphians each year. The $12,000 it received from the city last year is a small part of its budget but still goes a long way.
“It’s money from places like the Cultural Fund that allow us to hire teaching artists, to do programs, to go into schools and to support artists,” Grimaldi said.
“For a lot of people in Philadelphia, the arts make people tick and we’re at a loss,” said Paula Mandel, a co-founder of The Stained Glass Project. “To think that it’s the first thing to go and the last thing to be added, is a huge mistake.”
Even though The Stained Glass Project does not receive direct funding from the city, the proposed budget cuts are a huge blow to its program.
It operates out of the Kendrick Recreation Center in Roxborough but often brings its students to cultural institutions throughout the city when they are not making masterpieces of their own.
“Isn’t it a wonderful thing to go with a group of your fellow classmates and see artwork and go to museums and meet interesting people?” said Joan Shrager, co-founder of The Stained Glass Project. “You can’t imagine the chain reaction this has had.”
In a statement, Lauren Cox, spokesperson for the mayor, wrote that COVID-19 forced some very difficult decisions. It reads in part:
“We had to find almost $650 million in budget-balancing actions in one year. That is five times the deficit the city faced following the Great Recession of 2008. We were forced to make decisions that, as demonstrated by our original budget, we would not have made if we had more resources.”
Grimaldi is hopeful that an additional $14 million dollars that was initially allocated to the police department can go to restore the cuts made to the arts.
“Police brutality is not a new issue, it didn’t descend upon us like COVID-19, it’s been long-standing, but there’s a new awareness for it and it’s giving us a pretty clear insight as where these funds can come from,” she said.
The mayor’s spokesperson adds that his budget proposal does retain two staffers from the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, who will continue to work to support the arts.
Supporters of the arts are circulating this petition, which was presented to City Council on Tuesday. The council is currently holding hearings to get input from community leaders and stakeholders before voting on the budget.