A Letter to Restore OACCE and PCF

As our city’s arts and culture community urge Mayor Kenney to restore the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE) and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund (PCF), InLiquid encourages our audiences, artists, and art advocates to do the same.

Gary Steuer, The former Director of OACCE & Chief Cultural Officer of Philadelphia from 2008 to 2013, along with Joe Kluger, Chair of the Mayor’s Cultural Advisory Council from 2008 to 2015, wrote a powerful letter, originally posted in The Artblog, in support of the OACCE and PCF and arguing their importance is vital to the city:

Although we understand the City of Philadelphia faces financial challenges from the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Kenney’s revised FY2021 budget proposal to eliminate the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE), as well as all funding for the Philadelphia Cultural Fund (PCF), which makes annual grants to about 350 non-profit cultural organizations, is disproportionally unfair and short-sighted.

As the former Chief Cultural Officer, who created and led the OACCE for five years under Mayor Nutter, and the Chair for eight years of the Mayor’s Cultural Advisory Council, we know what the measurable and intangible benefits to the City and its residents can be of a fully functioning Cabinet-level office. We have seen the return on investment that PCF grants can have on cultural organization programs in every neighborhood, as well as the direct jobs and other economic impact they stimulate. We each also have deep experience working with cultural organizations and in cultural policy at the national level and in many other cities, and we know all too well the negative consequences to a city and its residents when political leaders view arts and culture as a “nice to have” rather than essential component of a city’s quality of life.

In 2007, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and the William Penn Foundation commissioned the Rand Corporation to examine the state of Philadelphia’s cultural sector and look at how eleven other comparable metropolitan areas supported their arts infrastructures. This study made a compelling case for an increase in per capita City funding of the arts from $4 to the $11 average level in other cities. It also articulated the crucial need for a strong City role in sustaining a vibrant cultural sector, and the eco-system it is a part of: the larger for-profit and entrepreneurial creative sector that includes web and app companies, the live music scene, commercial art galleries, graphic design and advertising, etc. This led to the re-imagining of the City’s cultural office as OACCE under Mayor Nutter, expanding its charge to incorporate the larger creative sector, inclusive of nonprofit arts groups, with a corresponding increase in impact.

During the Nutter administration, a public art gallery was created on the first floor of City Hall, providing a vehicle to showcase the work of artists and arts organizations from throughout the City, in a space that was publicly accessible without having to clear security, significantly expanding the scope of the Art in City Hall Program. OACCE also created the City Hall Presents program of diverse free performing arts events in the Courtyard. OACCE was able to partner with the Knight Foundation to bring the Knight Arts Challenge to Philadelphia, pumping $9 million in funding into the arts sector over three years, vastly more than the City has spent on the budget of the Office since its creation. The OACCE also plays a critical role in managing the City’s Percent For Art program and overseeing its large public art collection.

OACCE was able to serve a crucial “ombudsman” role, coordinating with the Mural Arts Program, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Mann Center, the African American Museum and other city-owned or supported cultural programs. There are many examples of the OACCE playing an often invisible problem-solving role, such as: Working with the Parking Authority to ensure that trucks unloading the equipment of bands performing at World Café Live had a special permit that allowed them to park in the loading dock during the show, rather than consistently being ticketed and towed. Or persuading the Revenue Department not to require all exhibitors at events like the Philadelphia Craft ShowFlower Show and Antique show to be licensed and taxed as Philadelphia-based businesses. This massive new tax and paperwork burden imposed on these businesses – something no other city in America did – would have meant the likely loss of all these huge shows, as well as the economic impact and resulting sales tax revenue.

The Philadelphia Cultural Fund (PCF) has also been of tremendous value to the City since its inception in 1991. PCF, which recently announced $2.9 million in grants to 349 organizations, is set up as a quasi-independent entity under OACCE to distribute funding to the city’s nonprofit cultural groups in a way that is equitable and not politically influenced. Independent peer panels rate the applicants and an algorithm determines final grant amounts, prioritizing support for smaller community-based groups, many in poorer areas of the City serving people of color. While the Mayor may argue that larger entities can rely on their wealthy patrons in these difficult times, the vast majority of the groups supported by PCF cannot rely on private patronage.

The year and month the OACCE was created – October, 2008 – turned out to be the peak of the financial crisis. A massive gap opened up in the City revenue budget and significant cuts needed to be made. The OACCE found itself needing to make do with less, and Mayor’s Nutter’s original pledge to increase the Philadelphia Cultural Fund budget five-fold turned out to be impossible to achieve. But the OACCE and the PCF continued to be supported and play a part in ensuring that the City’s cultural sector – which supports over 55,000 jobs and generated $4.1 billion in economic impact in 2017 – survived and flourished following the economic downturn.

City of Philadelphia political leaders must recognize that arts, culture and the creative economy are a critical part of the City’s economy and quality of life and it is a “must have” function of government to support that sector. It is easy to see the value of the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, which pushes money deep into the community, in every single Council district. The work of a City cultural office can be harder to see and understand, but is no less vital to the City.

We understand the City is experiencing an unprecedented public health and budget crisis that will require painful cuts throughout the City budget. But, since they represent less than 1/10 of 1% of the City budget, we urge Mayor Kenney and City Council to preserve the OACCE and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, even if their budgets must be cut proportional to the anticipated reduction in City revenue.


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