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Next five months are urgent for arts and culture organizations trying to stay afloat

May 4, 2021 Category: FeaturedLongPurpose
The COVID-19 Economic Impact Survey from the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance estimates the Philadelphia region’s arts and culture sector lost $371.7 million from March 2020 to March 2021.

The report also found that the beginning of 2021 and the upcoming months through the end of September will be the time of most urgent financial need for many organizations as they continue to try to stay afloat. Without action, the data gathered by the Cultural Alliance suggests 41% of the arts and culture sector in the five-county region will be lost by fall 2021.

The report also makes four major recommendations, the first of which calls for immediate financial relief through federal stimulus funds, coupled with philanthropic planning.

However, Mayor Jim Kenney’s $5.18 billion budget proposal for the 2022 fiscal year, which makes use of $575 million in federal stimulus funds, only increases the Philadelphia Cultural Fund to $2 million. The Cultural Fund provides grants to arts and culture organizations throughout the city.

While this amount is double the allocated funds for fiscal year 2021, it is still 33 percent less than the Cultural Fund’s pre-pandemic allocation of $3.14 million.

“It is important to note that Philadelphia’s priorities, as evidenced by Mayor Kenney’s proposed budget, are not divorced from that of arts and culture,” said Priscilla Luce, interim president and CEO of the Cultural Alliance, in a statement. “But $2 million to the [Philadelphia Culture Fund] in annual support for a sector that is losing $1 million per day due to the pandemic will not be enough to survive let alone, thrive.”

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“The consistent apathy towards programs like ours [and] also toward individual artists…is disappointing,” said Sam Rise, co-director of Girls Rock Philly. “We are really nervous about the shape of this year.”

Sam Rise. (Photo from LinkedIn)

Girls Rock Philly is an organization that promotes advocacy, self-empowerment and community building through music. GRP’s programming provides a space for both women and girls, as well as trans and gender-expansive youth and adults.

“It seems to me that they’ve incorporated $1 million into the budget so that they can claim that they’ve considered the arts,” Rise added. “But the reality is that our sector has been chronically underfunded for decades.”

The COVID-19 Economic Impact Survey identifies more than 100 organizations that are particularly at-risk in these coming months. These organizations can be grouped into four focus areas: racial justice, the LGBTQ+ community, accessibility for people with disabilities and workforce development.

“A lot of these organizations are providing community service and community programming, so if these organizations are lost, if they go out of the community, those programs won’t be replaced in all likelihood,” Luce told Generocity. “That will be a tremendous loss to the community.”

Luce said organizations have survived up until now through donations, philanthropic gifts, grants, reserve funding and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, a relief initiative by the federal government.

“It’s been a combination of things, and whether those can continue to move forward is very much the question,” Luce added.

Rise said GRP has relied on the flexibility of funders throughout the pandemic.

“Initially, we were really grateful for the few organizations that pivoted and said, ‘This money is a resource for general operating expenses. We don’t need a report, but we just want you to stay afloat,’” they said.

Rise also noted GRP received a PPP loan and its board authorized use of reserve funds for general operating expenses if necessary in coming months. However, expected funding sources have been in flux.

“Because people don’t consider the arts in particular an essential element, even though it provides a lifeline for so many people, many of the grants that we have come to rely on or anticipate shifted to serve specifically, medical support or direct service organizations,” Rise said.

Aalyah Duncan. (Photo from LinkedIn)

Aalyah Duncan, organizer and leader of Philly Culture United, said the arts and culture sector was facing challenges even before the pandemic hit.

“It really kind of intensified that impact,” she said.

Philly Culture United is an action campaign that partnered with the Cultural Alliance just more than a year ago when Mayor Kenney’s 2021 budget proposal called for the elimination of the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, and in turn the elimination of the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. This action campaign contributed to the reversal of these proposed eliminations.

Duncan, who is also a music and entertainment publicist, said the arts and culture sector is currently in crisis. She added that the sector should be included in efforts to revive tourism in the city.

“If we have people return to the city, what will they return back to if there isn’t enough arts and culture in the city?” she said. “It’s just important that we continue to advocate, not only for support during this pandemic, but also longevity.”

The Cultural Alliance report found more than 6,500 people’s jobs within the sector have been affected by the pandemic. This includes effects, such as layoffs, furloughs, reduced hours and elimination of contractors. Another one of the report’s recommendations calls for implementation of industry-wide fair pay standards and inclusion of artists in community development plans.

Duncan said independent contractors, gig workers and creators in particular are struggling, as well as BIPOC arts organizations. BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous and people of color. Duncan said these members of the arts and culture sector need to be included in economic revival conversations.

“The creators are going to look elsewhere and leave honestly to find other cities or communities where they feel as though they are conducive to continue their art and their creativity, and that’s also going to impact the relevancy of arts and culture in the city,” Duncan said, “And who would want to come to Philadelphia if that is no longer present?”

The COVID-19 Economic Impact Survey’s remaining two recommendations include a sector-wide marketing campaign and collaborations with Visit Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as a lifting of COVID-19 occupancy limits, to restore organizations to full capacity as soon as it is safely possible, and in turn improving earned revenue streams.

Luce also said in her statement that the Cultural Alliance looks forward to “constructive conversations” with the Mayor’s Office and City Council before the 2022 budget is passed. There will be a series of budget hearings in the spring, and the 2022 fiscal year begins July 1.


Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy

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