Philly Mayor Faces Tropical Storm — Not Hurricane — Over Arts Cuts


Let’s focus on a city, one that isn’t New York, where arts and culture unquestionably predominate and where sharp revenue shortfalls are creating widespread concern.

Today’s nominee: Philadelphia.

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Possibly due to its proximity to New York City, Philadelphia often doesn’t receive the credit it deserves as one of the hubs in the nation for thriving arts and culture. According to an oft-promoted statistic developed by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, 40,000 jobs are predicated on arts and cultural economic activity in the region. As I noted in my last piece for the Huffington Post, what New York really needs is a one-sentence meme just like that one: this amount of fiscal activity = this number of jobs. Fortunately, Philly has this information at the ready, and arts advocates there use it liberally, if you’ll pardon the pun. Right now, they need such solid armaments: Mayor Michael Nutter, a distinct and outspoken arts advocate, is striving to balance the budget. Everything in sight is taking a hit, and that included a proposed 35 percent cut to the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. Translation: a funding decrease of $1.12 million, on top of another, earlier cut of $240,000.

The Philly locals aren’t happy. But that doesn’t mean all brotherly love has evaporated.

Indeed, the response from the Alliance says a lot about the good will Nutter has built up during his three-plus years in office. For the language the Alliance is using on its website is almost conciliatory:

Many other departments were affected, including police, fire, community college, prisons, and behavioral health. Balancing the budget, creating jobs, and reversing the economic downturn require careful planning and difficult decisions. With that, we hope this funding can be restored as the economy rebounds and the city tackles its larger structural budget issues.

At the same time, the Alliance is determined to make its advocacy refined and clear, so it has crafted one of those fact- and rhetoric-driven pre-fab letters that ordinary citizens can send to their mayor, and a petition to sign.

This one may very well resolve with a sense of shared sacrifice — the implication of the above statement. If that should prove true, it will represent another lesson that the dysfunctional New York State legislature is terrible at teaching.