March 16-22, 2006
Arts : ArtPhilly Fund Savers
Groups can use Cultural Fund cash however they want. But the mayor's bond initiative would go strictly toward capital costs, or physical improvements to a building. His goal is economic development and he said as much in his January budget address: "The city's cultural assets are economic engines for the region."
That's fine, says Andrew Simonet, co-director of Headlong Dance Theater, but Street shouldn't delude himself into thinking he's really helping artists who live and work here. "He's looking for a big project he can put his name on," he says. "That's not really funding arts and culture. It's the same with the big regional performing arts center on Broad Street. That's all about bringing in people from the suburbs to see very comfortable, reassuring, conservative art."
If Simonet were mayor for a day he would use 10 percent of the bond moneywhat he called "hippo-house money"to help artists buy real estate. And, he would help the Cultural Fund toward its long-term goal of $5 million. "That kind of money at the grassroots level would be enormously helpful," he says. (Cultural Fund Manager June O'Neill says this year 234 groups cashed checks from $1,100 to $16,000.)
But the Cultural Fund needs an advocate. This time around, it won't find one in council members Jack Kelly, Marian Tasco or Blondell Reynolds Brown, who sit on its board. They brush off talk of a budget surplus and say grantees should be grateful the mayor didn't decrease the current allocation.
"I have no problem with keeping the funding at the same level that it was last year because they were one of the few organizations that were not threatened by any cutbacks," says Kelly.
"My first priority will be to be a cheerleader, champion and advocate for the $150 million bond issuance," Reynolds Brown says, adding she is looking into developing revenue streams besides the city.
Stephanie Naidoff of the Commerce Department released this statement: "We haven't yet determined how the [bond] money will be allocated, but it's for capital funding, which explains why it won't be used to increase the Cultural Fund, which is for operating costs."