Stop Philadelphia From Defunding The Arts

Published: May 5, 2020 at 4:57 PM

“Welcome to Philadelphia,” someone said to me, yesterday, when I expressed my outrage at Mayor Kenney’s announcement of the 2021 budget for the city, which eliminates the Office of Arts Culture and Creative Economy and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund.

“Welcome to Philadelphia.” Like it could only ever be a sarcastic barb. How could I possibly feel welcome in a city that doesn’t support what I do, what I stand for, who I am. Welcome to Philadelphia sounds in verbiage, very much like what I had been saying to friends before this crisis:

“Come to Philadelphia.”

I even wrote an ode to the city last week and argued how Philadelphia is poised to be a model for other cities, to learn about the spirit of owning your weirdness, and collaborating and owning your exclusivity, even at the risk of seeming exclusionist. “By us for us,” and all that. I still remain hopeful that future exists in an alternate version of our history of these times, when every citizen of the city says out loud: I can’t live without art.

Today I am mortified to be in a city that values its arts and culture sector so little as to declare expendable what was already a mere pittance of a budget ($4mm, or half of one percent of the deficit). “Funding for the Philadelphia Cultural Fund and the Office of Arts Culture and Creative Economy will cease to exist.”

Cease to exist. Welcome to Philadelphia. Cease to exist. Welcome to Philadelphia…

This does not have to be written into the story of how we fought COVID19. All of us, and all of you, can make noise about this. If you live in the Philadelphia region, that means calling your local councilperson and telling them you won’t stand for the “elimination” of agencies which care for the creative spirit and public art of the city.

Tell your people that without public funding and more importantly, the city’s support of arts and culture, people will stop coming to Philadelphia, and then all our artists will do the inevitable:

Leave Philadelphia.

–Anne Ishii