Culture Fund grants bolster Northwest Philly groups with day-to-day (and life-or-death) support

 Germantown musician Monnette Sudler attended the Philadelphia Culture Grant event to honor a group that helped save her life. (Photo courtesy of Larry Hilton)

Germantown musician Monnette Sudler attended the Philadelphia Culture Grant event to honor a group that helped save her life. (Photo courtesy of Larry Hilton)

Northwest Philadelphia-based arts-and-culture groups made a strong showing at March’s City Hall ceremony for Philadelphia Cultural Fund (PCF) grant winners.

Established by the Mayor and City Council in 1991, the non-profit corporation supports arts and culture as drivers of social, educational and economic development, as well as city pride.

Every year, a City budget allocation allows PCF to offer operations support grants to arts and culture organizations in the region. This year, PCF grants (recipients-list PDF) totaled $1.63 million among 272 recipients.

Germantown musician Monnette Sudler was also there to support Jazz Bridge, which won this year’s Councilman David Cohen Award to honor local arts-and-culture organizations working for social and economic justice.

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Last year, the Glenside-based non-profit which helps Philadelphia-area jazz and blues artists in medical, legal, financial or personal crisis, helped save Sudler’s life.

A critical diagnosis

A teacher, poet, singer, recording artist and internationally-known jazz guitarist, Sudler noticed something wasn’t right about seven years ago, when she was going up and down the stairs at home.

Her diagnosis was devastating: Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive, incurable hardening of the lungs that can lead to fatal respiratory failure within a few years.

Growing up in Nicetown and Germantown, Sudler always loved music. Her mother was a church vocalist and her uncle played the jazz piano by ear. She listened to him, entranced, when he visited.

Later, artists like Wes Montgomery, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and singer Betty Carter influenced Sudler’s own music-writing and improvisational style, which she said is a mix of folk, avant-garde and traditional jazz and a bit of R&B.

“I’ve performed all over the world,” said Sudler, who has two adult sons.

At first, her disease didn’t slow her down too much.

“Focusing on the music and working with children and the things that I was doing in my life at the time didn’t allow me a lot of time to wallow and worry about what was going on,” said Sudler, who earned her music degree from Temple University in 2000.

Soon, she started carrying an oxygen tank, just in case, until “it got to a point where I had to have it all the time.” Then, blood clots in her lungs caused more trouble.

“Finally, I was at a gig, and I had to leave, and go home. I couldn’t walk from the living room into the kitchen,” she recalled.

That’s when she knew things had taken a serious turn. Last summer, she got on the list for a lung transplant.

Getting help

As worries loomed about the cost of the surgery and its medications, Sudler’s friends urged her to reach out to Jazz Bridge.

She had already been a supporter for years, attending Jazz Bridge events to benefit other artists in need.

“I just love what they do,” she said.

Her Jazz Bridge friends and supporters quickly mobilized a fund and benefit concert, held at Germantown’s 7165 Lounge last October.

A few weeks later, on Oct. 28, 2013, Sudler had a double lung transplant.

Not every organization’s story is as dramatic as Jazz Bridge’s help for Sudler.

Other winners

Each of the 33 groups honored with a PCF general-operating grant — most didn’t want to publicly state a specific grant-dollar figure — in the eighth councilmanic district offers something valuable to the community.

Bill Valerio, director and CEO at Chestnut Hill’s Woodmere Art Museum, said that operations funds are “the very hardest dollars to raise for any museum.”

The money that keeps the lights on and pays for day-to-day heating, cooling and staffer salaries isn’t a “sexy” cause, but “the support is very basic to our needs and therefore essential,” he said.

Laura Keim, interim director at grant-winner Historic Germantown, said the City’s support will “work on behalf of all the historic sites to raise the profile of history in our neighborhoods and enrich our community’s cultural life.”

At Germantown’s Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion, executive director Diane Richardson said their grant would help “continue to promote the study of Victorian-era culture in Philadelphia.”

Jeri Lynn Johnson, founder and music director at Mt. Airy’s Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, said their grant would cover administration costs for BPCO’s upcoming “Citywide Side-by-Side” performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, which itself was made possible by a Knight Arts Challenge grant.

“This grant is not only helping support the arts in Philadelphia, but greater community involvement in the arts as well,” Johnson said.

Lindsey Crane is the new full-time managing director at Mt. Airy’s Intercultural Journeys, a group dedicated to cross-cultural connections through music.

She said their grant comes at a “unique and important” time, as the non-profit has recently finished a major strategic plan allowing new hires and “re-energized programming.”

“The PCF funds we were granted this year will be used to help support our critical transition and assist us in implementing our new programming,” Crane said.

Kama-Sahlor Group leader Lisa Hopkins was also happy to be included. Kama-Sahlor provides a variety of performing-arts programs for local schools, community groups and churches.

PCF dollars will allow Kama-Sahlor to mount their own adaptation of “The Lion King,” coming to Germantown’s John B. Kelly Elementary School on June 6.

The grant allows her group “to make dreams to come true for our students, [some of whom] come from poverty-stricken school communities whose budget for arts and culture have been cut,” Hopkins said.

For her part, City Councilwoman Cindy Bass said that the grants “promote “diversity in the city of Philadelphia through supporting arts-and-culture organizations, which are so vital to our neighborhood’s quality of life. “

Breathing free

As for Sudler, the lung transplant has gotten her playing again.

She took the stage for the first time after her surgery at her annual Philadelphia Guitar Summit in February at Montgomery County Community College, and has performed a few gigs since.

“I’ve been loving it,” she said. “I’m telling you, life is a lot different now. It’s nice to be able to breathe again.”

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