From Detroit to Philly for a ‘dream job’

A woman from the trenches of Detroit’s bankruptcy has been selected to head the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.

Maud Lyon spent 27 years running arts organizations in the Motor City, from the Detroit Historical Museum to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, to coordinating hundreds of events for Detroit 300, a celebration of the city’s 300th birthday.

In 2007 she helped found the Cultural Alliance of Southeastern Michigan (now called CultureSource), an arts advocacy organization modeled after the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. She rallied Detroit’s arts sector behind the plan to save the Detroit Institute of Arts — the so-called “grand bargain” to buy its independence from the city.

In January she will leave Detroit to become the head of the Cultural Alliance in Philadelphia, despite having no ties to this region.

“This was a hard decision. Detroit is going through an incredible rebirth right now,” said Lyon. “I know so many visionary non-profits doing incredible work, educating kids and helping neighborhoods build back up. It’s a tremendously exciting time, but opportunities like this don’t come along that often.”

The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance is a membership organization researching, compiling data, and advocating the region’s arts sector. With more than 400 members, it is almost four times larger than its counterpart in Detroit. Both cities attract emerging and experimental artists, and face similar challenges to raise awareness of the arts sector.

“You hear about individual artists, you don’t hear what the nonprofits are doing,” she said. “You hear about big organizations, and you hear about tourism, but you don’t hear about the the heart and soul of communities. That’s an enormous part of what our sector does.”

The Cultural Alliance has been tracking arts engagement on several levels, including investment, ticket sales, time spent participating in events, and practicing arts and craft hobbies.

Lyon believes the arts sector needs to leverage arts participation into engagement with issues such as blight and education. “Being a louder voice for the contributions our sectors make to those important issues — community revitalization and education in particular,” she said.

The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance has just released its annual report showing arts organizations have made economic gains since the recession, generating $1.1 billion in direct spending.  However almost half, 43 percent still operate with a deficit.

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