More than 1,000 Philly artists, art administrators call for defunding the police department

In an open letter to Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council, artists and arts organizations called on the city to redistribute police funding to human services.

Police and protesters in Philadelphi

Police and protesters clash Saturday, May 30, 2020, in Philadelphia, during a demonstration over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Updated: 2 p.m.


Arts organizations in Philadelphia have entered the conversation surrounding Black Lives Matter protests with a formal, open letter decrying systemic racism.

In the letter sent to Philadelphia City Council and Mayor Jim Kenney on Monday, signed by over 1,000 artists and arts administrators as of Thursday afternoon, demands that they acknowledge the “intentional deprivation of shared resources” to Black residents, residents of color and low-income residents; that they defund the police department and redistribute the money to human services; and that all Philadelphia arts organizations sever known ties with the police.

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“In early May, we objected to your proposed city budget for the fiscal 2021 year, which reserved an irrational, continued investment in the police, under the auspices of ‘safety,’” reads the letter.

It also says many in the arts community had “delicately” asked the mayor redistribute a portion of the $649 million line item for police to human services that are slated to be cut or eliminated from the city budget, including the city’s Office of Arts Culture and the Creative Economy and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund.

“The reason we had asked politely for change, and why I suspect the mayor’s office repeatedly declines any motion to disinvest from the police, was not out of respect for police work, but out of fear of the police force,” the letter continues. “The tide has turned and we are no longer afraid.”

The letter was drafted by Anne Ishii, executive director of the Asian Arts Initiative, Maori Holmes, artistic director and CEO of the Blackstar Film Festival, and Danny Orendorff, executive director of the artist collective and gallery Vox Populi. Theirs are the first three signatures.

The long and growing list of signatories includes Jane Golden, CEO of Mural Arts Philadelphia, Brooke Davis Anderson, director of the PAFA museum, the board chair of the Painted Bride John Barber, and people associated with the Barnes Foundation, the Fleischer Art Memorial, the Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia Contemporary, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and many others.

Kenney announced on Tuesday that he would drop his proposal to add $19 million to the force’s budget, after a veto-proof majority of City Council said in a letter Monday it could not accept spending more money on police.

The letter from arts and culture leaders acknowledges City Council’s opposition to the police budget increases in an addendum, noting that the signers are “steadfast in our belief that Philadelphia must further defund the Philadelphia Police Department.”

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“I laud the mayor’s openness to make changes to the budget,” Ishii said in an email to WHYY News Thursday. “But we will continue to advocate until this and forthcoming budgets reflect all of our demands.”

Ishii and many of the signatories will be participating in a protest at the step of the Philadelphia Museum of Art next Tuesday, June 16, an event organized by a separate group under the name Artist Coalition for a Just Philadelphia. They will demonstrate with music, dance and visual arts at the PMA, then proceed to City Hall.

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