A new round of federal stimulus money is coming into the Philadelphia arts sector, to the tune of $1.4 million.
The National Endowment for the Arts is releasing $57,750,000 to 567 arts organizations across the country, the third round of funds from the American Rescue Plan.
In Philadelphia, grants ranging from $50,000 to $150,000 are going to 14 organizations. Of America’s largest cities, Philadelphia is receiving the 7th largest distribution.
One of the recipients is the Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, a pro-bono law project that connects low-income artists and small arts organizations with a pool of more than 400 volunteer lawyers who can do a range of work, from consultation, to reviewing contracts, to legal representation. The PVLA will receive $100,000 from the NEA over a two-year period.
Originally founded in 1978, PVLA is now undergoing a transition: after operating for the last 10 years as part of the Arts and Business Council of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, it is once again becoming an independent organization.
“As an independent organization we can really bring a very focused social justice lens to the work that we do,” said executive director Kenneth Metzner. “Being independent allows us the flexibility to try new ventures, new experiments and really ask ourselves: How can we best deliver the services for our often beleaguered arts clients?”
Metzner is the only full-time employee of the PVLA, which operates on an annual budget of about $150,000. He recently hired two “very part-time” employees and said the $100,000 NEA grant will go a long way toward helping the organization find its legs as a newly independent entity.
“It’s going to cover a lot of our operating costs, including our rent for the next two years and a significant amount of compensation toward these two amazing folks that we’ve just hired,” he said.
Across the country and here in the Philadelphia region, the arts sector was hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, as many artists and organizations had to shut down entirely during the pandemic.
“The National Endowment for the Arts’ American Rescue Plan funding will help arts organizations rebuild and reopen,” said Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, chair of the NEA, in a statement. “The arts are crucial to helping America’s communities heal, unite, and inspire as well as essential to our nation’s economic recovery.”
The Philadelphia organizations receiving NEA funding include ArtistYear, Asian Arts Initiative, Azuka Theatre, the Blackstar film festival, the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, COSACOSA Art at Large, InterAct Theatre Company, PHILADANCO!, Mural Arts Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Orchestra, PlayPenn, and Shakespeare in Clark Park.
The ARP funds are mostly intended to pay for new jobs.
The Asian Arts Initiative lost several staff members during the pandemic, due to a combination of the elimination of some positions, and some staff members deciding to leave. Executive director Anne Ishii says the $150,000 grant from the NEA will allow the AAI to rebuild its staff as it starts to plan public programming again.
“This funding allows us to hire again. That’s going straight to new positions,” said Ishii. “They’ll be working on our programs. We’re finally reprogramming again, so we do need manpower.”
Ishii is also the host of the WHYY-TV program, “Movers and Makers.”
She said that, during the pandemic, the Asian Arts Initiative largely turned away from public programming and focused on providing support to its network of artists. The pandemic saw a rise in harassment and violence directed at people of Asian descent, so AAI assembled resources, information, and mutual aid for the health and safety of its community.
“We created a community storefront, there’s a pantry and a library. That’s going to continue to operate for the next several months until we run out of the budget,” she said. “It’s a lot of community care and artists support. But the shows that we’re developing now – we’re going back to the gallery model and we’re trying to activate the theater again.”
The Asian Arts Initiative is in the development phase of a collaborative project, called “eco-systems,” which Ishii says will be about the mutually beneficial relationships people — particularly people of color — have had with nature.
The arts presenting organization the Painted Bride is also transitioning. It will receive a $50,000 grant from the NEA to re-hire staff as the organization transforms into a city-wide arts organization.
Since it started in 1969 the Painted Bride has always been based in a particular location, for the last 40 years inside an iconic building in Old City wrapped in mosaics by artist Isaiah Zagar. For several years it has been working on selling that building — to some controversy — so it can restructure into a more nomadic organization, presenting arts in locations all over the city.
For now the Painted Bride still owns the building and, to a limited capacity, its administrative staff works out of it.
Executive director Laurel Raczka said the NEA money comes at a perfect time in the organization’s transition.
“We had down-staffed before the pandemic, and then with the pandemic everything moved so slowly,” said Raczka. “Now with this support we’re ready to launch our new programs. We’ve been working with a program committee, which has been an amazing, collaborative thinking pool of artists and community members to develop our programs. We’re going to hire a communications and relationship manager, so you’ll be hearing a lot more from us in the spring and summer.”
In March, the Painted Bride plans to launch Resistance Garden, a collaborative project involving artists and urban farmers to highlight the connections between art, nature, food, and well-being. The details of the project are still in development.
This third round of American Rescue Plan funding through the NEA is the largest, and the only round to be distributed directly to arts organizations. The two previous rounds — $52 million in April 2021 and $20.2 million in November 2021 — were distributed to state and regional organizations to be subgranted down to individual entities.