On Tuesday, the Philadelphia Cultural Fund announced $2.93 million in arts grants to 349 arts organizations in the city. The money comes at a time when many arts venues have little to no revenue due to forced closures.
The Cultural Fund is part of the city’s annual budget, doled out every year around this time. Due to an extra quarter-million dollars secured from the city in December, the fund is giving out more than it usually does, but that was decided months ago and has nothing to do with the COVID-19 outbreak.
However, because of the pandemic many arts organizations have had to shutter themselves from the public, closing off that critical revenue stream and creating dire straits in funding. This is particularly hard for smaller organizations with no financial buffer.
“Almost half of the organizations are under $150,000 [annual budgets]. Very few are paying quote-unquote ‘staff,’ but they are paying artists,” said the fund’s executive director Barbara Silzle. “That’s the sweet spot of the Cultural Fund. Such a large percent of our grantees — 45%, 150 something — are small, community-based organizations, and they aren’t stopping what they do. They are changing how they do it, and are on all cylinders to stay alive and to be relevant and meaningful.”
The grants range in size from about $500 up to over $13,000. Silzle says checks are being cut right now.
Recipients include Jazz Bridge ($7,357), offering financial and legal assistance to local jazz musicians; Lightning Rod Special ($5,055) an OBIE-winning theater company, Mighty Writers ($11,791), a creative writing program for youth; and this media organization, WHYY, Inc ($11,803).
“It’s a devastating moment and it will have devastating ramifications,” said Silzle. “But … these organizations are rocking their worlds to connect with people, to feed them the soul of what brings us together, and can sustain us. It’s exactly what we need right now.”
Not just feeding the soul, as Silzle said, some of these arts organizations are literally feeding people. Mighty Writers, for example, is now offering free lunches, packed to go, for its writing students.