Philly Councilmembers Thomas and Richardson propose $1M for the arts

Samantha Rise leads a march demanding arts funding in a giant unicorn puppet

Samantha Rise, program director of Girls Rock Philly, leads a march with a giant unicorn puppet demanding arts funding in June 2020. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

On Thursday, Philadelphia City Council will consider proposed legislation to allot $1 million for artists.

Councilmembers Isaiah Thomas and Katherine Gilmore Richardson plan to introduce an ordinance to transfer $1.3 million from the city’s special New Normal Budget into the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy to be distributed as grants.

Last summer, City Council established a $25 million New Normal Budget Act, an amendment to the city’s 2020-2021 budget earmarked for job creation and economic recovery, as a response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The proposed Illuminate the Arts ordinance came out of an arts task force created by Thomas and Richardson in the fall as part of their larger Disadvantaged Communities Task Force, which seeks feedback from city residents about the impact of the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

Gilmore said the Disadvantaged Communities Task Force reached out to health care workers, youth, small-business owners, seniors, clergy, and members of the arts sector to hear directly from those people about the challenges they face.

“This particular initiative is important because oftentimes the grants were already in place, a lot of artists don’t meet that criteria in order to receive money to recover from COVID, including PPP [federal Paycheck Protection Program] loans,” said task force co-chair Cierra Lambert. “It was important we expand the definition of artists. An artist isn’t just a painter or a musician. An artist can be a drag artist, a rapper, a culture creator. These are all people struggling at this time.”

Lambert said the task force has four goals: to make arts funding a permanent part of the city budget, support individual artists and small organizations, support youth arts, and to create a plan for “nightlife governance” to coordinate tourism, hospitality, entertainment venues, and nightclubs.

Should the Illuminate the Arts proposal pass, the grants would be administered through the city’s Office of Arts and Culture, which would begin accepting applications next month.

Thomas said the intention is to prioritize individual artists and small arts organizations who do not have the same access to financial resources as larger cultural institutions.

“The most important thing we want the arts and culture community to recognize is that we want to establish a credible relationship with the community,” he said. “We want not just the citizens of Philadelphia, but we want to put the country on notice, that Philadelphia is open for business.”

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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