Letter: Region can do better supporting arts

Pennsylvania Ballet
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Philadelphians are counting on culture to fuel our economy, educate children, generate tax revenue, and build our quality of life. Yet, we have slashed the Cultural Fund budget in half from $3.2 million in 2010 to $1.6 million today. That means we invest just $1 per year per citizen.

So the fund is making nearly impossible decisions on funding ("Cultural Fund awards 244 grants: Friction emerges over handling of W. Phila. group," March 7). It's basic math: with less to go around every year, many vital community cultural programs no longer make the cut.

Over the last 20 years, City Council has been smart to invest in arts and culture, since the region's cultural sector provides 44,000 jobs, and returns $3.3 billion in yearly economic impact and $169 million in taxes. But while vital to our economy, arts and culture organizations are vulnerable. Attendance rose 5 percent during the recession, but this couldn't make up for much deeper cuts in government and corporate support.

This status quo is not sustainable. The Cultural Alliance and other partners are doing everything we can to help cultural organizations diversify their funding streams, engage new audiences and streamline operations to squeeze the most efficiency out of what is literally "the last dollar". But Trimming budgets and adopting better management practices can only go so far.

If we want a vibrant community that helps educate our kids, attracts visitors and business from around the globe, and rebuilds our tax base, then we need to renew our commitment to arts and culture. Council should restore the Cultural Fund from $1 per person per year to $2. That's an important dollar in a city that too often settles for less, and just might make the difference between second class and world class.

 - Tom Kaiden, president, Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, Philadelphia