Gary Steuer, chief cultural officer and director of the City of Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy since 2008, has resigned. He will leave the job Oct. 1 to become president and CEO of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation in Denver.
“Gary has provided strong and innovative leadership of Philadelphia’s efforts to promote and invest in its arts, culture and creative economy,” said Mayor Nutter in a prepared statement. “His work has been invaluable and I am sorry to see him go. I know that he will be the highly respected civic leader in Denver that he has been here in Philadelphia.”
A new director will be sought. A city spokesman said it was not immediately known what process would be followed in the search — whether a search committee or search firm would be engaged — but Nutter is expected to consult with Steuer and Joseph Kluger, chairman of the mayor’s cultural advisory council.
Steuer said he was recruited for the foundation post. “The reality is that one’s tenure in these kinds of [municipal] roles are tied to the tenure of the administration, so I had to be thinking about my professional life going forward,” he said.
The Bonfils-Stanton Foundation is relatively small, with about $70 million in assets, distributing mostly arts, culture and educational grants totaling $3.5 million in the year ending in June 2012, according to its tax returns.
Steuer earns $156,750 a year, according to a city spokesman.
“I think it’s an important position …in the government, and one that has brought real value to tax payers,” said press secretary Mark McDonald. “As the arts and creative economy has grown, so has the awareness of what we’ve got, this jewel, and Gary is a major reason why we have this greater awareness.”
Derick Dreher, director of the Rosenbach Museum and Library, said the joke when Steuer arrived, just as the recession and budget cuts were settling in, was that he was a czar without much of a coffer. But he managed to do far more than anyone might have expected. “I think he has done a very good job of trying to keep the rudder steady during an incredibly turbulent period.”
Dreher said that at the announcement of the Rosenbach’s merger with the Free Library of Philadelphia, Nutter pointed to Steuer and said a good part of his job in coming years would be focused on identifying and managing more such mergers.
Steuer confirmed that, given financial pressures, the city sees a role for itself in “fostering conversations” about how arts and culture groups can pool resources or, in some cases, merge.
He said he was particularly proud of his work in getting city agencies to work together — the Water Department with the Mural Arts Program to highlight water conservation, and the Streets Department to collaborate with artists on designing bike racks, for example.
Steuer was instrumental in bringing in federal money for city arts efforts, and helped persuade the Knight Foundation to launch its Knight Arts Challenge in Philadelphia, bringing $9 million in new funding. He was also heavily involved in research arguing for arts and culture as a financial force.
One such piece of data, he said, shows that the creative sector adds 50,000 direct jobs in the city — “the fourth largest employer behind education, healthcare and retail,” he said. “That’s a very powerful tool in terms of getting people to pay attention to this sector.”