Arts & Entertainment: The Next Mayor’s Impact on the Arts Community?

NextMayorLogo2015A recent study conducted by the William Penn Foundation reported that nearly 70 percent of the nonprofit arts organizations in the Greater Philadelphia region are considered to be in poor financial health.

Philadelphia has, statistically, one of the most culturally vibrant cities in the nation, with a 64 percent increase in the number of nonprofit arts organizations since 1995. Although initially responsible for great economic growth and the rebirth of the city, these organizations are unnecessarily competing against each other.

From 2007 to 2011, the average ticket price in the city had risen from $18.33 to $21.22. The 15 percent increase in ticket prices will only continue to rise, in part, if the art community remains underfunded. The increase in ticket prices has also taken a heavily toll on attendance as well. According to the William Penn Foundation report, paid attendance declined by 1 percent from 2007 to 2011.

As the mayoral election approaches, many nonprofit art organizations are hoping for change once the winner is declared. It is no secret that arts organizations, like many other organizations, need adequate funding in order to survive. Some financially weak organizations are closing their doors, while others are not seeing the number of attendees grow.

“This transition is the inevitable world that the mayoral candidates are entering into. It should – and it must – be taken seriously,” said Tommy Butler, the program and community coordinator at the Arts and Business Council of Philadelphia. “Simply put, there are too many cooks in the kitchen and they’re all competing for the same limited audiences, limited space, and most importantly, limited funding.”

City Hall

The Philadelphia Cultural Alliance is a regional partner agency of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and works with the council in evaluating proposals and distributing grants to artists, programs and organizations in Philadelphia County.

“We are about articulating the needs of the cultural sector,” said Maud Lyon, president of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. “We are about making organizations truly stronger and more capable.”

Although recent studies completed by the Cultural Alliance reported that organizations in Philadelphia collectively spend about $1.1 billion a year and employee nearly 30,000 people, they are still struggling from the effects of the recession.

“The nonprofit sector that creates produces, presents and preserves arts and culture is everything from community based organizations with budgets of less than $2,000 a year to major institutions with budgets of more than $50 million a year,” said Lyon. “It’s a very wide range and their needs are different, especially with what they bring to the community. It is ultimately about what that money does and what that investment is.”

Avenue of the Arts

One of the nonprofit art organizations in dire support of adequate funding is the Philadelphia Film Society , which has produced a top-tier film festival in the city. Without the support from the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, the organization wouldn’t have the funds needed in order to maintain itself.

“Although the Philadelphia Film Society does not have an official stance on the mayoral election, we encourage our friends to contact the mayor and city council members and show their support for the Philadelphia Cultural Fund,” said Alex Gibson, operations manager at the Philadelphia Film Society. “The Philadelphia Cultural Fund has allowed the Philadelphia Film Society and many other non-profit organizations around the city the opportunity to survive and grow.”

Due to the adequate support of funding from the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, the Philadelphia Film Society has been able to open the Philadelphia Film Society Theater at the Roxy last year to extend Philadelphia Film Festival programming throughout the year.

“In addition to regularly programmed films, we host special programs such as our Graveyard Shift series and Saturday morning children’s films to bring people from the community and beyond to the theater to congregate around film,” said Gibson.

Although the Philadelphia Film Society and many nonprofit organizations are able to survive now, that may not be the case within the next several years. Without question, the mayoral election on Nov. 3 will have a profound impact on the art community in Philadelphia. Will the winner help the art community grow by supplying the community and organizations with increased funding or will the winner look past the art community and place the funding elsewhere?

“The future for Philadelphia’s arts sector is, without question, filled with uncertainty,” said Butler.

– Text and images by Thomas Moser and Julia Dembowski.

Mantua: Residents Seek Stronger Communication with City Hall

NextMayorLogo2015Redevelopment, providing accessible fresh food and strengthening communication between politicians and their constituents are all priorities that Mantuans are talking about in regards to the upcoming mayoral election.

“I think we had a lot of stuff on the backburner for years and those smaller things are becoming boulders,” said Mantua Civic Association president De’Wayne Drummond. “So right now I can’t really see the smaller things because the boulders are blocking it. Dealing with the big issues right now is our focus. It can be a struggle without the mayor’s support.”

There are Mantuans who think political leaders focus more on Center City and other parts of Philadelphia than on smaller communities like theirs.

“If [the elected mayor] really knows what community engagement is, then [they are] going to focus on those issues,” Drummond said. “If it is a big business person that is running, yes, they probably will focus on Center City.”

This concerns Mantuans who say they have been waiting for changes for decades.

They also believe that recent mayors tended to not include them in discussions that affect their community.

“It is absolutely true that sometimes [government] pontificates from above instead of working from below,” said mayoral candidate Nelson Diaz. “It’s important to have neighborhood and neighborhood community developmental organizations develop in the city.”

The voices at a recent MCA meeting also discussed economic development, specifically on Lancaster Avenue. On the 4000 block of this historic strip, there are 10 storefronts with zero signs of business and even more closed during normal business hours. One of the main topics at the meeting was the community’s need for a supermarket, something that has been in its initial stages since 2012.

Closed storefronts during normal business hours on the 4000 block of Lancaster Avenue
Closed storefronts during normal business hours on the 4000 block of Lancaster Avenue

In 2013, President Obama declared West Philadelphia one of five Promise Zones. Being a Promise Zone heightens Mantua’s likeliness to receive grants and tax incentives if Congress approves them, although it does not mean Mantua will receive federal money directly.

“I think the Promise Zone is still in its early stages,” Drummond said. “There is still a lot of strategic planning and stuff going on. I would love to see the day where the implementation would take place.”

Mantuans say that their neighborhood is tight knit, but it needs to have a stronger relationship with government officials. Drummond agrees with his community members.

“One thing with government is that there are so many departments and if there isn’t communication within eachothers department, they will drop the ball,” he said. “I think better communication with the government is key, with the mayor especially.”

'Rent' and 'For Sale' signs are a common sight on Lancaster Avenue.
‘Rent’ and ‘For Sale’ signs are a common sight on Lancaster Avenue.

During the meeting, one community member told Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) representative Brian Abernathy that they believe a supermarket would already be underway if the PRA involved the community from the beginning of the entire process. Abernathy updated the attendees on the supermarket’s status. Abernathy said that the city made an offer on artist James Dupree’s studio after it was appraised by a real estate agent for $2.2 million. Adjacent to and across the street from the vibrant studio, for the most part, are vacant lots or abandoned buildings. The PRA’s offer was less than the appraised value, which included moving and storing the artist’s work.

Because Dupree did not accept the PRA’s offer, the city is looking at other properties in the area to purchase for a lesser amount, including the properties between Haverford Avenue and Wallace Street, between 36th and 38th streets.

Some of Mantua’s issues stem from outdated zoning, Drummond said.

“It doesn’t fit modern-time Mantua,” he added. “Some of that stuff was zoned in the ’50s.”

In order for the zoning laws to change, the next mayor would need to appoint people to the City Planning Commission who are willing to make a change.

In June 2012, the We Are Mantua! initiative, in collaboration with multiple other community organizations, released the Mantua Transformation Plan, a three-phase redevelopment plan to rezone the neighborhood.

“The vast majority of parcels in Mantua are zoned for medium density residential uses (R-9 and R-10),” the plan states. “Commercial zoning is primarily concentrated along Lancaster Avenue and Haverford Avenue, historically the neighborhood’s business corridor.”

Transforming Lancaster and Haverford avenues back into the business-filled corridor they once were is another goal of the Mantua community.

“A key element to creating new jobs and recruiting business to the city is building a direct pipeline to our local workforce,” mayoral candidate James F. Kenney said. “This connection starts with listening to businesses about the type of skilled workers they are trying to hire and aligning job training and Community College programs to match those needs.”

This collaborative effort reflects the wants and needs of multiple Mantuan generations, something that the community hopes happens with the next elected mayor.

Philadelphia Neighborhoods reached out to all of the declared Philadelphia Mayor Candidates. Included in this story are the candidates who responded.

–  Text and images by by Andrew Vlasak and Andrea Iezzi.