On February 9 and 10, Philadelphia artists and creatives held the Digital Rally for Philly Arts, a livestream event spanning more than 24 hours designed to highlight the value of arts and culture in the city ahead of City Council’s budgeting decisions for the next fiscal year.
The budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year closed the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy and eliminated it’s $4 million budget, laying off seven employees and moving the remaining two into the managing directors office; as well as cut $400,000 from Mural Arts Philadelphia.
This is the second rally of its kind, the first of which was held on June 8 and 9, 2020. Power Street Theatre, a collective of multicultural and multidisciplinary artists based in North Philadelphia, was the primary organizer of the Digital Rally for Philly Arts.
The rally was initially conceived by James Jackson, executive producer of Light Thief Productions and carried out by a handful of grassroots activists and artists. “We wanted to get together before the Mayor’s office offered its new budget to make it clear that the arts are critical and integral to the life and prosperity of Philadelphia,” said Jackson.
“In the current moment, as we navigate a pandemic, along with tons of grief, we have been required to reflect on who and what our city budget values,” says Gabriela Sanchez, managing director of Power Street Theatre. “Since the last digital rally in June, we have seen a decrease in funding for essential services for the city, for public health, for the homeless, for education and for arts and culture. This can no longer be the norm,” Sanchez continued.
City Councilmembers David Oh, Jamie Gauthier, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, Kendra Brooks, Helen Gym, Isaiah Thomas, Mark Squilla and Katherine Gilmore Richardson participated in an hour-long conversation about funding the arts along with the co-chairs of the Philadelphia Arts and Culture Task Force. Each elected official told personal stories about their relationship to the arts and the importance of the arts in the city.
“The secret of Philadelphia is the small class arts that we have in our bars and venues … it’s the nature of why Philadelphia became somewhere that young people want to come,” said Councilmember Squilla. Councilman David Oh spoke about the economic value of the arts, recalling a meeting he had with K-pop executives from South Korea.
The rally featured performances, providing glimpses into the vibrant Philadelphia arts scene. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes spoke about her creative process, musician Scarlet Cimillio performed a soulful acoustic set, and South Indian vocalist Sunita V taught about the history of Hindi poetry and music.
Mayor Kenney’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget will be unveiled in late Spring/early Summer. Only then will we know if the efforts of Philly creatives was enough to sway elected officials to fund the arts.