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Where Do the Mayoral Candidates Stand on Issues Relating to Arts and Parks?

On Wednesday, April 22 at the Free Library of Philadelphia, GroundSwell and the Philadelphia Parks Alliance co-hosted a Mayoral Forum to address the role parks and arts play in the City of Philadelphia. In the midst of this crucial election for our city, the candidates discussed how they plan on supporting arts & culture and parks & recreation should they be elected Mayor.


In attendance were democratic candidates: Doug Oliver, Jim Kenney, Anthony Williams, Lynne Abraham and Nelson Diaz and republican candidate, Melissa Murray Bailey. 

Moderated by Steve Highsmith of PHL17, the evening started off lightheartedly by asking the candidates what type of artist they would be and what is their favorite park. Kenney would dable in oils while sitting in Franklin Square, Williams would be messy in Cobb Creek, Abraham would sing opera in Independence Park, Bailey would create abstracts with her daughter in Star Garden, Diaz would sing his heart out while running along Forbidden Drive and Oliver, who arrived late, grew up playing baseball in Vernon Park. 

After that the questions became more serious. Candidates were asked about making improvements in recreation centers, the current budget situation for the Cultural Fund, what type of financial incentives they would employ for growing the creative economy, whether they would champion the Open Lands Protective Ordinance and create a permanent Department of Arts, Culture & the Creative Economy. 

Many answers to the questions danced around the issues, but there were several direct responses worth noting. When asked about creating financial incentives to grow the creative economy and how arts and culture can cntribute to growth, Kenney and Abraham both mentioned how arts and culture and parks can grow housing stock and commercial corridors. Specifically, Abraham mentioned creating artist in residency programs in vacant storefronts. Williams said that healthy parks are directly related to property values. With higher property values you get increase in revenues which can then be reinvested back into arts and culture. Oliver said he would work with PACDC to ensure that open spaces are protected and would ensure a fair funding formula for arts and culture so our commmunity-based organizations are adequately supported. 

As expected, the education crisis was referenced on several occassions, specifically as one of the road blocks for allocating increased funds for the Cultural Fund and Parks & Rec budgets. When asked if they would have made the same decision as Mayor Nutter to slash the Cultural Fund budget, Bailey said she would and Oliver said he would cut but would reallocate resources to arts and rec in schools. The other four candidates said cutting was short-sighted and that culture brings too much to the city that we can't afford to lose. Additionally, when asked about the role of arts in education, all the candidates agreed that it is essential to a well-rounded child. Diaz spoke passionately, saying that we are depriving our children of their essential civil rights when the arts and sports and recreation are taken out of our schools. Kenney also touted his idea of leasing the Mayor's luxury boxes to fund arts and other activities in schools. 

As for establishing a permanent Office of Arts, Culture & the Creative Economy, all candidates except for Bailey said yes. The candidates were also asked about their support for payment in lieu of taxes for nonprofit cultural insitutions and all but Abraham said they would support asking large nonprofit cultural organizations to pay taxes.  Additionally, regarding the expansion of the sales tax to nonprofit cultural institutions none of the candidates supported the policy. When asked if they would commit to raising the Parks and Rec capital budget by 10% in their first term, Bailey and Diaz were the only ones to commit to doing so. Additionally, all of the candidates said they would support and champion the Open Land Protecttive Ordinance. 

Lastly, when asked about finding a dedicated revenue source to support arts & culture and parks & recreation, Oliver said he believed there should be dedicated funding and he would look to the State for assistance and said he would look to the hotel tax. Kenney said he would look at a regional tax. Abraham said she would support the current bills in the legislature that looks to the Sales and Use Tax to create funding for non-state owned museums. Diaz said he supports dedicated funding and would want to make sure that residents have discount admission. 

We want to thank everyone for attending this forum and we hope it gave you a little more insight to how these mayoral hopefuls would govern should they be elected. The Philadelphia primary is May 19th, don't forget to vote!