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Cultural Alliance President Peggy Amsterdam Urges Phila.'s City Council to Support Cultural Funding

(May 8, 2009) Peggy Amsterdam testified today before Philadelphia City Council in support of public funding for arts and culture.  Read her remarks here:

Good afternoon Council President Verna and members of City Council.  My name is Peggy Amsterdam and as President of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, I represent over 375 regional arts and culture institutions.  On their behalf, I am here to testify in support of keeping arts and cultural funding intact in the City’s Fiscal Year 2010 Operating Budget and Five Year Plan.   

Like all sectors, arts and culture is hurting in our current economic environment.  Our institutions are walking a tightrope between increasing public demand and decreasing resources.  Endowment, corporate, and personal investment funds are down.  As a result, overall contributions to cultural organizations are also down.  However, unlike some companies whose products can be sold at a higher price to make up for a loss, Philadelphia’s nonprofit arts and culture organizations deliver programs at a fraction of the true cost.  We could raise the prices to fully cover our costs, but that means they would triple, and that would mean closing our doors to a large portion of the city’s residents.  In fact, 43% of all admissions to arts organizations are free. Free. That makes it possible for the arts to be available to all Philadelphians.  It’s the kind of public service we can’t afford to keep up without your continued support.

The other option, of course, is to cut costs, and cultural organizations are already doing exactly that.  One-third have or are planning staff layoffs, and that means fewer jobs for Philadelphians.  The staffing cuts have come in lieu of program cuts, as organizations struggle to meet what is actually an increased demand for their services by keeping their activity levels intact.  But if contributed funding continues to decline, then programs will be the next thing to go.  That means fewer arts programs in Philadelphia schools, and fewer after-school and summer program options for Philadelphia’s youth. 

This recession is full of tough choices and we respect that the City needs to make tough choices as well.  Nevertheless, Philadelphia’s proposed arts and culture spending remains a fraction of the City’s operating budget.  Currently the City spends $14.89 per capita on the arts.  That amount is less than cities such as Charlotte which spends $22 dollars, New York which spends $43 dollars, and San Francisco which spends $69 dollars. 

We’re a world class city, and to stay competitive, we need to keep the investments that provide a solid return.  Time and again, the arts have proven themselves to be that kind of investment. Every dollar invested from local government returns $5 in local tax revenue.  And don’t forget what arts and culture is doing to support some of Philadelphia’s other key industries, too.  In this region, arts audiences spend almost $185 million per year at our hotels, and over $250 million per year at our restaurants.

The distinctiveness of a great city is derived from its assets.  Philadelphia’s arts and culture sector is often cited as one of our most extraordinary assets and it is an inseparable part of our identity.  Unlike other businesses that take advantage of the chance to move when it most benefits their bottom line, the roots of our cultural institutions are deep and strong.  They are woven into the fabric of who we are now, what we have been, and who we will become.  When we’re all gone, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will still be standing tall.

Most importantly, though, the mission of every cultural organization is to meet the needs of our residents.  Evidence of those needs being met show in the 15 million visitors to cultural organizations each year; in the 35,000 school groups that visit cultural organizations; and in the 24,000 people who volunteer their time and energy to help those organizations keep their doors open.

Residents are now relying on arts and culture offerings even more. The Rosenbach Museum & Library reported that attendance has increased as the economy has decreased.  Families are turning to arts and culture organizations for activities that provide real value for their money.  The Please Touch Museum expected to see attendance of 400,000 this year.  They reached that goal in just six months, in the midst of this recession. 

Four out of five cultural organizations are experiencing level or increased attendance, and even more importantly, level or increased individual donations.  This, at a time when no one has a dime to spare.  The public is doing its part, and their actions demonstrate that arts and culture are a valuable asset to Philadelphia and the region.  But the public alone can’t keep these organizations afloat.  That’s the bottom line of our nonprofit status – we’re not in it for the money, we’re in it for the public good.  We’re here to provide a service that we believe is more vital to our community now than ever before.  A great city does not force its people to choose between food for the body and food for the mind and spirit – it finds a way to nurture both.

So I urge all of you to match our residents’ support with continued City funding for arts and cultural organizations.  It’s an investment that improves Philadelphia’s competitiveness, its quality of life, its educational network, and ultimately its bottom line.

Thank you for allowing me to speak here today, and again, I urge you to continue your investment in the arts and culture sector, for the sake of all of Philadelphians.