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Response to Opinion Piece: Arts a Key Building Block in New Economy

On Wednesday, February 4, published an opinion piece by Robert W. Patterson critiquing Philadelphia's investment in the arts and culture sector. Today, we are pleased to report that they have published a short response from our President, Maud Lyon—however, we had more to say. Read below for Maud's full response to the issues brought forth in Mr. Patterson's article, and let us know your thoughts on Twitter @philaculture.

Robert W. Patterson’s opinion piece today on, “Arts and Culture not enough to sustain Phila.”, shows an unfortunate misunderstanding of the depth, breadth and diversity of the city’s arts and culture offerings, and an ignorance of the very real impact these organizations and artists have on Philadelphia’s economy, citizens and neighborhoods. 

Beating up on the arts is an outdated and ill-informed solution. It is true that Philadelphia faces tremendous challenges, but cultural organizations are a key part of the solution. For example, one of the biggest challenges we face today is the state of public education. There are countless examples of arts organizations filling the gap with after-school and supplemental programming for underserved communities, and the Cultural Alliance’s 2014 Portfolio report found that there has actually been a 17% increase in children’s visits to the arts sector, despite the dramatic cuts to in-school arts programming.

As far as Mr. Patterson’s fears over the “hollowing out of our city’s industrial base,” while we acknowledge the challenges facing the middle and working classes (groups with which many of our fellow artists and cultural workers identify), we respectfully believe that these fears ignore the realities of our changing economic environment. Our economy is rapidly becoming a knowledge economy with the need for highly skilled creative employees, and arts and cultural organizations can teach our kids the collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skills they will need to join this new workforce that our economy is moving towards. It is the knowledge and creative economy that will make Philadelphia competitive with San Francisco, Boston, Seattle and other major cities when it comes to attracting new workers, businesses, and investment.

And as a recent transplant from Detroit—a city that understands better than any other the challenges of revitalization after the fall from a post-manufacturing boom, and the role of arts and culture in aiding that revitalization—I am acutely aware of the power Philadelphia’s arts and cultural assets have to make a difference with issues like education and community development.

Furthermore, despite what Mr. Patterson implies, cultural experiences are not just for the elite. Portfolio found that 45% of all visits to cultural institutions are free, and paid ticket prices are significantly lower than the cost of production, reflecting a firm commitment to accessibility. Across the sector, the median admission cost to an organization is $50, yet the median ticket price is just $15. The work and the impact of arts and culture is also not limited just to Center City, or to the largest institutions. There are over 2,000 nonprofit cultural organizations across the region, and 80% would be classified as small or volunteer-run organizations, deeply embedded in their community.

Finally, Philadelphia’s cultural sector is a proven engine of social, educational and economic benefits. In 2013, the region’s nonprofit cultural sector attracted 17 million visits, generating over $1.1 billion in direct spending by cultural organizations and their audiences. These effects ripple through the economy, generating revenues for businesses, families and local governments, and returning $1.04 billion in household income to Southeastern Pennsylvania residents.

The suggestion that investment in the sector has impeded Philadelphia’s progress is just the opinion of one political pundit. Most civic leaders today recognize the value of arts and culture, and the importance of focusing on multiple issues, needs and economic solutions, with arts and culture as an important part of the puzzle.

Maud Lyon
​President, Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, @philaculture