Interim Executive Director Michael Norris' Speech at the 2013 Cultural Alliance Annual Member Meeting

Remarks of Michael Norris, Interim Executive Director, at the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance's 2013 Annual Member Meeting. 

The theme of this year’s Annual Meeting is “Leadership in Action.”

A few years ago, we published a groundbreaking report called “Research into Action” that revealed how our region’s diverse population engages with arts and culture. The report provided cultural organizations with insights and specific strategies on how to attract new audiences and provide deeper experiences.

It was also a roadmap for all of us at the Cultural Alliance. It has guided our work and helped us develop programs that strengthen the cultural sector and facilitate innovation. And its findings made it clear that to increase engagement and access to arts and culture we must play a central role in our region’s civic life.

The point is: we do more than just analyze and interpret data: we act on it in order to lead the sector and the region forward.

Here are some of the major projects that we’ve been working on over the past year as well as some exciting new projects that we’ll be launching in the months ahead.

Let’s start with marketing:

This November, the region’s most complete events calendar will get a re-boot! The new Phillyfunguide has richer content, an easier submission process and a contemporary look that works across all your devices, phones, tablets, wifi enabled bi-focals, pretty much anything.

Funsavers, the sector’s best discount-ticket program, also saw a major overhaul with a permanent home on Phillyfunguide. And tonight we’re announcing a new partnership with the Arts & Business Council and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce to extend Funsavers offers to the the Council’s volunteer professionals and the employees of the Chamber’s 5,000 member companies. This will create a new market of tens of thousands of potential new ticket buyers and provide a familiar entry point for the business community to engage with the arts.

Our tourism collaboration with GPTMC continues to pay high dividends. Their With Art Philadelphia campaign has garnered international media coverage for the city and its cultural scene, and we’ll be working with GPTMC on another editorial feature in US Airways Magazine next spring.

Philadelphia List Cooperative, already one of the largest in the country, is now Audience Analytics. The new program gives marketers affordable access to data on over 2.5 million households, a more robust suite of analytical tools, and grants to do innovative direct-marketing projects.

We also have two new fundraising programs to help organizations leverage data, convert prospects to donors more effectively, and diversify their income streams:

Donor Analytics gets you a discounted subscription to the WealthEngine online prospect-research tool and access to a learning circle of development professionals.

And this spring the Cultural Alliance will release a new Patron Loyalty Study that will give the cultural community a better understanding of giving and participation patterns.

The Cultural Alliance is a national leader when it comes to research, and right now:

Preliminary work is underway on the 2014 edition of Portfolio, which provides an in-depth look at the health, breadth and diversity of the region’s cultural sector. For the first time, Portfolio will compare Philadelphia against other cities and metro-regions.

This November we’ll release the first Salary and Benefits Survey of the nonprofit cultural sector in over a decade. So finally the truth will be revealed, and the public will see just how rich and pampered we all are!

These programs and all of our services are now available to the region’s entire cultural community. To reflect the evolution of arts and culture beyond the traditional 501c3, the Cultural Alliance has opened its doors to include all types of creative enterprises.

I have one other exciting program that I want to tell you about:  

This Friday the Cultural Alliance will launch a new teen program called STAMP or Students at Museums in Philly. Twelve Philadelphia museums have partnered with us to provide free leisure-time admission to teens who sign up for the free STAMP Pass. Museums will also provide educational activities and resources to enrich teens’ experiences and host monthly events for teens to have fun and socialize with their peers.

We have a special STAMP website to promote the pass and the 12 museums, as well as all of the cultural programming available to teens in our community. STAMP also has a lively presence on Twitter and Instagram, because, believe it or not, according to a lot of expensive research studies, young people like [make air quotes] “the internet”.

And we’re working with a network of over 40 youth-serving community organizations to make sure that as many teens as possible know about the program.

STAMP is a significant effort by the Cultural Alliance to develop larger and more engaged audiences for the future, as well as a major investment on behalf of the cultural sector in the lives and well-being of Philadelphia teenagers.

As you can see, the Cultural Alliance is busy delivering “Leadership in Action” with high-value programs and resources for the cultural community and the public.

And now on to our Policy and Advocacy work. We regularly survey our members, and you’ve told us time and again that advocacy is one of the areas of our work that you value most highly.

Well, 2013 has been a busy year.

Working with Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania, the Cultural Alliance has helped to create the General Assembly’s first-ever Arts and Culture Caucus. This bi-partisan caucus now has 80 members (34 of them from Southeastern Pennsylvania), making it the largest caucus in Harrisburg.

The caucus gives us a strong foundation to advance our agenda, and its members are already off to a running start. Caucus members have proposed to increase funding for the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the grants program of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and to establish a new funding stream from the Pennsylvania Lottery for arts and cultural programs that benefit senior citizens.

The Cultural Alliance also tackled a host of other issues that affect our members and the sector as a whole. We joined the Pennsylvania Health Access Network and fought for Medicaid expansion so more individual artists can have access to affordable healthcare coverage. We testified at Philadelphia City Hall to defend real-estate tax exemptions. We are part of a national coalition of nonprofits fighting to keep charitable deductions. And we joined with the Committee of Seventy and the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition to make sure voters were prepared to go to the polls.

In January we launched GroundSwell, our new grassroots advocacy initiative. Through an ongoing series of volunteer actions and advocacy campaigns, coordinated in partnership with Cultural Alliance members and other organizations, GroundSwell is building a large and active base of engaged residents who advocate--and take action--on behalf of arts and culture and related community assets like parks, trails and libraries.

We are increasing awareness of all the many ways arts and culture is being leveraged to address social issues and community needs, and we are building valuable relationships with community and civic leaders across the region. With GroundSwell, we’re striving to build a wider civic movement for everyone who cares about arts and culture and quality of life.

Why did we create GroundSwell? Because it has become increasingly clear over the last several years that because of the government’s partisan deadlock, the most effective forms of change leadership are bubbling from the ground up and not coming from the top down.

You see, Leadership in Action is a collective responsibility, and we need your involvement.

In their new book, “The Metropolitan Revolution,” Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley explain that “Cities and metropolitan areas are on their own. The cavalry is not coming” and that “Power is devolving to the places and people who are closest to the ground and oriented toward collaborative action.”

GroundSwell is collaborative action.

Already this year, GroundSwell activists took part in LOVE Your Park Week to help clean up Clark Park.  We helped Musicopia collect musical instruments for area school children. We collected more than 1,000 books for Philadelphia Reads. And we brought grassroots advocates to City Council to lobby for more funding for education and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund.

Our current GroundSwell action culminates here tonight. During the month of September we’ve been partnering with Cradles to Crayons to collect school supplies at nine drop-off points throughout the region. We asked everyone who came tonight to be part of the action by bringing supplies with you to donate so underserved kids going back to school have the tools they need to succeed. Thanks to everyone who did so. If you didn’t bring an item, visit the GroundSwell table during the reception and write a “Back to School” message to a young student that will be included along with the supplies they receive from Cradles to Crayons. Everyone who donated supplies or writes a “Back to School” message will be entered into a raffle to win dinner for two at Fork restaurant in Old City.

These campaigns are just the beginning. We’re still building the GroundSwell movement, and with your help, we can do more.

And quite frankly, we must do more.

Inquirer reporter Peter Dobrin’s recent series on the current state of Philadelphia’s cultural sector has reminded me how far we’ve come as a region.

When I started working in the cultural sector in 1992, Philadelphia was on the verge of bankruptcy and had become a drag on the entire region. Things seemed desperate, but an urban renaissance was on the horizon.

Arts and culture was a crucial part of that renaissance, because civic leaders, the business community and the foundation community recognized that arts and culture could be a competitive asset for the region and drive economic revitalization.

Their investment paid off. Philadelphia is now a world-renown cultural destination. Our cultural vitality feeds commercial and culinary corridors along the Avenue of the Arts and in the neighborhoods surrounding the Parkway. And that creativity radiates outward to neighborhood hubs like Frankford, West Girard and East Passyunk, and further out to the counties, where the main streets of Pottstown and Phoenixville and Media and Doylestown are being revitalized through creative placemaking.

And this cultural boom benefits everybody. The region’s cultural sector has a $3.3 billion economic impact on the region, supports 44,000 jobs and raises $169 million in tax revenues for state and local governments.

The problem, as Dobrin points out, is that the region invested heavily in arts and culture without putting in place a dedicated stream of public funding to nurture and sustain that critical investment. When the recession hit in 2007, all belts were tightened. Corporate support, foundation support, government support all plummeted. Not all have returned to their previous levels, and some may never return. In the meantime, too many organizations, big and small, have been left stranded.

It’s important that cultural organizations innovate, diversify revenue streams and find efficiencies. A strategic consolidation of some organizations may be necessary, even desirable. But it would be a mistake for us to accept an unmanaged contraction as inevitable, a darwinian whittling down, a survival of the fittest. Our individual successes will amount to very little if the larger community suffers. Philadelphia has grown into a world-class cultural city, and we can’t afford to settle for provincialism.

Just as we can’t depend on fossil fuels for sustainable energy, arts and culture won’t become sustainable through the funding mechanisms of the past. If we want culture to continue providing the energy and momentum to drive our region forward, we need a reliable, renewable source of fuel. Unfortunately, however, the sun doesn’t radiate money.

We need dedicated funding so the sector can continue to create and innovate without being in a constant mode of crisis management. But just as importantly, dedicated funding will ensure that a vibrant cultural sector will continue to improve our communities, educate our children and stimulate our economy. We still have a lot of work to do to solve our larger societal problems and move our resurgence further beyond Center City and the main streets of our most vibrant neighborhoods. We need to be strong if we are going to remain part of the solution for Philadelphia and the region.

It is an audacious goal, but certainly not an impossible one. More than 20 other cities and regions across the country have such dedicated public funding.  And we have allies: we have our growing list of GroundSwell advocates; we have Mayor Nutter, who has publicly stated that he wants to help establish dedicated regional funding before his term ends; and most importantly, we have the public on our side.

Last March, we knew that the additional 1% sales tax in Philadelphia would expire in 2014. We commissioned a poll of city voters to find the level of support in the city for shifting that tax to fund cultural assets, libraries and parks.  At that time, no one, including us, knew the full extent of the public education funding crisis, and we have since recognized that using the 1% to bolster public education is a good and valid use of that tax. Nonetheless, the findings from our poll were compelling.

We asked Philadelphia residents if they would endorse a tax that supports culture. 74% said they would. This was consistent across every variable: race, income, age, neighborhood and political persuasion.

We asked them if they would support a state legislator who championed such a tax. 76% said they would be more likely to support that legislator if they supported dedicated funding for the cultural sector.

So while the sales tax is no longer on the table, this poll shows us that we can build a stronger political and grassroots base. We can secure civic and political champions. And we can pass dedicated funding.

We’ve already started laying the groundwork. We’re forming a coalition of civic leaders around the sustainability of the cultural assets that enhance Philadelphia’s quality of life, including arts and culture, museums, zoos, historic sites, parks, recreational facilities and libraries. And we’re in discussions with Temple University’s Center on Regional Politics and the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, whose involvement will help us to properly frame this as not just a cultural issue, but for what it truly is: a larger civic issue that impacts the entire region and everyone in it.

So, I will finish my presentation with a simple challenge: join us in being part of a collective solution for the sector and the region. When you leave the museum tonight, we’ll be handing out a flyer with information on how you can:

  1. Recruit your audiences to sign our petition asking legislators to take the GroundSwell pledge to support dedicated regional funding
  2. Make sure that your state representative and senator know about and join the Cultural Caucus, and
  3. Join GroundSwell yourself if you have not done so already. It’s easy and free. Just visit

This movement starts with the 500 people in this room, but to effectively advocate our vision for the region and our communities, you must help us mobilize thousands more. So roll up your sleeves and let’s get started.

Working together, we can—and will—demonstrate the “Leadership in Action” we need to move forward. Remember: our missions and audiences may be diverse, but ultimately our interests are the same. A stronger sector, a better Philadelphia! Thank you.

Finally, a big thanks to the funders who make all of our work possible.  I’d also like to thank the entire Cultural Alliance staff and our volunteers tonight for all their hard work. And let’s give a hand to Hands UP Productions, for their ASL interpretation of tonight’s presentation.

The reception begins now. You will find food and drink stations downstairs in the first-floor galleries, but the entire museum, including the outside terrace, is open and you’re welcome to explore. Enjoy, and thanks again for coming!