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Cultural Alliance Testifies on Senate Bill 850

(May 22, 2009) -- Cultural Alliance Vice President of Public Policy Julie Hawkins testified before the PA House of Representatives' Appropriations Committee this morning in Harrisburg. Her comments outlined the potentially devastating effects of Senate Bill 850 to Southeastern Pennsylvania's arts and cultural sector.

Read Hawkins' remarks below. 

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Good afternoon, Chairman Evans and members of the Appropriations Committee.  My name is Julie Hawkins and as Vice President of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, I represent over 375 regional arts and culture institutions in the five counties of Southeastern Pennsylvania.  On their behalf, I am here to testify in support of preserving arts and cultural funding in the FY10 state budget.

Senate Bill 850 seeks to eliminate all arts and cultural funding in the Commonwealth, including the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.  These cuts are disproportionate, extreme, and frankly, shortsighted.  Why?

First, because the arts are a good investment.   In southeastern Pennsylvania arts and culture is a $1.3 billion industry generating close to $160 million in state taxes. Every dollar invested in the arts by government returns $2.50 in state tax revenue.  Yet, of every dollar in the General Fund, only half of a penny is spent on culture.  Eliminate the funding, and eliminate a return that's two and half times the initial investment - it just doesn't make economic sense.  If every penny counts, then culture is clearly an investment worth making.

Second, because in Southeastern Pennsylvania there are 15 million visits to cultural organizations each year.  Arts and cultural activities are accessible to everyone – 43% of admissions are free of charge.  The arts build and strengthen our communities, providing a neighborhood oasis for learning and positive change.
 
Third, because arts and culture educate our children. Thirty-five thousand school groups visit Greater Philadelphia’s cultural organizations each year.  After school programs and free performances for all grade levels teach important skills, enhance the classroom experience and help children understand their heritage. Closing cultural organizations will eliminate many arts-based after school activities at organizations like Taller Puertorriqueno and the Village of Arts and Humanities in North Philadelphia, as well as weekend programs for children of all ages and their parents.

And fourth, because cultural organizations foster job creation and retention. The arts in Southeastern Pennsylvania support 40,000 jobs.  If cultural organizations are forced to close, the domino effect on the local economy could prove devastating. With limited resources, travelers are not selecting a location just to stay at a hotel. They are looking to visit exciting places that have a wide array of options to visit for whole families. Arts and culture is our defining brand, and thus a critical investment to maintain.  And as residents look to save money, the idea of going on a "staycation" to affordable, local attractions has become more prominent than ever, but you can't take a staycation if there's nowhere to go in town, and SB 850 makes "nowhere" a real possibility.
 
Should SB 850 become Pennsylvania's next budget, arts programs will fold and historical sites will shut their doors. Children will not get to experience science experiments at the Franklin, suits of armor at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, shipbuilding at the Seaport Museum, or singing with the Chester Children’s Chorus. 

In this rough economic climate, all sectors are feeling the pain.  The arts and culture sector’s pain is felt in seeing an increase in public demand, but a decline in resources.  For now, layoffs and other budget cuts at arts organizations have kept programs alive and ticket prices low or free, but without continued public support this will change.  Unlike corporations we do not have the ability to raise prices to make up for losses. We serve the public and are dedicated to give the public access to arts experiences.  Closing the door of arts and culture closes the opportunity to our citizenry to learn about their history and their culture. These are what define us as Pennsylvanians. And in the Philadelphia region, the history of this country is no better illustrated than in our cultural organizations. People must have access to this important heritage and it is your responsibility to see that it continues.
 
Let me add that it's not just the cultural agency funding levels that serve a blow in SB 850.  The proposed elimination of the Educational Improvement Organization side of the EITC will further hurt these organizations, because they provide educational programming to Pennsylvania's public schools.  The Wagner Free Institute of Science is a perfect example of how a nonprofit cultural institution can get hit on all sides by these proposed cuts.  A museum and educational institute at 17th & Montgomery Streets in North Philadelphia, the Wagner has been providing free science education for more than 150 years.  Let me repeat that - Free.  For more than 150 years.

The Wagner has an EITC-supported program called GeoKids that serves 400 students in three North Philadelphia public elementary schools with a yearlong science curriculum.  Since 1992, GeoKids has helped more than 4,400 kids get excited about and succeed in science and learning.  The program has received both local and national awards.  EITC support helped the Wagner expand GeoKids into more classrooms.  If this funding is eliminated, GeoKids is eliminated.  On top of that, cuts in support the Wagner receives from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission will force closures of Wagner's other programs, including a Saturday Family Open-House program that serves children and families; evening adult science courses that serve 2,500 people; and free access to the Institute's natural history museum and library collections.  In one budget, you can wipe out 150 years' worth of free science education - that's the full effect of Senate Bill 850.
 
A civil society doesn't make these kinds of choices - forcing individuals to pick and choose essential services - be it food for the body, or food for the mind and soul.  The opportunity to explore our culture and heritage should not be taken away from Pennsylvania's youth. The public demand for arts and cultural organizations is clear, and decisions made in our General Assembly should reflect the very constituents and communities that are represented in Harrisburg.  Cultural organizations are not in this for the profit, but for the public good.  Pennsylvania's budget should reflect sound investments in community programs and services that support its residents.  Arts and culture is a perfect match.

As you consider the Senate's proposal, I urge you to maintain your investment in Pennsylvania's arts and cultural organizations through the Commonwealth’s cultural agencies and other programs.  Shortsighted, quick-fix decisions like SB 850 lead to long-term problems. The domino effect will not only be costly to a Pennsylvanian's quality of life and education - but it will prove even costlier to the state itself.

Thank you for this opportunity to present testimony today, and on behalf of all Pennsylvanians from the Southeastern region, I do hope you will see fit to maintain the Commonwealth’s investment in one of its most valuable assets – its arts and culture.