'Illuminate the Arts': Philadelphia City Council announces $1 million arts and culture grant

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Philadelphia City Councilmembers At-Large Isaiah Thomas and Katherine Gilmore Richardson have created a $1 million grant called "Illuminate the Arts" as part of the city council's $25 million New Normal Budget Act which prioritizes recovery for jobs and economic prosperity throughout the pandemic.

"We had an opportunity to have a real in-depth conversation with members of the Philadelphia community across multiple neighborhoods, to see what were the most challenging parts of dealing with COVID-19," said Gilmore Richardson. "From that, we were able to have a very robust meeting with the arts and culture community to talk about some of the challenges they are specifically facing at this moment."

In September 2020, Thomas and Gilmore Richardson launched their COVID-19 Community Outreach Series lead by their Disadvantaged Communities Task Force.

This task force learned the leading concerns surrounded the lack of arts and culture resources for local organizations and youth members in disenfranchised communities.

Gilmore Richardson says after hearing from some of the city's small business owners and individual artists, she was shocked to learn that they were shut out from funding opportunities that were available early on during the pandemic.

On Tuesday, the councilmembers introduced a transfer ordinance for $1.3 million to the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. $1 million will be allocated to individual artists, mid-size nonprofits, and small businesses to address the needs the arts and culture community has expressed since the beginning of the pandemic.

"If we're talking about Philadelphia, we know our city is a city of Eds (higher education), Meds (healthcare system), and Beds (tourism and hospitality), said Thomas. "While the Eds and Meds have actually been heroes throughout this crisis, the 'Beds' have been an industry that has been suffering big time."

Thomas says the goal is to invest in the arts now, to allow Philadelphia's arts and culture sectors to survive and help the city thrive ultimately in the long run.

"If we're serious about helping bring back hospitality; if we're serious about bringing back the viability, culture, and livelihood of our city, that requires deep investments in the arts and culture community," Thomas said. "It starts with us as local government."

Gilmore Richardson expressed the economic impact this sector truly has on the city as a whole.

"You're talking about a $4.1 billion total economic impact. Where in-cultural organizations and audiences contribute $1.9 billion in direct expenditures to our city," Gilmore Richardson said. "Before the pandemic, we had the equivalent of 55,000 full-time jobs in this arts and cultures economy and sector. If we want to ensure we can move past this moment and move towards a new normal beyond COVID-19, we must invest in arts and culture in Philadelphia."

As it relates to youth gun violence, Thomas believes that these steps truly work hand and hand to revitalize Philadelphia overall.

"When we're talking about the gun violence in the City of Philadelphia, we see that the victims are a lot younger, and the culprits are a lot younger. This work is all related to each other. We have a laser-sharp focus on as many effective prevention base initiatives as possible to ensure our young people's time is occupied, in a positive capacity."

The city anticipates the grants will officially open mid-March once the transfer ordinance is complete and OACCE hires a temporary full-time position to handle grant administration.
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