Philadelphia Councilmember works on plan to help save arts cultural funding

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As Philadelphia City Council begins to work on an updated City Council budget, many citizens expressed their concerns surrounding budget cuts for Philadelphia arts cultural funding.

"For me, it's an extremely emotional time as we get tons of emails as members of Philadelphia City Council," said Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, Philadelphia City Councilmember At-Large.

Thomas shares the concern from citizens he receives daily to save the arts.

"I'm sure anybody that represents folks in disadvantage, when you get certain emails and certain contacts, it tends to land a little different," said Thomas.

Thomas says his staff has been emailed by students of Philadelphia public schools, along with a lot of advocates as it relates to the cultural arts fund.

Many are beginning to rally in support of a "Save the City of Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy" petition to the mayor's office.

That includes Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office. "We love all of the arts in the city, said Pinkenson. "We care about it, we are great citizens that believe that it is a vital part of our culture and our economy."

While Pinkenson considers GPFO an economic development agency, the revised city budget affects her organization as well.

"The annual grant to the film office was affectively eliminated because so was the office of the city of representative," said Pinkenson. "From which our funding is driven."

Pinkenson says that funding represents 20 percent of the income of the GPFO which is supporting all of the local filmmakers in Philadelphia and the surrounding area.

An issued statement from Mayor Kenney said:

When I delivered our revised FY21 budget to City Council, I made clear that COVID-19 has presented our administration with incredible challenges and very difficult decisions. We had to find almost $650 million in budget-balancing actions in one year-that is five times the deficit the City faced following the Great Recession of 2008. We were forced to make decisions that, as demonstrated by our original budget, we would not have made if we had more resources.

Our administration is undoubtedly aware of the great value that Philadelphia's cultural assets bring to our city. That is why we've made a concerted effort to ensure our support for the sector continues despite the need for painful budget cuts. Two staff members from the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy-the Chief Cultural Officer and the Public Art Director-have been retained and will move under the Managing Director's Office. These staff members will continue to play an influential role in leading, leveraging, and coordinating Philadelphia's tremendous cultural resources that will be needed as part of the city's economic recovery.

Councilmember Thomas issued a "New Revenue No New Tax" plan to help tackle these issues.

"The purpose behind the plan was put into the position where we could at least start a conversation," said Thomas. "By talking about the fact that we have to stop putting ourselves into a position where we try and tax our way out of problems."

Thomas says he looked at different recommendations that can be made collectively as a legislative body.

"What can we do to generate revenue for the city, without increasing taxes for people and businesses," said Thomas.

After hearing the various concerns from Philadelphians, Thomas said, "The goal by the end of the month is to pass a budget that we feel like will work for all Philadelphians. We know that there will be some cuts, that's what happens when you have the type of financial crisis that we're facing right now."

Thomas says at the end of the day, he along with his council staff members wants to make sure they act responsibly as possible when cuts are made to ensure the quality of services to all Philadelphians.
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