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Philly candidates talked the creative economy.
Philly candidates talked the creative economy. Photos: Alan Nunez/AL DÍA News

Mayoral candidates discuss their commitment to the performing arts and cultural economy of Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center, Inc., and City & State PA hosted a Mayoral Forum on the Performing Arts and Cultural Economy of Philly on March 2.

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The Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center, Inc., and City & State PA hosted a Mayoral Forum on the Performing Arts and Cultural Economy of Philadelphia on Thursday night, March 2. 

From learning what instruments candidates play to plans on how to better fund and implement the arts into the local community and economy, the candidates got an opportunity to lay out their vision and commitment to the performing arts and cultural economy of the city. Of any industry affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, both were among the most hurt in Philadelphia

Held at the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, the forum was moderated by City & State PA editor-in-chief, Jenny DeHuff, and Ari Mittleman, host of Pennsylvania Kitchen Table Politics Podcast. 

The arts and culture organizations play a critical role in Philly’s economy. Regional arts and culture audiences spend up to $890 million on related purchases every year. According to surveys, 89% of arts and culture audiences are voters, a percentage of whom were in the building Thursday night as we near the May primary election. 

"A convener bringing people, institutions, and ideas together, The Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center, Inc., is uniquely poised to host this mayoral forum on the performing arts," said Matias Tarnopolsky, president and CEO of The Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center, Inc. "Investment in the cultural economy of Philadelphia is imperative for our city to thrive. We look forward to hearing from the candidates as they articulate their vision for the future of the creative and cultural economy of Philadelphia."

Photo: Alan Nunez/ Al Dia News

Also in attendance at the forum were representatives from the Resident Companies of The Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center, Inc., and other arts organizations from the greater Philly area. 

Philly voters at the moment have a lot of candidates to choose from, 11 in fact, and one Republican in David Oh who participated in the forum alongside eight Democratic candidates — Jeff Brown, Allan Domb, Derek Green, Helen Gym, Rebecca Rhynhart, James DeLeon, Cherelle Parker, and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez. PA State Rep. Amen Brown and Pastor Warren Bloom Sr. were not in attendance. 

"With a mayor's race this crowded, it will be interesting to see what unique ideas each candidate brings to the table addressing the city's commitment to a well-funded and thriving cultural community," said Susan Peiffer, publisher of City & State PA. "A priority for the next mayor will be answering the call to ensure our world-class cultural institutions play a key role in keeping Philadelphia safe and welcoming to tourists."

Previous administrations in Philadelphia have proposed elimination of all funding for the arts to and follow the approach of Denver, Boston, Miami, New York, and Washington D.C., where they have a dedicated stream of revenue to support arts and culture. Candidates were asked if they would do the same. 

“Philadelphia needs the loudest cheerleader for the arts, for the cultural institutions, communities and working artists and creators who come out of every part of Philadelphia,” said Gym.

She went on to highlight four elements to get more funding — an amusement tax, an expansion of the hotel tax, and doing more as mayor to get both the philanthropic and private, corporate worlds involved in the creative economy. 

“But you need somebody to drive that vision,” said Gym. 

Domb, a former real estate developer, highlighted the return often offered when investing in arts and culture and the joy they bring to the city.

“For every dollar we invest in this arts, culture, creative economy, we get a $5 return. For every dollar we invest, we get into salaries and wages,” he said. “Look at the hotels, the restaurants, the tourism, it is crucial. And in today's day and age, the city has to be fun. We have to keep making the city fun.”

Rhynhart said the arts need dedicated funding and that does not need a new tax. That funding would be found by more carefully putting together the budget. 

“The arts need to be prioritized so that it's not discussed every year where to get the money from. I was the budget director for five years. I know the city's budget is about priorities,” she said. “Not only are the arts an economic engine, but I believe that arts are a human necessity. And they're part of what makes our communities and our city the amazing place that it is.” 

Photo: Alan Nunez/ Al Dia News

Quiñones-Sánchez has what she calls a, “comprehensive” look at the arts. It involves taking more of it from world-class institutions like the Kimmel and into more of Philadelphia’s communities in need of some positivity.

“Art brings people together, art creates community. How great would it be if we leverage the world renowned institutions that we have downtown and use art in our infrastructure development, to bring art to communities,” she said. 

Parker said she wants to reignite the arts and culture community in the city and sees the benefits beyond the economic ones. She also sees it as a key solution to many of the ills that plague the city today, especially the youth. 

“Arts and culture provides access to hope for young people who are born into poverty like I am,” Parker said. 

2026 will be a big year for the city as it’ll be the nation’s 250th birthday, it hosts the MLB All Star game and is one of the host cities for the World Cup. 

The city primary is May 16.

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