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Councilmembers Katherine Gilmore Richardson and Isaiah Thomas are leading Illuminate the Arts effort in Philadelphia City Council. Photos: Philadelphia City Council.
Councilmembers Katherine Gilmore Richardson and Isaiah Thomas are leading Illuminate the Arts effort in Philadelphia City Council. Photos: Philadelphia City Council.

Philadelphia City Council plans legislation to offer $1 million in grant funding for the arts

The grant program will focus on individual artists, mid-size nonprofits and small businesses.

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“Investment in the arts, is investment in Philly.”

These were the words of Philadelphia youth poet laureate Cydney Brown reciting her poem, “Illuminating the Arts,” during a virtual press conference announcing the pending creation of a grant program of a very similar name.

Spearheaded by Philadelphia Councilmembers Isaiah Thomas and Katherine Gilmore Richardson, the Illuminate the Arts grant is a pending program that would provide $1 million in arts funding should City Council pass a transfer ordinance set to be introduced on Feb. 25, 2021.

The ordinance would allocate $1.3 million as part of City Council’s New Normal Budget for the grant, and enough to pay a temporary full-time staff member to field grant applications.

The Illuminate the Arts grant comes in tandem with work being completed by City Council’s Arts and Culture Task Force. 

Created in Dec. 2020, the collective is in the process of completing a report on the state of the arts in Philadelphia in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent economic collapse. 

Ciarra Lambert, the task force’s leader, said the report would be out on March 15. Thomas said the grant is an attempt to kickstart relief efforts ahead of the report’s release.

For him, Philadelphia’s art scene is what makes it unique in the nation, and is the key for Philadelphia’s successful economic reopening. Before the pandemic, the sector contributed $4.1 billion in economic activity and provided 55,000 jobs.

“We want to put the country on notice that Philadelphia is open for business,” said Thomas.

But it must be done equitably, and that’s where he and Gilmore Richardson see the Illuminate the Arts grant come in.

Both also chaired the Disadvantaged Communities Task Force, which held town halls with community members to better understand the city’s most dire needs.

“Through the Disadvantaged Communities Task Force, Councilmember Thomas and I were able to hear from community members about the challenges that were most severe and work collaboratively to find solutions,” said Gilmore Richardson

Members of the arts and culture economy were some of the most vocal at the sound offs.

Should the $1.3 million transfer ordinance be passed by City Council, Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE) will then set about hiring a grant administrator.

Once that is complete, grants through the Illuminate the Arts initiative will be open through the OACCE. 

A press release following the virtual press conference on Feb. 23, set mid-March as a provisional timeframe for when grants could be applied for.

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting as brokeinphilly.org.

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