Philly Envy

In articles linked through ArtsJournal this week, I was interested to read that Philadelphia’s mayor, Michael Nutter, has announced the appointment of a chief Cultural Officer for the city and the re-establishment of the Cultural Affairs Office within City government, re-naming it the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy.  “We are very serious about arts and culture and the creative economy here in Philadelphia,” the mayor said in his announcement July 18. 

Philadelphia’s cultural affairs office was disbanded in 2004 and its re-establishment was an important campaign promise by Michael Nutter, the city’s recently elected mayor.  The mayor tapped an accomplished and politically astute individual for the post: Gary Steuer, current vice president of Americans for the Arts, the nation’s chief arts advocacy organization. 

By creating a new title for the office, the message is being sent that the arts are to be actively considered as a partner in Philadelphia’s plans and activities related to economic development.  And, as anyone in economic development will tell you, everything is economic development, this suggests that the arts now have a seat at the table in a real,  consistent, and perhaps even a strategic way, in all of Philadelphia’s plans for its future.

If you go to the City of Cleveland website and search on “arts and culture,” you link to a page, “Our City, Our Arts,” which invites artists to perform or display their work at City Hall.  That’s it.  There is no listing for anything that looks like an Office of Cultural Affairs.  I happen to know there is a Bureau of Cultural Arts buried within the Department of Parks and Recreation and with some digging got information on programs it offers, mostly via City recreation centers, but who would know that without insider knowledge?  

Our mayor has recently stepped onto the international stage in seeking to attract business from countries around the world.  Bravo!  Our biggest local businesses have for many years known that our stellar cultural community is a key selling point in attracting top-notch national and international employees to their companies. 

While the neighborhood-based services that the City’s Bureau of Cultural Arts offers, primarily to youth, are important and admirable, I will continue to hope our city and its mayor, with his newfound worldview, will come to recognize the incredible international, educational, and economic asset we have in our professional arts community and make a prominent place for high level inclusion of the arts in our city’s economic, livability, and growth agendas.