Art Works Blog

Collaboration & Vision in Philadelphia

March 3, 2010

Washington, DC

Yesterday I was on the road again, this time to Philadelphia, which I think is one of the great models for what we?ve started to talk about here at the NEA. It's a city that really gets it about the cultural economy. It's inspiring to see the commitment of Mayor Nutter -- and everyone there -- to the arts. Gary Steuer, the city?s chief cultural officer, is a leader in understanding what the inflection point is between the arts and neighborhood revitalization and the economy. And Jane Golden, who runs Philadelphia?s Mural Arts Program (which is partially funded by the city) was inspirational.

Sited in North Philadelphia, ?El Yunque? (2002) by Jose Ali Paz and Michelle Ortiz is an homage to the Puerto Rican rainforest. Photo by NEA staff   Enlarge

I didn?t know there were that many murals in Philadelphia; they?re everywhere that you go! They add so much color, and it?s a great example of how public art and engagement with the arts can foster civic cohesion and social unity. Those murals are largely collaborative efforts, and the community has to decide on what message they want to send based on their shared values, based on their pride in their identity. It's thrilling to see, it really is.

During the trip, we visited the Please Touch Museum (Philadelphia?s children?s museum), which is probably the most welcoming and user-friendly museum I?ve ever seen. It?s in the old exposition hall from the 1876 World Exposition, and it really is neat. We also had some roundtables with Mark Stern and Susan Seifert and Jeremy Nowak who are really the pioneers in the relation between the arts and economic revitalization so it was great to be with them. We also stopped at the Crane Arts Building, an old manufacturing facility that has been converted into studios. The whole trip was a real education for me.

I?ve been thinking a lot about what makes the arts really work in city, and I believe that there has to be three components in place. There has to be an arts infrastructure that?s there already, a history of art at a certain scale, a tradition. There has to be a committed private sector that understands the importance of the arts. And there has to be political structure that gets this, that is receptive. So in a way Philadelphia is the model city for art works.

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