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Roadmap for Growth: Guest Commentary – Maud Lyon

Posted Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Member News, Action Teams, Roadmap for Growth, Roadmap

The Roadmap for Growth is a multi-year initiative of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce to engage Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council in a shared agenda to promote economic growth and job creation in the City of Philadelphia.


Guest Commentator:  Maud Lyon – President, Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance

What role does arts and culture play in the infrastructure of a healthy, vibrant Philadelphia?

Museums, the Zoo, theatre and performing arts, concerts, public gardens, and other cultural experiences are a powerful force for our economy that have helped drive the region’s resurgence. Philadelphia is one of our nation’s internationally recognized cultural cities, on par with New York, San Francisco, Austin, and Seattle. But that glitter has real underlying impact, with the arts driving three core structural priorities for the region: tourism, neighborhood development and education.

No matter where you look in the national and international media, our city’s booming arts community is highlighted as a key reason to visit Philadelphia. According to VisitPhilly, leisure tourism has exploded in the region, with 36 million leisure tourists in 2015. With visitor spending reaching $6.7 billion annually, that has a tremendous impact on the economy, generating revenue for businesses, and providing critical taxes to support local government and infrastructure. As tourism continues to increase its importance in our local economy, we need to invest more resources into our cultural assets, with a particular focus on providing training and resources for cultural attractions to better serve an increasingly diverse tourism base. The recent commitment to our historic district by philanthropist Gerry Lenfest, Drexel University’s Center for Cultural Partnerships and the PA Department of Community and Economic development is a great example. They are investing $2 million in resources for cultural groups to develop a discounted multi-museum pass, printed maps and other marketing resources that will connect visitors to cultural organizations. This enables organizations to increase visitation even while they face limited budgets.

Culture also generates growth in communities that are far from tourist destinations – serving residents. The Mayor’s recently funded “Rebuilding Community Infrastructure” initiative will invest over half a billion dollars on key structural assets that are, at their core, cultural: our parks, our recreation centers, and our libraries. This landmark capital initiative will provide venues where cultural groups can perform, hold art classes, mount exhibitions and host programming that will build community in areas that have seen their cultural resources diminished over the last decade. Such structural investments can make a big difference in challenged communities, even on a small scale. Last year the Parks and Recreation Department renovated the Athletic Community Center at 26th and Master in North Philadelphia by partnering with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and its AEC Cares program, bringing volunteer architects and engineers to North Philadelphia to renovate the stage, lighting, decking and props room for a community center that has an active arts program. According to Parks and Rec, many kids in these programs find jobs through their relationships and work experience developed at these critical community centers.

Lastly, the arts are a critical resource that helps our young people to learn. The Cultural Alliance’s 2014 Portfolio report found that children’s visits to cultural organizations increased 17%, showing growing demand for arts programming despite the dramatic cuts to in-school arts programming at the schools. Arts and culture make learning fun and contextual, and prepare our kids for the 21st century workforce, which requires highly skilled, adaptable and creative employees. A great example of that is the Cultural Alliance’s STAMP program, which provides free access to 17 regional attractions for 18,000 high school students across Philadelphia. Making the arts accessible to school children is part of a collective effort to teach our kids new experiences through the arts and help them develop the collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skills they, and the region, will need to succeed.

Investment in arts and culture has paid off handsomely for Philadelphia. Our arts scene has attracted Millennials and empty nesters, international and national visitors, and is a major part of the city’s image and brand. From history to visual arts, science to horticulture, and dance to one of the world’s great orchestras, arts and culture sets Philadelphia apart.


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