Our Culture Scene: So Hot It's Cool

Our Culture Scene: So Hot It's Cool
I miss Salvador Dali. And those ever-present banners of his well-waxed aerial mustache. He gave the city much to grin about, bringing some 370,000 visitors to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and raising tens of millions for the city's hospitality and restaurant industries.

As it did for the Cezanne exhibit in 1996, the museum worked with chief sponsor, Advanta Corp., and the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., to craft a riveting marketing campaign that generated excitement, pride and dollars for the city. Blockbuster cultural events are wonderful feathers in the city's cap, and our stature, pride and revenues grow with each one. (Shades of Live 8, too.)

Let's also revel in the ways in which daily art experiences enrich our lives. According to a 2002 survey for the Knight Foundation, about two-thirds of Philadelphia-area residents regularly attend arts and cultural events. (We visit the top eight cultural institutions at a rate equal to three-and-a-half Dali exhibits a day.)

Like bricks of a building, each orchestra concert, each neighborhood performance, each mural, gallery opening, music recital and theater premiere steadily builds Philadelphia into a strong, well-constructed home for arts and heritage. As a result, Philadelphia enjoys an extremely vibrant and adventurous artistic community, with exciting work being done in music, theater, dance, visual arts, performance art, heritage preservation and more. Some of these organizations are based on the Avenue of the Arts (soon to be joined by the Philadelphia Theatre Co.), in the suburbs and in the city's neediest neighborhoods. Each venue helps enrich and revitalize its community.

Supporting local arts and heritage is important. But there is also the matter of filling galleries and seats. Not every cultural organization can count on a Dali-sized marketing budget. The community-wide marketing efforts of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance's Campaign for Culture have generated, in three short years, tens of thousands of new audience members and hundreds of thousands of dollars in new ticket revenues. Through its Web site (PhillyFunGuide.com) and the weekly FunSavers e-mail, the Cultural Alliance helps spread the word.

For example, Piffaro is a local ensemble that performs music of the late medieval and Renaissance periods. The Campaign for Culture's weekly FunSavers gives the ensemble a sales boost and attracts new, younger audience members to Renaissance music in Philadelphia.

According to Walter Beck, of the Curtis Institute of Music, the Cultural Alliance's collaborative marketing programs have become "remarkably useful tools in promoting Curtis to thousands of people who don't know about the institute, except to say, 'Oh, that's the place near Rittenhouse Square where you hear pretty music coming out of the windows.' "

These are just two of the many local organizations that benefit from the region's marketing savvy. At the Pew Trusts, our strategy for support of local arts and heritage is simple: We bring together artistic creativity with organizational effectiveness and greater audience access. The result is visible in the growing recognition of Philadelphia as a place where the arts thrive and audiences eagerly participate in and support a broad array of offerings.

Our region is fast becoming a cultural destination second to none. When it comes to the arts, Philadelphia is so hot, it's cool!

Support for culture is among the smartest investments we can make to bolster communities and the region. It helps Philadelphia attract artists and those who enjoy the arts. Our new friend Dali may have left, but his spirit reminds us that we all benefit by making Philadelphia a world-class destination for the arts.

How can you help? This weekend, see a show or visit a gallery. And be sure to take along a friend or two.

Marian Godfrey is the director, Civic Life Initiatives, at The Pew Charitable Trusts.