Our Cultural Jewels on Display

Our Cultural Jewels on Display

Where would you take an out-of-towner with just three days to explore Philly - after the trip to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell?

That's the question the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance was wrestling with over the last few months as it prepared for the arrival of some important guests - nearly 1,400 of them, in fact, representing Americans for the Arts (AFTA), the leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts across the U.S.

This weekend, this city will have the privilege of hosting AFTA's 2008 convention, "American Evolution: Arts in the New Civic Life," which will bring together those who work in the arts in the private and public sectors.

Philadelphia is an ideal place to have this important meeting because its cultural offerings are immense and diverse. According to the Cultural Alliance's Portfolio, there are more than 150 cultural events every day in the region. And they're highly accessible - half of all visits to cultural organizations are free of charge.

Ultimately, the Cultural Alliance organized 13 different tours of the region's arts and culture - and those just scratch the surface of what's available. Out-of-towners can start off exploring some of the Avenue of the Arts' jewels, including the Kimmel Center and the Wilma Theater.

Also on the list is a trip to North Philadelphia to visit a variety of organizations, including Art Sanctuary, which presents African-American educational programs and performances, and Taller Puertorriqueño, a home for Latino arts. Or participants can head to Malvern to enjoy a performance at People's Light & Theatre Company.

They can explore the city's abundant public art, sampling three generations of Calder sculptures and other historic sculpture along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Kelly Drive, and hike along the Wissahickon Creek and Manayunk Canal to enjoy other outdoor works.

The agenda will feature innovators like Philadelphia-based Pepón Osorio, acclaimed for large-scale installations that (in his words) "return art to the community." And the conference will close at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, whose international stature led to its selection as curator for the U.S. Pavilion at the prestigious 2009 Venice Biennale.

As convention host, the Cultural Alliance has put together a long list of other suggestions of dance, music and theater for guests apart from the conference tours. Visitors can also turn to PhillyFunGuide.com, the region's online events calendar, and its FunSavers, the weekly e-mail service that sells half-price tickets for select programs.

But even with these riches, we recognize that there's room for improvement in strengthening the arts sector.

As Mayor Nutter has acknowledged, establishing a strong city office of arts and culture is critical to the cultural future of Philadelphia. The region also needs a dedicated revenue stream for arts funding, and artists and arts organizations need better facilities and performance space. Arts education, often a stepchild in the public schools, should be a priority.

In addition, the participation of key national figures in the conference, like Donna Brazile - the first African-American woman to lead a major presidential campaign and one of the most influential in modern American political life - will provide an excellent opportunity for local leaders to discuss Philadelphia's cultural sector in a national context.

We look forward to telling the story of Philadelphia's arts and cultural scene to our guests, as well as listening to the ideas and experiences they'll bring from their hometowns.

And in the year ahead, the city will have the opportunity to host more cultural organizations, with meetings of the American Association of Museums, the Association of Children's Museums, Chorus America, the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts.

We're confident that they too will love it here and want to come back with family and friends. After all, there's so much to see and do in Philadelphia.

Olive Mosier is director of Arts & Culture for the William Penn Foundation. Marian Godfrey is managing director of culture and civic initiatives at The Pew Charitable Trusts.