South Philly art organizations among more than 300 across the city to receive thousands of dollars in grants

Marking its 28th year, the Philadelphia Cultural Fund distributed $2.68 million to artists across Philly.


Shawn Lamere (center), artistic director of the 23-year-old Eleone Dance Theatre in Point Breeze, receives his Philadelphia Cultural Fund check from Jennifer Slavic of Councilman Mark Squilla’s office and Frantz Pierre of Councilman Kenyatta Johnson’s office. (GRACE MAIORANO/SPR)

Hundreds gathered at City Hall this week as the Philadelphia Cultural Fund distributed more than $2.68 million in grants to 339 artistic organizations from across the city.

More than 40 of those recipients call South Philadelphia home – a testimony to the scope of established and emerging creativity nestled in communities around our area.

Marking its 28th anniversary, the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, which is resourced using city budget funds through the combined efforts of the mayor and City Council, bestowed record-breaking amounts to the largest grantee list since its inception.

Rewarding 315 institutional organizations, along with 24 new ones, the program’s number of recipients represents a 19 percent increase since 2016. In fact, so many organizations were recognized that the program was split over the course of two days.

“Whether your organization is new or established, whether it’s very small or very large, the Philadelphia Cultural Fund and the city of Philadelphia are acknowledging the breadth and the depth of the arts and culture community here and value the impact that you all are having in neighborhoods across the city,” Philadelphia Cultural Fund executive director Barbara Silzle told the bustling room of winners. “We believe in the power of art to transform lives – to amplify voices and to connect us to each other.”

A linchpin concept of the Philadelphia Cultural Fund lies in its acknowledgment of the arts outside the boundaries of Center City, fostering cultural opportunities in often impoverished or underserved communities.

In South Philadelphia alone, seven recipients reside in the 19145 ZIP code, 11 in 19148, 15 in 19147 and 10 in 19146. Spanning from Pennsport to Point Breeze, art hubs along nearly every South Philly block received their fair share of the prizes.

Tracking the locations of awardees, the Philadelphia Cultural Fund pinpointed winners on a map of Philadelphia, revealing the impact of the arts on some of the city’s most disadvantaged areas.

“One of the things that we really do appreciate about the Cultural Fund is how their goals align with the city of Philadelphia’s priorities to ensure equitable resources across all of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods,” said Kelly Lee, the city’s chief cultural officer. “This administration is committed to providing access to quality arts experiences in every neighborhood, and this commitment is reflected in the Cultural Fund’s equitable support of our cultural organizations.”

During the ceremony, the West Philly-based PHILADANCO! dance company was awarded the esteemed Councilman David Cohen Award, which highlights an organization that has “demonstrated an outstanding commitment to social and economic justice through its mission, programming, art-related work product or services offered.”

The prolific and nationally renowned dancer Joan Myers Brown, founder and artistic director of the dance company, accepted the honor, as the organization was founded in 1970 in response to the lack of opportunities for minority dancers in the greater Philadelphia area.

Following the ceremony, awardees shuffled from the Mayor’s Reception Room to Conversation Hall, where they claimed their checks.

Several members of organizations say the most heartening element of the fund is that it’s considered “unrestrictive money.” Artists are encouraged to use the donations for fundamental operations, such as salaries, insurance and rent.  

According to the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, 47 percent of grantees have budgets of less than $150,000, and of those recipients, most have few, if any, paid staff.

“The great thing about the Philadelphia Cultural Fund is it allows the grantee organizations to apply the funds in whatever way is most needed without restrictions,” said Bella Vista residents and board president of Philadelphia Cultural Fund Ken Metzner. “…“I think it’s important for readers to know that their tax money is being reinvested directly in their neighborhood and benefiting their children and their seniors and their adults in programming that is really citywide. Supporting the Cultural Fund is a way to support community.”

Metzner, who is also the board president of Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers based in Passyunk Square, says his dance company has received donations from the citywide fund since 2011 and attributes it to the organization’s ability to stay afloat for more than a decade in South Philadelphia.

Similar thoughts were echoed by performing artists based on the other side of Broad Street.

“(The Philadelphia Cultural Fund) does so much justice for us,” said Shawn Lamere, artistic director of  the 23-year-old Eleone Dance Theatre in Point Breeze. If we don’t get anything else, we know we can always depend on it…and I’m sure a lot of these companies can say the same thing. I think they really do understand the mission of arts organizations.”  

Lamere stresses the importance of the Philadelphia Cultural Fund helping to sustain the arts across the city, as this year, grant recipients are located in every City Council district.

Like Metzner, he says it’s no surprise that such a significant chunk of recipients are based in South Philadelphia, as they feel the diversity and authenticity of the region have been breeding – and continues to cultivate – all forms of artistry.

“I think South Philly, especially, is a really rich area of the city for artists,” said East Passyunk resident Erin Reed, general manager of PlayPenn theater workshop. “So many of my neighbors are practicing artists themselves, so it feels great to know that we have a little pocket of the city where we can all support each other as we go make our art in different neighborhoods…South Philly is such a great place to live, and you’re obviously fed and inspired by the places that you’re calling home.” 

Twitter: @gracemaiorano