Skip navigation

Chief Academic Officer Patti Phillips Testifies Before City Council in Support of the Arts

Patricia C. Phillips
Patricia C. Phillips

Patricia C. Phillips, chief academic officer and academic dean at Moore College of Art & Design, testified before City Council June 9, 2020. Her testimony was delivered online during budget hearings in support of the arts in Philadelphia and in response to bills 200287 and 200307, which propose to eliminate the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund.

Greetings.  I am Patricia Phillips. I am the Chief Academic Officer at Moore College of Art & Design. The roots of the college go back to 1848, a striking investment in the purpose and longevity of the arts.

In addition to a long career in higher education, I also have dedicated the past 40 years to thinking and writing for museums and cultural organizations, journals and books for national and global audiences and readers on the vital and vibrant role of artists who work within urban communities and public spaces to address important and timely issues of cities, including justice and equity, work and labor, public and environmental health, and other urgent and long-term issues of a shared public realm.  There is spectacular evidence that artists, generally with the support of essential arts and civic organizations, promote strong communities that are the foundation of great American cities.

These are our invaluable and indispensable Artists in Context, who frequently—with the logistical and financial support of future-minded arts organizations such as Public Percent for Art Programs, the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, and other civic initiatives—embrace and engage the dynamics, diversity, challenges, and opportunities of urban environments. I invite you to imagine what New York City would be like without its Department of Cultural Affairs, as well as other city organizations that provide the time, space, research, resources, and opportunities to unite artistic vision with community and civic aspirations.

I continue this work now and into the future (and now here in Philadelphia) because I have witnessed countless times how artists uniquely and significantly bring purpose and impact to our complex, often challenged contemporary cities and their diverse environments, contexts and communities. I write and advocate that because of artists and important civic arts organizations, change happens.  And it matters;  it is consequential for all citiesand all citizens.

I began, guided by years of observation and experience, with the idea of Artists in Context who are passionate about cities and committed to their futures.  And I pivot briefly to focus on artists as catalysts who inspire and animate change, through the invaluable questions they ask, their boundless curiosity, their capacity to transform urgent ideas into vibrant urban forms, and their fierce belief in a shared common good.

Forty years ago, Mierle Laderman Ukeles (who once lived in Philadelphia) became the first artist-in-residence for the New York City Department of Sanitation. Artist Rick Lowe’s Project Rowhouses animated the renovation of abandoned workers’ housing in a historically African-American community in Houston to address significant issues of homelessness and abandonment, inequity and injustice. And Theaster Gates’ community art projects and interventions in Chicago have brought expansive resilience to the city. Artist Suzanne Lacy’s The Roof is Burning, which organized conversations between Black youth and the Oakland, California police on the roof of a parking garage, is so vividly prescient now as we witness and mourn the death of innocent Black citizens in the hands and custody of police officers. Art and artists do not create entertaining accessories for cities; art brings us to difficult truths and the necessity of epic transformation.

A city without art, artists, and its arts organizations becomes just a location—culturally and, ultimately, economically diminished. I moved to Philadelphia four years ago excited—and with expectancy—for the opportunity to live and work in a city that was in the front lines of cultural innovation, political activism and opportunity manifest in its cultural organizations and the creative vision and agency of many different artists.  Honestly, the arts and artists are always a striking return on investment with exponential effects that resonate through generations and across Philadelphia’s distinctive and diverse neighborhoods and communities. Art has impact. It brings us together. It mobilizes change. I have witnessed this over and over again. This is a major reason that I moved to Philadelphia in 2016. Severe budget cuts to art, culture, and the organizations and people who serve and advance their missions may appear to be a frugal imperative now, but it will have devastating reverberations throughout the entire city for years to come.

“Art and design and the institutions that surround them have to take a stand, share responsibility and continue to propose alternative visions and bold imaginations, question what is proposed to us, step outside existing frameworks and keep pushing the future forward.”— Studio Time: Future Thinking in Art and Design, Jan Boelen, Ils Huygens, Heini Lehtinen     

Artists and our arts organizations have always been American cities’ essential workers. They are ubiquitous—venturing to all neighborhoods and communities—and impactful.

Artists and our arts organizations need support now more than ever—in Philadelphia and beyond.

Patricia C. Phillips
Chief Academic Officer
Moore College of Art & Design
June 8, 2020


Published on June 11th, 2020