In the many, many studies done on the impact of the growth of the arts and culture in Philadelphia over the past decade, the word “ecosystem” is often used to describe all of the city’s galleries, audiences, artists, foundations and anything else involved with how art is produced and consumed. It’s a term that unfortunately evokes the image of a theater full of frogs and flies watching Shakespeare. If you extend the silly metaphor, though, there’s at least one useful image: Philly’s arts ecosystem is a bit like a pond where fish of all shapes and sizes are at an all-time high, but the water level keeps falling more and more each year.
And the Kimmel Center’s Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, otherwise known as PIFA, is a really big new fish. It rolled into town two years ago on a grant of $10 million — and because the numbers involved with arts funding can be a bit opaque, here are a few things that cost slightly less than $10 million:
- The total combined cost of the four years of the Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe leading up to PIFA.
- The combined grants that will be given out this year by the state’s Pennsylvania Council on the Arts ($8.1 million) and the city’s Philadelphia Cultural Fund ($1.6 million).
- The amount the Philadelphia Orchestra projected it would save in two-and-a-half years by cutting musician salaries and benefits as part of its 2011 Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan.
When you introduce anything that big into any ecosystem, it’s going to have an effect. But since the first Paris-themed festival in 2011 came pre-funded by the Annenberg Foundation, it wasn’t clear what that effect would be — or even whether this was sustainable or just a one-time set-money-on-fire fluke. As the Annenberg grant stipulated that the whole grant be spent on the festival’s first year, this sophomore outing will be a much better indicator of whether PIFA will sink or swim in the long run.