#CULTUREWORKING with Erica Hawthorne

How did you get involved in the cultural sector?

When I moved to Philadelphia in 2003 I did so with the intention of being a part of the arts scene. It's honestly a big part of why I moved here. I started going to open mics throughout the city, including a popular series at the October Gallery in Old City and the Black Lily hosted at The Five Spot. Both events shuttered and soon after a group of fellow performance artists started a collective: Spoken Soul 215 and started our own event called The Harvest Open Mic.

It was my experience working and living as an artist and working with startup programs that inspired me to deepen my work and start Small But Mighty Arts to support local artists to connect them to career-enhancing opportunities and resources. Through this work, I became more interested in how to utilize my experience to contribute to the growth of programs and initiatives that support artists and arts-and artist-focused programs such as the Corzo Center; Campus Philly's Open Arts program; the Office of Arts, Culture & the Creative Economy; the Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship; the Vision Driven Artist Series and the Mayor's Advisory Council on Creative Industries.

What’s the future of arts & culture of Philadelphia?

I've always believed that Philadelphia has one of the most vibrant arts and culture scenes in the nation. In addition to the wide variety of cultural institutions, I believe its emerging artists, makers and "artrepreneurs" are a critical part of what really moves the local creative economy. Our performers, actors, dancers, crafters, designers, musicians, teaching artists...they all create art, programs and projects that make our neighborhoods and overall city a great place to live. So the future of our arts and culture ecosystem will depend on how we support and grow our creative workforce so they can continue to thrive and create.

It's encouraging to see the growth of local programs and organizations that continue to expand and deepen their work to support individual artists, and I hope that foundations and the City will continue to see the merit in supporting capacity-building initiatives for artists as a part of growing the arts & culture sector. With changes to funding for the arts at a national level, local support and city-specific initiatives are increasingly important. I believe this must include initiatives that support our creative workforce. Artists in our network continue to tell us their top needs include: funding, space and marketing (attracting new audiences). There is a lot of emphasis on how the arts can have social impact, but in order to do so, the individuals that create art must have career-impacting resources that enable them to build capacity and continue to create.

Rather than saying "the arts are important" we should say "the art that artists create is important" -- this acknowledges that there are real people, a creative workforce that thrive when they have adequate access to career-enhancing resources. The extent to which we are able to do this will have a huge impact on the growth we see in the sector and its ability to impact other local industries.


When exploring the arts in Philly, what’s your one must-see?

Ok, to be honest there is NO WAY to pick one! Not for me at least. I tried...it didn't work so my must-see looks more like: The Barnes Foundation where the main gallery is wonderful and the special exhibits and events like First Fridays and Free First Sundays are a must. FringeArts Scratch Nights where artists try out new material so you never know what cool in-progress performance you may see. It's free and kicks off with an arts and culture happy hour before the event. Music venues like World Cafe Live and the Tin Angel...and every local festival! One of my must-see festivals include the BlackStar Film Festival. Ok I totally went over...on purpose, but honestly how do you pick just one in Philly?!