Artist Blanche Brown puts up posters for the People's Budget Festival

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Lea esta historia en español aquí

A group of Philly artists is betting that even a topic as dense as city budgeting can be interesting if it’s discussed over tamales and art.

A People’s Budget, a project sponsored by Mural Arts Philadelphia in collaboration with different artists throughout Philadelphia, is hosting a festival this Saturday, May 14th in West Philly to encourage the community to openly discuss the city’s budget.

“While budgets are complex financial documents,” the project’s website notes, “they are also a mission statement for the city – a real-world accounting of officials’ priorities.”

City Council is holding hearings on Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed spending plan through May 25,

Held at Kingsessing Rec Center in Southwest Philly, the event will serve as a way for community members and beneficiaries to list their demands, encourage residents to show up to hearings, and prepare for next year’s budget.

The event will be in English but will be live translated in Spanish. Thanks to the local collective Mercado de Latinas, there will also be free lunch; pupusas, tamales, tlacoyos, and a variety of desserts. Vendors will also be selling artisanal items and tupperware. After the discussion there will be live music and budget related games.

The project, which has been two years in the making, facilitated by Phoebe Bachman, collaborates with local artists Blanche Browne, Samantha Rise, Maia Chao, and Eugenio Salas to reimagine the five core components of Philly’s budget:

  • how we exchange and steward
  • how we heal and protect our community
  • how we learn and grow
  • how we live and share space
  • how we govern and administrate.

Each artist visualized one of the budget’s components through their own art form as a way to investigate the problems the community faced and how to address it.

Salas is creating a symbolic map of the different restaurants in South Philly to better understand the way immigrant businesses shape the community, reduce food insecurity, and provide relevant, cultural experiences and connections.

Salas has surveyed many businesses in the area to see what kind of government assistance they get and to visualize the impact these businesses have on the community.

“The idea was to create a sentiment about the history and the contribution that the Mexican immigrant community makes with food to give the neighborhood its identity,” Salas said. “More than its identity, it also gets a lot of support from real estate, they see it as a benefit, but nobody who participates in this economy receives any benefits.”

What Salas refers to is sometimes called the “informal economy” — the economic activities, enterprises, jobs and workers that are not state regulated or protected. It’s how more than 2 billion of the world’s workers make a living. Most have low wages, lack institutional protections, and have zero benefits or contractual rights, but all of them lack social protections.

The People’s Budget is a way for Salas and his fellow artists and activists to help the community get the benefits they deserve that they may not know how to ask for, he said.

Karla Torres is a baker with the Mercado de Latinas collective Credit: Eugenio Salas

Salas knew that for an event this big, he needed food. He reached out to Reyna Navarro, the creator of the Mercado de Latinas, a group of vendors selling food and artisanal Mexican goods, to cater the event and to offer them a space to sell their goods.

The Mercado de Latinas started during the pandemic to help women entrepreneurs sell their food and crafted wares. They combine in person and online opportunities to support women-led businesses.

This collaboration was an opportunity to not only support those who have been contributing to the economy but serve as a way for them to discuss what they need from the city.

“Latino communities are already a minority and they face their own challenges, but being a woman, there exists even more barriers for them,” Salas said. “There aren’t many opportunities for them to work because they have complicated lives being immigrants and being mothers.”

The People’s Budget Festival takes place 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 14 at 4901 Kingsessing Ave. It’s free to attend, with lunch served. There will be an artisanal market on site; be sure to bring cash..