Pittsburgh Arts

The Post-Gazette's coverage of the just-released RAND Corp. report titled "Arts and Culture in the Metropolis: Strategies for Sustainability" focuses on how local arts organizations need to get better organized, find common ground, and raise new money -- especially from us rank and file arts patrons. The nonprofit foundation gravy train is starting to dry up.

While the report itself was commissioned by and principally addresses the needs of the Philadelphia arts community, its lessons are relevant to Pittsburgh and the other cities that RAND reviewed.

Two things leap out from the report:

One, arts development and sustainability are economic development challenges for the region, requiring collaboration and public/private strategic planning as well as entrepreneurship and innovation by individual artists and related organizations. It's a Creative Class challenge, except the challenge isn't to attract the hip folks who go to shows, but instead to attract hip folks with business plans, persistence, and a knack for finding capital.

Two, replacing foundation support and public (RAD) support with smaller dollars from a broader base is a challenge that local arts organizations have been aware of for a long time but have not yet truly embraced. The especially difficult thing is that most of the time, the arts will be chasing a fixed dollar. Every ticket I buy to the Symphony or afternoon I spend at a museum is a ticket I might buy at the movie theater -- or an afternoon I might spend on the trail and a DVD that I might borrow from the Carnegie Library. Arts organizations need to figure out how and why they offer us a better deal, and then they need to make that case persuasively and publicly.

With a local public foaming rabidly over the Penguins, even an organization as large and successful as the Cultural Trust will have trouble getting the public's attention in the first place -- not to mention the attention of local government. As the P-G reports, "The Ravenstahl administration has approved a full-time public art manager position, partially funded by private foundations, but it has not yet been filled. The city Art Commission also is being reformed." Mayor Luke, however, personally went to Philadelphia yesterday to "save" the Penguins for Pittsburgh. If the arts are going to flourish broadly in Pittsburgh, the Mayor and the County Executive should put their interests at the same high level currently reserved for men named Mario and Rooney.

Other thoughts on what might be done:

As with all economic development, bringing in outside money offers more opportunities for local growth than persuading local residents to redistribute existing money. Of course, with outside money the arts aren't competing with local professional sports; instead, they're competing for redistribution of arts funding in other cities. Or, best case, they're trying to take non-arts-related funding from other cities.

Finally, what about combining economic development strategies? Want a TIF for real estate development? Commit to some tangible support for an arts institution. For example, down in Mt. Lebanon, where I live, some local residents are up in arms over a proposal to throw public tax money at a super-upscale condo development on Washington Road -- while the old Denis Theater, once one of Pittsburgh's few homes for independent films, sits shuttered nearby. And how about a stronger (and transparent) partnership between the Pittsburgh Film Office and the Cultural Trust?

Enjoy a relatively warm weekend, everyone.

Summary of the RAND report:

The whole long thing:


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

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