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Asset Board Ups Allocation For New Arts Grants Program

Bill O'Driscoll
90.5 WESA
The August Wilson Center for African American Culture is among the recipients of the first RADical ImPAct Grants.

For its newest grant program, one of the region’s biggest arts-and-culture funders had allocated $2.5 million. But after winnowing the original pool of 44 applicants to 12, the Allegheny Regional Asset District’s board (RAD) decided it liked them all, and simply added enough money to give each group what it asked for.

The result will be new and highly visible art in town, from public art in the parks to a stage play built from stories drawn from the community.

The surprise funding decision came at Thursday’s monthly meeting of the RAD board, which allocates sales-tax revenue to local assets, from parks and libraries to arts groups. The committee that evaluated applications for the "RADical ImPAct Grants" noted that RAD’s revenue was up, and that the quality of the applicants’ Sept. 5 presentations was high. So it recommended the board add nearly $1 million to the grants pot, for a total of $3.4 million, said committee member Hilda Pang Fu.

The motion to amend the budget passed 6-0.

Board chair Dan Griffin recalled the Sept. 5 presentations. “Every one that presented, I kept saying, ‘OK, that one was my favorite,’” he said at the meeting, held Downtown.

The largest grant was $1.5 million for Art in the Parks: Re-Imagining Public Art, an initiative of Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh to increase the presence of public art in the five largest city parks and create a sculpture garden at Hartwood Acres.

“We really anticipate bringing in some very dynamic projects, and some artists from across the country and maybe even from across the international waters,” said Mike Gable, who heads the city’s department of public works.

Other large grants include $500,000 for Curtain Call, a public-art project of the city’s Sports and Exhibition Authority, and $330,000 for Artwalk on the Allegheny River, an initiative of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

The "RADical ImPAct Grants" were the brainchild of RAD executive director Rich Hudic. The group said it wanted a way to mark its own 25th anniversary by backing projects “meant to be bold and far-reaching” and to build community and broaden the recipients’ audiences. The projects were to go beyond recipients’ usual programming, and to “reflect an inspiring vision or have transformational impact” on the group and the community.

Other awardees included the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, which received $300,000 for August Wilson: The Writer’s Landscape, a permanent interactive exhibition to be installed in the Center’s lobby. It will be the first permanent exhibition in the decade-old Center to celebrate the life and legacy of its namesake, the famed, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who grew up in (and chronicled) the Hill District.

Center president and CEO Janis Burley Wilson said the project is already largely funded. But, she said, “The support from RAD will keep the exhibit free and open to the public, and allow us to promote and market this exhibition regionally, but also nationally and internationally, because August Wilson is an international figure.”

City Theatre received $225,000, which artistic director Marc Masterson said would fund about half of Building Bridges: A Community Created New Work of Immigrant Stories. The project will explores Pittsburgh's “immigrant past and our immigrant present” by “interviewing hundreds and hundreds of Pittsburghers and … talking about our stories.” The end result will be an original play presented as part of City Theatre’s 2020-21 season.

Other grantees include: the Mendelssohn Choir ($177,975); the Mattress Factory ($120,000); Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh ($91,514); City of Asylum ($80,000); the Union Project ($79,000); SLB Radio Productions ($62,000); and Father Ryan Arts Center ($25,000).

The Allegheny Regional Asset District began work in 1995. Its mission was to distribute one-half of the newly created 1 percent county sales tax to regional assets. (The other half goes to tax-relief programs and municipal services county-wide.)

In 2019, RAD plans to distribute $108.6 million. The vast majority, about $76 million, went to long-term “contractual assets” like libraries, regional parks, Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, the National Aviary, and Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

Another $13.4 million benefited the Sports and Exhibition Authority, mostly to service debt on sports stadiums and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Most of the rest, about $14.7 million, is divided between about 100 other assets. Most of these are arts and culture groups, although the biggest single recipients include the Port Authority of Allegheny County (which received $3 million this year) alongside the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust ($1.75 million) and Pittsburgh Symphony Society ($1.6 million). Most recipients this year received $20,000 or less.

In all, RAD said, it expects by the end of 2019 to have invested $4 billion back into the community over its quarter-century of operation.

RAD executive director Hudic said the group's revenue this year is 5 percent ahead of revenue this time last year.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: