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Report Notes Growth, Inequities In Pittsburgh's Arts Community

Keith Srakocic
The Three Rivers Arts Festival is the city's largest free showcase for arts and music.

Big increases in attendance and full-time jobs marked the past five years on Pittsburgh’s arts scene. But the arts community needs to become more equitable and inclusive.

Both conclusions are drawn from “Culture Counts 2020,” the new edition of the state-of-the-arts report last issued by advocacy group the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, or GPAC, in 2015.

Since then, the number of full-time jobs in the arts has grown by about 40 percent, to 3,912, according to the report. And attendance has jumped similarly, to about 6.9 million.

Moreover, full-time jobs in the arts seem to be growing faster than either part-time jobs or contract work. That bucks a worrying trend that GPAC had noted in its 2015 “Culture Counts” report, said GPAC’s research and policy director, David Pankratz.

“Full-time employment is going up as a percentage of overall employment, whereas contractual and part-time employment, while going up in absolute terms, is going down as a percentage of overall employment,” he said.

All that’s despite what appears to be a decrease in the total number of arts groups in the region -- a 21 percent decline, from 1,054 to 830. But Pankratz said GPAC's census of groups reflects accounting changes more than any mass disappearance of organizations. GPAC wanted to be able to better compare Pittsburgh’s arts sector with those of benchmark cities, and so it stopped counting as “arts and culture organizations” certain kinds of groups, such as garden clubs, and schools that received grants for artist residencies.

Likewise, Pankratz said, a reported jump in the number of small arts groups – those with annual budgets under $250,000 – was less a result of new groups forming than of having more complete information, including data from funders who are providing more support to small groups.

While “Culture Counts” tracks the nine-county southwestern Pennsylvania region, about two-thirds of all the arts groups it surveys are based in Allegheny County. The report draws on GPAC’s own research as well as work by SMU DataArts, a program of Southern Methodist University; national groups including Americans for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts; and regional organizations like the Allegheny Regional Conference on Community Development, the University of Pittsburgh, and the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management. A full copy of the report is available here, as is a more detailed "technical report."

Among the 10 benchmark cities in the report – including San Diego, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia – Pittsburgh ranks third in the number of arts-and-culture groups per capita. It ranks third in paid attendance at arts events, fourth in free attendance, and fourth in overall attendance. Arts attendance, GPAC noted, exceeded total attendance at the roughly 130 home games by the city’s three professional sports teams. The arts won that contest handily, by about 6.9 million to about 2.9 million.

Pankratz said Pittsburgh also continues to fare well in terms of arts support from government and foundations – the former largely due to the Allegheny Regional Asset District, which allocates a portion of the county’s 1 percent sales tax to cultural group. Meanwhile, arts groups here earn 35 percent of their revenue, which ranks sixth among the 10-benchmark cities. (Most nonprofit arts groups rely heavily on contributed revenue as opposed to ticket sales or other earned income.)

The report emphasized the benefits of the arts for the local economy. Spending by arts groups and their patrons, it estimated, accounted for 32,211 full-time-equivalent jobs in 2017 (the latest year for which information is available) and $115 million in local tax revenues. Cultural attractions are also a big part of tourism, with 45 percent of tourists here citing cultural experiences as “very influential” in their decisions to visit.

However, growth in the arts sector is not being shared equally, the report said.

For instance, funding does not flow proportionally to groups serving communities of color. In Allegheny County, the report said, 21.4 percent of residents are what it calls “ALAANA,” that is, Arab/Middle Eastern, Asian, African-American, Latinx, or indigenous people. But only 18 percent of total arts funding goes to such groups. And about 93 percent of executive directors and CEOs in the arts are white.

“Counting Culture” reports there has been some progress on equity. For instance, between 2012 and 2016, the proportion of grants going to ALAANA groups increased from 21 percent to 31 percent. But total dollars haven’t followed suit, rising only from 8 percent of total funds allocated to 10 percent between 2012 and 2016.

Pankratz called that discrepancy “a little troubling.” He said it might in part reflect funders’ tendency to support the groups only on a project basis, rather than in ways that foster longer-term development.

More than half of black artists surveyed, meanwhile – 57 percent – said they felt access to funding is inequitable in Pittsburgh.

"Culture Counts" built on GPAC's 2018 report "Racial Equity and Arts Funding In Greater Pittsburgh."

Another new line of inquiry in “Culture Counts” addressed how the public views K-12 arts education. The report notes that, as with Americans in national polls, more than 90 percent of area residents believe arts education are an important part of the curriculum. The report concludes that “[c]ommitments to K-12 arts education should match the importance given to it by area citizens.”

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: bodriscoll@wesa.fm
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