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Longtime Pittsburgh Cultural Trust head to retire

Kevin McMahon
Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
Kevin McMahon

J. Kevin McMahon, who has led the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust for 21 of its 38 years, will retire at the end of this year, the Trust announced today.

The Trust is the region’s largest arts nonprofit. It operates an array of theaters and galleries Downtown and other real-estate holdings, including Meat & Potatoes restaurant and the Theater Square parking garage. McMahon, who succeeded founding president and CEO Carol Brown in 2001, guided the group through an era of rapid growth.

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During his tenure, the Trust’s budget quadrupled to $85 million, and it merged with previously independent entities, including the Three Rivers Arts Festival, First Night and the Pittsburgh Dance Council. The group stages or hosts more than 2,000 performances, festivals, exhibits and education programs annually, drawing more than 2 million visitors, according to the Trust.

McMahon also guided the group through the pandemic when many of its landmark theaters like the Benedum Center and Byham Theater were forced to go dark.

“It has been an absolute honor to serve Pittsburgh for the past 21 years and be a part of a community that has generously supported and attended tens of thousands of events and programs in Pittsburgh’s vibrant Cultural District,” said McMahon in a statement.

“Kevin has accomplished so much during his time at the Cultural Trust, and we are grateful that he has led Pittsburgh’s Cultural District to prosper as one of the country’s premier cultural destinations,” said Trust board chair Richard Harshman, in a statement.

McMahon came to the Trust after a nine-year stint as executive vice president at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

The Trust’s mission since its founding in 1984 has been to revitalize Downtown through the arts, typically with major support from area foundations. McMahon’s accomplishments include instituting a shared-services program for arts groups in the 14-block region known as the Cultural District; growing the Trust’s donor base to more than 15,000 individuals; and helping raise more than $400 million in contributions.

McMahon also played a role in creating several residential buildings Downtown, including the Encore on Seventh and the Century Building.

Programming highlights included the launch of the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts, a series of multi-day programs highlighting Pittsburgh, North American and world-premiere performances and exhibitions — including, perhaps most famously, Florentijn Hofman’s Rubber Duck Project. He also oversaw ambitious arts festivals featuring talent from Quebec, Australia, the Netherlands and India. Under McMahon, the Trust also increased the scope of its Broadway in Pittsburgh series with blockbusters like “The Lion King,” “Wicked,” and “Hamilton.”

It was also under McMahon that the Trust launched its popular quarterly Gallery Crawls.

While the Byham Theater, Benedum Center and Wood Street Galleries have been Trust mainstays since the 1990s, venues that began operations under McMahon include SPACE Gallery, Greer Cabaret Theater, Arcade Comedy Theater and Liberty Magic.

Several years ago, the Trust also took on temporary management and programming of the financially troubled August Wilson African American Cultural Center until it could operate independently.

“The support of the Cultural Trust and Kevin’s expertise was crucial to sustaining this incredible community resource and nationally-acclaimed cultural institution at a tumultuous time,” said Center president Janis Burley Wilson in a statement.

More recently, the Trust took over the Harris Theater, an arthouse cinema, after Pittsburgh Center for Arts & Media ceased running it during a major downsizing.

McMahon will remain in Pittsburgh and continue to teach as an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University, according to the Trust.

The group’s board, chaired by Highmark Health president and CEO David Holmberg, said it plans to conduct a national search for McMahon’s replacement.

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: