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Pittsburgh City Council approves changes to public art funding and oversight

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Legislation proposed by Mayor Ed Gainey’s administration has split the city’s art commission in two, with one committee for public art and another for the design of public buildings.

Changes to how Pittsburgh oversees public art were approved by City Council on Wednesday.

The legislation, proposed by Mayor Ed Gainey’s administration, splits the city’s art commission in two, with one committee for public art and another for the design of public buildings. City staffers said the idea is to focus the expertise of each committee, and to reduce the workload on the all-volunteer commission.

Another change revamps a city law that sets aside one percent of the cost of municipal capital projects for public art on those sites. The new law requires pooling those funds for use anywhere in the city. Supporters said that will make it possible to do more substantial individual projects and help distribute art more equitably around town.

A third change is meant to incentivize the creation of new art by establishing a trust fund for one-time contributions from developers who bankroll public art projects in exchange for exceptions to the zoning code for things like building heights and setbacks. The fund will also accept private donations and budgeted transfers from the city’s general fund.

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The changes are the first to city code’s provisions governing public art in decades. Approval will likely be followed shortly by Gainey’s office issuing a slate of nominees for the five slots on the newly constituted Public Art Committee and five more on the new Civic Design Committee. (In November, Gainey abruptly dismissed the five sitting members of the Art Commission.) Nominees for the 10 new positions would require council approval.

Last week, councilors voted unanimously to give preliminary approval to all three proposed laws. They likewise gave the legislation final approval in a 7-0 vote in their last scheduled regular meeting of the year.

Updated: December 28, 2022 at 2:04 PM EST
[Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the final vote.]
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: