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Report ranks Pittsburgh in top 40 U.S. cities for 'arts vibrancy'

People watch a musical act perform on a stage on a downtown Pittsburgh street.
Bill O'Driscoll
90.5 WESA
The Three Rivers Arts Festival, as seen in this 2022 photo, is among Pittsburgh's biggest arts events.

A new national report has returned Pittsburgh to the list of the 40 best U.S. cities for arts and cultural life.

The eighth annual Arts Vibrancy Index, released last week, ranked Pittsburgh in the top 5% of all U.S. cities for arts, and 15th on the list of U.S. cities of more than 1 million.

While SMU Data Arts emphasizes that the rankings are relative and notes that many performing arts groups continue to struggle financially after the pandemic, the honor feels like a pat on the back to everyone from the city's largest museums to its smallest theater companies.

“Clearly Pittsburgh is incredibly rich in terms of the arts and culture landscape in the city,” said Jennifer Benoit-Bryan, research director at SMU DataArts, the Southern Methodist University project that has released the index since 2014.

The study draws on 2022 tax and census data to rank cities based on factors, including numbers of artists and arts organizations, arts jobs, and private and public spending on the arts. The complete report is here.

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The “large cities” list was topped by such usual suspects as San Francisco, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

Benoit-Bryan said Pittsburgh stands out for its high number of arts jobs.

“It’s in terms of arts and culture employees per capita where Pittsburgh is actually the best in Pennsylvania and 15th out of 947 communities in the country,” she said.

Pittsburgh ranked 67th nationally in “arts providers,” a category that includes independent artists as well as employees of arts groups.

She added Pittsburgh also stands out for its arts spending, which includes both earned and contributed revenue as well as the expenses incurred by arts groups and total compensation paid by nonprofit arts groups to staff and artists.

The city ranked 23rd in the U.S. out of all 947 communities surveyed. Pittsburgh was also 45th in total government support for the arts.

Pittsburgh had last appeared among the top 40 in 2018. Because of the pandemic shutdown, no report was published in 2021, and the 2022 report did not rank cities.

Others ranking ahead of Pittsburgh on the large-cities list include Philadelphia (fifth), Frederick-Gaithersburg-Rockville, Md. (seventh), and Cleveland (12th). Canton-Massilon, Ohio (two hours west), ranked eighth among “medium communities.”

The report does not address issues of race, gender, or pay equity.

The Arts Vibrancy Index is intended, in part, as a way for artists and arts groups to decide where to relocate and tour, said Benoit-Bryan, who added, “We hope that it’s a tool for arts and culture organizations in asking for more funding and leveraging more funding.”

The online version of the report includes an interactive map with county-by-county information.

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: