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Pittsburgh arts audiences are smaller but spending more, report says

People watch a musical act perform on a stage on a downtown Pittsburgh street.
Bill O'Driscoll
90.5 WESA
Audiences catch a concert at the 2022 Three Rivers Arts Festival.

The pandemic shutdown might have depressed arts attendance long-term in Allegheny County, but if anything it seems to have encouraged the patrons who remain to spend more.

That’s one finding of Arts and Economic Prosperity 6, the latest iteration of a national report issued every five years by advocacy group Americans for the Arts, and considered the largest and most inclusive study of its kind.

The report concluded that arts groups and their patrons here spent about $1.26 billion in the year ending last June. That’s about three times the median for all regions of 1 million or more in population. It’s far more than Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland ($533 million), a bit more than San Diego ($1.19 billion) and nearly as much as Philadelphia ($1.32 billion).

“Allegheny County arts and culture continues to punch above its weight when compared to peer regions,” said Morgan Kasprowicz of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, one of the regional groups that worked on the report with Americans for the Arts.

Perhaps the most surprising finding was that though arts attendance in the county had declined about 20% since 2017, average spending by patrons rose considerably, to $54 per person per event, not counting ticket costs. That’s up 70% from 2017 levels, and far outstrips the national average of about $38.

The spending is an average of outlays by both patrons who live in Allegheny County and the 28% who came from elsewhere, who on average spent more, about $91 per event. (All the events were staged by nonprofit groups, meaning events like arena and stadium concerts, like Taylor Swift’s mammoth Eras Tour shows, didn’t figure in.)

“Even when you adjust for inflation, arts and culture audiences were investing more into the local economy than they were pre-pandemic,” said Kasprowicz, GPAC’s director of research and cultural policy.

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Allegheny County was among 377 regions surveyed in the report. Figures were submitted to Americans for the Arts by arts groups themselves and from patron surveys.

According to the report, nonprofit arts groups here who participated in the survey spent about $544 million that year.

While that figure accounts for spending by just 169 of the 600 eligible groups here, and does not include arts spending like foundation grants for individual artists, Kasprowicz said it included spending by all the region’s “large and very large” groups, like the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Symphony. So while the total underestimates such spending, it is probably not by much, she said.

Spending by audiences, meanwhile, was estimated at $711 million. The figure was calculated based on surveys of nearly 800 arts patrons conducted at a wide array of free and ticketed events at theaters, galleries and museums and festivals like the Three Rivers Arts Festival. About 28 percent of those surveys were gathered at events staged by BIPOC or ALAANA groups. Americans for the Arts used an economic modeling tool called IMPLAN to calculate the overall impact based on those survey responses.

Another surprising finding perhaps reflected a statistical anomaly: Allegheny County’s $711 million in audience spending far outstripped $433 million in such spending in Philadelphia, another noted arts hub.

But Kristen Vinh, of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, said during a May 2 webinar on the report that the data from Philadelphia actually covered the prior fiscal year, 2021-22, when groups were just emerging from the pandemic shutdown and many had yet to resume full programming schedules.

Amidst the positive news, Arts and Prosperity also documented the ongoing effects of the pandemic shutdown, which hit arts groups especially hard. Job losses in the sector ran nationally to nearly 35% of total employment, more than five times the rate for all sectors, and 95% of artists lost creative income, according to the report.

Artists of color and groups serving and representing BIPOC communities suffered more, according to the report. About 55% of such groups reported they lacked the financial resources to return to in-person programming, versus 38% of white-led groups.

Kasprowicz said the report is meant to help the community understand the role the arts play in the local economy.

“I hope these numbers can also challenge us to equitably and sustainably invest in the labor in the creativity, the risk and the passion that drives arts and cultural production,” she said.

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: