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Deadlines near for pandemic-relief funds for Pittsburgh artists

The Downtown Pittsburgh skyline.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The Downtown Pittsburgh skyline.

This is WESA Arts, a weekly newsletter by Bill O'Driscoll providing in-depth reporting about the Pittsburgh area art scene. Sign up here to get it every Wednesday afternoon.

The $2 million in federal pandemic-relief funds the City of Pittsburgh allocated for the arts in 2021 has long been a bone of contention.

The funds were widely understood to be earmarked for local artists who had been hurt economically by the pandemic (meaning most of them, especially among performers). But last year, Mayor Ed Gainey’s administration proposed reallocating about one-third of those funds for other uses.

That proposal failed, even as the city was criticized for spending a big chunk of the funds on fireworks for the Fourth of July and Light Up Night.

More recently, the administration has drawn criticism for its plan to reallocate $125,000 of pandemic-relief money approved by City Council for the long-running Western Pennsylvania Juneteenth Celebration to the producer of the city’s own, brand-new Juneteenth event.

Yet much of that $2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds still remains unspent — and must be distributed by the end of this calendar year or risk forfeiture.

Now the city now has a plan to get the remaining funds to artists. And the deadline to apply is approaching.

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The city is seeking proposals from “qualified and experienced organizations” to assist it in getting the funds to individual artists. The award-management-services groups that are chosen will then develop a plan to distribute $160,000 to directly support artists. (Artists will have to apply for aid.) Groups that might fit this description include the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and the United Way.

A second request for proposals seeks “qualified and experienced arts producers” to help the city organize, and allocate funds for, “various exhibitions and/or performances to showcase the work of local artists” hurt economically by the pandemic. This program has a maximum budget of about $500,000, according to the city. The funds are specifically for projects, not organizational support, and just 10% or less of the funds can go toward administrative costs.

Both requests for proposals were published in April. The deadline for both applications is May 24.

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: