Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

State of the Arts

Guess what: Pittsburghers may love their arts as much as their sports( maybe even more). But can our much-touted cultural crown jewels survive? Are we positioned for the future? Despite the challenges, the 21st century looks optimistic.

(page 1 of 2)

Make room for the kid in the creatively ripped jeans and big hair. Grab the CD on your way out of the concert (or download the podcast when you get home). That’s today’s arts experience, infused with the technology and tastes of the 21st century.

In their quest for younger, less-reverent ticket-buyers, our oldest arts institutions are acting younger, replacing decorum with debate, subbing new works for old standards and mixing up cocktails and conversation to build the audience. And many observers think that’s the way they’ll survive the economic crunch—by scoring more face time with the Facebook crowd.

By many measures, 2008 was a marquee year for the Pittsburgh region’s largest arts institutions, with record attendance for downtown seasons, sell-outs for the International Festival of Firsts and crowds exceeding 1.12 million for the Carnegie Museums, which also soared past its fund-raising goal of $150 million in the “Building the Future” campaign that ended in December 2007.

Over the past decade, city arts organizations have invested in new exhibits, productions and venues; waged sophisticated campaigns to lure new patrons, and walked the tightrope between crowd-pleasing blockbusters and avant-garde adventure. New data show the effort has paid off. When Pittsburgh Today, the regional benchmarking project based at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social and Urban Research, recently measured 2002 arts attendance versus sports attendance, the arts won the match-up hands down. It was reported that more than 53 percent of Southwestern Pennsylvania residents attended an arts event that year versus 36.2 percent who attended sporting events. In the same year, the percentage of folks participating in the arts totaled 67.8 percent versus 39.4 percent for sports. In 2006, the region exceeded the U.S. average for attendance at classical-music performances, musicals and nonmusical plays.
Pittsburgh’s above-average arts-participation numbers don’t surprise Richard Armstrong, former director of Carnegie Museum of Art and current director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and Museum in New York City. “One of the indicators of a truly civilized city is that it is robust in multidimensional ways,” he notes. “Millions of people go to all sorts of Pittsburgh events—arts, sports, churches, et cetera. It’s an active, big-city environment.”

That’s because the region’s major arts institutions—the Carnegie Museums, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Pittsburgh Opera, Pittsburgh CLO and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust—have earned rock-solid support over decades. “People grow up and stay in Pittsburgh, so almost everyone has an important ‘aha!’ moment they remember,” says David Hillenbrand, president of the Carnegie Museums. “So the cab driver is enthusiastic about recommending the museums. Parents and grandparents bring the kids.”

Other cities envy Pittsburgh’s track record. “One of our biggest success stories is that we have achieved substantial growth in a market that’s stable,” says Pittsburgh Cultural Trust president Kevin McMahon. This nonprofit, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, manages 14 theaters, galleries, public plazas, and new and proposed commercial development. In 2007, more than 1.5 million patrons attended events in downtown’s Cultural District. More than 32,000 were first-time ticket buyers—and they bought a total of 116,000 seats to Trust events, such as the Australia Festival, a month-long showcase of art from Down Under, to the Joffrey Ballet to a tour of Broadway’s Avenue Q.

But as 2009 begins, those highlights are a memory. As public-arts funding dwindles and endowments dip, arts leaders must again confront the central challenges: finding the money for quality programming and expanding the number of people who pay to see it.

“We’ve already gotten notice that our grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts are cut,” says Charlie Humphrey, executive director of Pittsburgh Filmmakers, the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and Pittsburgh Glass Center. He’s also anticipating that “there will be less RAD money and less state money.” He’s referring to traditional public-funding sources as the Allegheny Regional Asset District, which funnels half of the 1 percent sales tax to civic and cultural institutions within Allegheny County, and the commonwealth. “I see a slowdown coming in arts support—but I’d love to be wrong,” admits Humphrey.

Bringing the Audience

Sociologist Robert Putnam called the loss of community experience “bowling alone,” and other writers have lamented how suburban sprawl and cyber-entertainment isolate us. But it’s the shared intimacy of the arts that still turns us on. It’s what lures us back to the institutions we love and encourages us to trust them when they offer the unfamiliar. (A case in point was the magical debut of Teatro de los Sentidos, a Barcelona-based troupe whose sensory theatrical performance highlighted last October’s Cultural Trust-sponsored Festival of Firsts.)

The growth of the Cultural District over the past three decades coincided with the growth of far-flung suburbs, leading to fears that those potential patrons would reject a long commute to arts events. But the Trust’s careful analysis of downtown ticket-buyers proves otherwise. More than 22 percent of households in the 16046 ZIP code area of Mars, which covers sections of Butler and Allegheny counties, bought downtown tickets between January 2007 and June 2008; 20 percent of those in Cranberry Township (16066) in Butler County did the same. In that same time period in Washington County, more than 25 percent of households ventured downtown from both the Lawrence (15055) and Venetia (15367) ZIP code areas.

While these figures might not be as strong as those in traditional cultural neighborhoods such as Squirrel Hill, Upper St. Clair and Fox Chapel, with rankings in the low 30s, the numbers show strong regional interest in downtown offerings.
Pittsburgh Symphony president and CEO Larry Tamburri discounts the argument that distance prevents patrons from flocking to the city. “People don’t say that about hockey games or football games,” he observes bluntly. “People go to what they want to attend.”
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

PIT Turns to CMU to Make Airport Smartest in the World

The airport authority will use minds at CMU to discover ways to make it easier for passengers to get from the terminal’s parking lots to their seat on the plane.

Celebrate August Wilson's Birthday With a King and a Block Party

The ninth play in the 10-part Pittsburgh Cycle will open outside at the August Wilson House.

First Look: Soju in Garfield

Simon Chough’s Korean restaurant is six years in the making.

I Feel Pretty Isn't What You're Expecting (And That's Okay)

Reviews of "I Feel Pretty" and "Super Troopers 2," plus a rundown of events at the Pittsburgh Underground Film Festival.

Get Your Clark Bars While You Can – They May Soon Be Gone

Production of Pittsburgh native candy bar may halt if the current producer cannot find a new buyer.

Coughlin's Law Wants To Be Your Mount Washington Destination

Notes on the busy new bar and restaurant near Grandview Avenue.

The 2018 Return of the Burgh-y Mother's Day Gift Guide

It's back! From the dog mom to the working mom, we've got you covered with these locally made must-haves.

Patriot Games Can’t Diminish Harrison’s Place in Steelers History

James Harrison intimidated opposing players in a way not seen since the days of Jack Lambert and Mean Joe Greene.

Bruno Sammartino Dies; Wrestling's Longtime Champ Was 82

The Italian-born star died surrounded by family in his adopted home of Pittsburgh.

It’s Road Repaving Season in Pittsburgh. Is Your Street on the List?

The City of Pittsburgh has finalized its street paving plan for 2018. You’re one click away from finding out if your street or route to work is on the list.

Three Rivers Champion: James S. Perry

Perry combined his love for athletics and volunteerism to create a youth athletic association that at its height provided organized softball and baseball to more than 350 boys and girls.

Three Rivers Art Festival Brings Music and New Art For 59th Summer

Point State Park, Gateway Center and sites across the Cultural District will host free, world-class art and events during this year’s 10-day festival.

Sound of Silence: Century III to be Sold at Sheriff's Sale

The nearly 40-year-old mall encounters foreclosure once again. Will this sale be the end of the line?

Pittsburgh Riverlife President & CEO Vivien Li Resigns

Li is returning to Boston to be with family members who are in declining health.

The Best Ways to Reuse and Repurpose Wedding Decor

From new decor in the home to donations to charity, check out these ways to repurpose leftover wedding decor.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


PIT Turns to CMU to Make Airport Smartest in the World

PIT Turns to CMU to Make Airport Smartest in the World

The airport authority will use minds at CMU to discover ways to make it easier for passengers to get from the terminal’s parking lots to their seat on the plane.

Comments

Celebrate August Wilson's Birthday With a King and a Block Party

Celebrate August Wilson's Birthday With a King and a Block Party

The ninth play in the 10-part Pittsburgh Cycle will open outside at the August Wilson House.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
First Look: Soju in Garfield

First Look: Soju in Garfield

Simon Chough’s Korean restaurant is six years in the making.

Comments

New Chefs Coming to Smallman Galley

New Chefs Coming to Smallman Galley

Smallman Galley will rotate its third class of chef/owners this June … but this time there’s a twist.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 2018 Return of the Burgh-y Mother's Day Gift Guide

The 2018 Return of the Burgh-y Mother's Day Gift Guide

It's back! From the dog mom to the working mom, we've got you covered with these locally made must-haves.

Comments

The 5 Best Places to People Watch in Pittsburgh

The 5 Best Places to People Watch in Pittsburgh

A coffee shop, an iconic landmark, an airport and beyond — these are the best places to practice the art of people watching.

Comments


Coughlin's Law Wants To Be Your Mount Washington Destination

Coughlin's Law Wants To Be Your Mount Washington Destination

Notes on the busy new bar and restaurant near Grandview Avenue.

Comments

Smallman Galley Goes 3D With Its New Cocktail Menu

Smallman Galley Goes 3D With Its New Cocktail Menu

The bar team at the Strip District restaurant incubator continues its flights of fancy with Flashback Flavors.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Patriot Games Can’t Diminish Harrison’s Place in Steelers History

Patriot Games Can’t Diminish Harrison’s Place in Steelers History

James Harrison intimidated opposing players in a way not seen since the days of Jack Lambert and Mean Joe Greene.

Comments

Penguins Seeking 3-Peat With The Swagger of a Champion

Penguins Seeking 3-Peat With The Swagger of a Champion

The power play, star power and goaltending are among the primary weapons the Penguins have at their disposal in their quest for another championship. But so, too, is an unshakable belief they can hoist Lord Stanley's Cup three times in a row.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
I Feel Pretty Isn't What You're Expecting (And That's Okay)

I Feel Pretty Isn't What You're Expecting (And That's Okay)

Reviews of "I Feel Pretty" and "Super Troopers 2," plus a rundown of events at the Pittsburgh Underground Film Festival.

Comments

Despite The Rock, Rampage Is a Wild Misfire

Despite The Rock, Rampage Is a Wild Misfire

A review of "Rampage," plus an update on the former Friends of the Hollywood Theater and other local movie news.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Best Ways to Reuse and Repurpose Wedding Decor

The Best Ways to Reuse and Repurpose Wedding Decor

From new decor in the home to donations to charity, check out these ways to repurpose leftover wedding decor.

Comments

How Lucky Socks Played a Key Role in Couple’s Wedding

How Lucky Socks Played a Key Role in Couple’s Wedding

A pair of puffin socks played a big role in this Pittsburgh couple’s relationship — and, in a surprise move by their pastor, their wedding.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Toll Gate Revival Gearing Up for New Location, New Experience

Toll Gate Revival Gearing Up for New Location, New Experience

The vintage décor and reclaimed materials business owned by Seth Hunter will open in a larger Lawrenceville warehouse next month.

Comments

Take a Sneak Peek at Our 2018 Ultimate House

Take a Sneak Peek at Our 2018 Ultimate House

Tours of Empire on Liberty, a one-time furniture and carpet warehouse in Bloomfield turned into a mixed-use structure, take place this month. The tour includes a look at the penthouse and two condos.

Comments