Advocacy success story: $650,000 in arts-related funding saved

The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council is proud to announce that Pittsburgh City Council has prevented the reallocation of $650,000 in funds that were designated from the American Rescue Plan to support arts-related pandemic recovery efforts. We extend our gratitude to the artists, arts organizations, and arts appreciators who joined us in collectively advocating for this important issue.

The Arts Council expresses an enormous thank you to Councilmembers Erika Strassburger and Bruce Kraus who co-sponsored today’s amendment to remove the “support the arts” line item from the series of changes to its American Rescue Plan spending plan, and to the rest of City Council who unanimously approved their proposal without opposition.

“We just fully funded back the arts line item,” Councilmember Ricky Burgess announced to a series of applause from advocates in attendance following the announcement.

Today in City Council chambers, the Arts Council’s CEO Patrick Fisher and Director of Research and Special Projects Morgan Kasprowicz joined other members of the region’s arts community in recognizing the importance of preserving this funding during the public hearing following the announcement.

“Our role in the community requires us to be an advocate for the artists who live and work in our community and it also requires us to be a partner of others in the community,” said Fisher. “As such, we’re happy to partner with the city’s administration in any way possible for a win-win scenario to make sure that the funds dedicated to the arts through ARPA are utilized in a manner that is equitable and impactful.”

A group of four people stand in a government building, in front of large wooden doors and in between the American Flag and the City of Pittsburgh Flag.
James McNeel, managing director of City Theatre joins the Arts Council's Director of Research and Special Projects Morgan Kasprowicz, CEO Patrick Fisher, and board chair Dr. Veronica Morgan-Lee // Photo by Lisa Cunningham

As noted in WESA, Pittsburgh was awarded $335 million in the federal pandemic-relief funds in 2021, and that June, Mayor Bill Peduto’s office announced $2 million would be used for “a new fund to support local artists who experienced financial hardship during COVID and to bring music and art into public events and facilities across Pittsburgh.”

Since late 2022, the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council has urged the City of Pittsburgh to create an equitable and impactful plan to spend its “support for the arts” money, something our research has shown has been enacted in other cities.

Local musician and arts administrator Adam Valen, who spoke remotely before the Council during today’s public hearing, reinforced that “the cost of being an artist cannot be overlooked.” He referenced 2018’s Pittsburgh Music Ecosystem report which emphasized the importance of building a more vibrant music ecosystem in Pittsburgh.

“I just want to stress that we can’t be a vibrant ecosystem if we’re not supporting the artists that make up that ecosystem,” he added.

Publicly available records show that a much larger proportion of the City of Pittsburgh’s first two ARPA expenditures (reimbursements for 2022 Fourth of July and 2022 Light up Night) paid for fireworks ($96,125 or 66%) compared to the proportion spent on arts performances ($14,840 or 10%).

“In the past few years, we have heard many Pittsburgh public officials invoke the value and the power of the arts. We’ve heard public declarations of the need to engage the arts in our most pressing challenges and opportunities …” Kasprowicz said to City Council. “For those of us who work in the arts, we are beyond ready to have those conversations with all of you. And in order for us to continue to be everything that we have been to the arts community, in order for us to grow into everything we could be for the city, we do need your help now. We are grateful for this movement today and we look forward to having this conversation in the future.”

The Arts Council recognizes that advocacy doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and that we’re celebrating this win today thanks to the support of engaged residents who contacted their City Councilmembers and registered to speak at today’s public hearing, as well as the audience of WESA who read Bill O’Driscoll’s article, which brought further attention to this issue and led to an even greater audience speaking up on behalf of our region’s arts and culture community.

The Arts Council also recognizes that this win is only the beginning, and that just because these funds have been spared from resolution 1704, we can’t slow down our advocacy efforts. We are committed to continue working with the City and other local arts leaders to make sure these funds are spent equitably; and, after these funds are exhausted, we vow to keep the conversation going.

It is mission critical that as an Arts Council, we use our platforms to advocate on behalf of Pittsburgh’s artists, culture bearers, art educators, creative entrepreneurs, and administrators of arts organizations so that the positive impact they have in our communities and society at large is better recognized, appreciated, valued, and resourced.