Focus on Arts: Questions for Pittsburgh’s Mayoral Candidates

Four candidates are vying for the role of mayor of Pittsburgh during this month’s primary election on May 18. The role of mayor can have a huge impact on Pittsburgh’s arts and culture sector, including funding for arts institutions, arts education, opportunities for public art, and housing and economics affecting artists, and arts tourism. 

The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council wanted to learn more about each candidates’ position and priorities for the arts sector if elected, so we asked candidates to answer questions about where they stand on various issues. The Arts Council does not endorse any political candidate.

Editor’s note: Responses are listed as submitted by each candidate. The Arts Council did edit the responses for punctuation and grammar. We reached out to candidate Mike Thompson’s campaign for participation in this Q&A but did not receive a submission.

Three of Pittsburgh's 2021 primary candidates for Mayor of Pittsburgh: Representative Ed Gainey, Mayor Bill Peduto, and Tony Moreno. Photos courtesy of each campaign
Three of Pittsburgh's 2021 primary candidates for Mayor of Pittsburgh: Representative Ed Gainey, Mayor Bill Peduto, and Tony Moreno. Photos courtesy of each campaign

How do you view the relationship between the arts and culture industry and the city of Pittsburgh today?

Representative Ed Gainey: The arts and culture industry is an integral part of the fabric of our city. Artists and arts organizations contribute to the unique character of our neighborhoods, inspire us to confront disparities and injustices in our communities, and help us to celebrate one another's culture, welcome newcomers, and remember our region's history. The arts are also a significant economic driver for our region, employing our neighbors, bringing visitors to town, supporting our public tax base, and contributing to the vitality of downtown and other arts districts throughout the city.

Mayor Bill Peduto: I have been a longtime supporter of the Pittsburgh arts scene – from large venues to the smallest independent artists. The arts are economic development. If we're going to build a better, more equitable city, then we must support the arts. To build on this framework, I helped found and served on the Board of Directors of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council so that stakeholders across the City could help nurture this vital industry. As mayor, I opened City Hall to artists so they can showcase their works they have for sale. I also was an early supporter of the Penn Avenue arts initiative in Garfield.

Public art is also part of the equation in cities. That's why my administration enforced the rule requiring 1% of a development's cost going towards public art, unlike previous administrations, and we're investing $800,000 into public art in our parks. This record highlights my relationship with the arts and culture industry. I have spent my public career working to make sure that everyone recognizes Pittsburgh for its world-class arts and culture industry.

Tony Moreno: The relationship between the arts/culture community is fractured. These issues go long before COVID-19. To be direct, I worked in this area from 2010-2013 at the height of the success in the downtown area, specifically the Cultural District. I worked hand-in-hand with Patty Burke from the Pittsburgh partnership, and we were wildly successful. When the current mayor took over, he removed my team of beat officers from direct downtown patrol. The result of that horrible decision has shown us what de-policing policy leads to.

When the violence and blight started to drive visitors and business investment away from Pittsburgh, Kevin McMahon made a public outcry (AP News, July 2019) for the mayor to address the growing neglect and unsafe conditions. This is what led to the mayor famously say what to expect to see in his new downtown: homelessness, mental illness, addiction and minorities (an overtly racist comment). What came with that was extreme and unchecked violence. I will reinstate beat officers that are currently trauma-informed and trained in crisis intervention, mental health identification, current laws and ordinances that address these specific needs and enforce policies that will keep the Cultural District safe and appealing to visitors from Pittsburgh and all over the world. We can manage these problems with professionalism, dignity, and respect.

Prior to the pandemic, the arts and culture industry generated more than $115 million in total tax revenues for the region. What's your plan to bring the arts industry back as a major economic contributor?

Gainey: It's critical that we deploy the federal relief funds that Pittsburgh will receive to stabilize the small businesses and organizations who have borne the brunt of the economic dislocation of the past year. Replenishing the City's rainy-day fund is the wrong strategy when it's still raining now. We need to put federal relief dollars to work to keep small businesses and organizations afloat, including performance venues and arts organizations, and equip them with the resources they need to reopen safely and bounce back from the effects of the pandemic.

Peduto: First and foremost, we are going to listen to the science on the safe return of in-person events. The safety of the community is of the utmost importance. This is why decisions on reopening require creativity. It is why I have supported outdoor, socially spaced arts venues, and have closed streets for events and restaurants. Even if it's not safe for us all to be inside, we can expand outdoor events. This will provide a needed boost.

While we were quarantined in our homes, we were able to turn to the arts. They provided a needed respite from the pandemic. It is essential, as part of the recovery, that we recognize the arts as a major economic contributor to this region. I am proud to have a diverse administration of leaders and partnerships with the corporate community, labor, foundations, universities, and organizations like VisitPittsburgh and the Arts Council, which allow us to be more creative and give us the flexibility to take innovative approaches to rebuilding the arts and culture industries.

Moreno: Parking availability has been intentionally reduced by the mayor. Because of strangling oversight and regulation, the restaurant and bar industry has been decimated. The direct relationship between the arts/entertainment and the bar/restaurant industries is important because they are reliant on each other. I would incentivize the return of visitors through parking discounts in conjunction with show/event tickets and a downtown bar/restaurant.

Closing and narrowing streets has proven to be an economic disaster. Governing without consent is the only way this can be viewed. I talked to business owners in the 900 block of Penn Avenue about their street. They did not ask for a one-way traffic pattern or bike lanes. When they asked the mayor for relief because they could not get deliveries to their business, they were told the drivers could park three blocks away and walk them down. This is no way to treat already struggling small businesses. The impact of closing 6th Street to inbound traffic will be devastating to our performance venues and has already closed Pork and Beans. I will reopen our streets, create more parking and invite visitors to our city instead of pushing them away.

What specific steps will you take to provide relief to creative entertainment and restaurant workers in the region who have been disproportionately affected by job loss in the last year?

Gainey: Putting relief funds to work that will stabilize small businesses doesn't just help the business owners or their customers, it will also help them bring their employees back to work as they safely reopen. We also need to direct relief funds to mortgage and rental assistance for workers who have lost income and who are or will be at risk of eviction. This will help them stay in their homes and make significant new investments in affordable housing to ensure that Pittsburgh remains an affordable and welcoming place to live as we emerge from this pandemic.

Peduto: At the start of the pandemic, I called for support for the Arts and Entertainment industry in the COVID relief bill passed by Congress. Theatres and restaurants deserve the same support as any other business during this difficult time. I facilitated a partnership between 412 Food Rescue and downtown restaurants to keep their kitchens open. Restaurants would cook meals for hungry families in our region, and 412 Food Rescue would help deliver them. Furthermore, we have been expediting permits for restaurants to set up outdoor seating in order for them to stay open during the COVID-19 shutdown. We also helped expedite permits for theatres, like the City Theatre, so they could perform at Hazelwood Green. As a result of President Biden's stimulus bill, the City will be given $355 million. Some of this money will be used to replenish our rainy-day fund, which allowed the City to avoid layoffs. For the rest, I have started a task force to find the places where this money can be used equitably.

Moreno: Ask the leaders in these areas the best-case scenarios and prioritize the action. I would provide temporary relief for parking for employees while working. This gives them a chance to pick themselves up and find a reasonable permanent work-related parking price. I would direct police officers downtown on patrols and in the parking garages to provide for a safe and enjoyable Pittsburgh experience. I would create a plan for the next emergency and create open air/open space performance venues. I would structure online viewing for a fee to keep performers employed and performing for people that want to participate. I would also have an open forum regularly with the leaders from downtown businesses, bars, restaurants, arts/entertainment venues, hotels, and parking managers. If we work together, we all succeed. I do not find the downtown partnership fulfilling this function.

How do you plan to invest long term in the arts, beyond COVID-19 relief?

Gainey: If elected mayor, I'm committed to building on successful collaborations like the Office of Public Art and continuing to work in close partnership with the Arts Council and other arts and culture stakeholders to ensure that the City of Pittsburgh remains an open and supportive partner to artists, arts organizations, and those who work in the industry.

Peduto: We need to be creative about how we view long-term investments in the arts. For COVID-19, it means making sure that we can re-open and reinvest in the many institutions and venues that have been affected by the pandemic. Beyond COVID-19, it's about creating more equity in the industry. As part of President Biden's pandemic stimulus package, the City of Pittsburgh will be awarded $355 million. We started a task force that will recommend how we can equitably invest these funds into our communities and into different industries, like the arts and culture industry. We can make Pittsburgh's art industry vibrant and diverse. Investment isn't the only thing we can do here. We're working on creating more housing for artists, because we know that housing security is essential to building up the arts in Pittsburgh. Furthermore, we also need to continue to invest in creative spaces and in outdoor venues to ensure that the creative arts have the infrastructure to thrive.

Moreno: Utilize partnerships and prioritize budget funding for the growth of our Cultural District. I would loosen the oversight and restrictions that the Building Inspection Licensing and Permits bureau bring. Target long-term investment in this 14-block area and secure its place in downtown permanently so Pittsburgh remains a worldwide performance destination. Promote schools to bring children safely to downtown and provide for local performances to visit city schools and perform for and interact with students all over the city to include our senior living centers. If they can't get to us, we should go to them!

Where does racial equity and social justice fit into your policy agenda, for the arts and beyond?

Gainey: Environmental justice, economic justice, education justice, housing justice, transportation justice, justice for women, justice for the LGQTQIA+ community, and justice for the disability community all intersect with racial justice.

Everyone in our city suffers from environmental hazards like poor air quality, but communities of color suffer disproportionately more because of development patterns that concentrate communities of color in neighborhoods that are most directly exposed. All workers suffer when our region's major employers refuse to pay a living wage, but Black and Brown workers are disproportionately represented at the lowest rungs of the wage ladder. Skyrocketing housing costs make the lives of all working Pittsburghers more precarious, but systemic injustices in homeownership rates place communities of color on the front lines of gentrification and displacement.

That's why I'm committed to demilitarizing our police force, dramatically increasing investment in affordable housing, fighting to make sure that our region's largest employers and landholders pay their fair share in taxes and treat their workers fairly, and building a city where we can all belong and contribute; because I know that we can uplift the City of Pittsburgh for everyone if we start with those who have been left furthest behind.

Peduto: There is a tale of two cities in Pittsburgh. There is a white Pittsburgh and a Black Pittsburgh. White Pittsburgh has reaped all the benefits of Pittsburgh's new growth, whereas Black Pittsburgh has dealt with the negative impacts. I recognized that disparity. That's why I had our Gender Equity Commission release a report about the disparity in our City and how it relates to Black women. I have used this report to bring together partners – in government, in the philanthropic community, and the corporate community – to address these inequities. In response, I joined Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, and have started a UBI pilot that targets 200 Black women and gives them $500 a month. I know that this money will help lessen some disparity, and we can leverage the results to get greater action on the state and federal level. I started the Office of Equity, which embeds a lens of equity into every government department. When city departments are crafting budgets, we make sure that we are prioritizing communities that have historically lacked investment. We are the fifth city in the nation to have this office. I started the Avenues of Hope initiative, which is reinvesting and rebuilding main streets in Black communities, like Beltzhoover, Homewood, and Manchester. This is how we build Black wealth and build a more equitable city.

But this isn't just about economics. There is inequity in the arts as well. We funded a partnership between the city and BOOM Concepts to support public art in response to social change. We also created an African American women in public art task force to make sure public art in Pittsburgh is more representative of our history of Black women leaders. Furthermore, we have had the most diverse Arts Commission in history. There is a lot of work that must be done to lift our Black and Brown neighbors, but we have created the infrastructure for building a more equitable future in Pittsburgh for everyone.

Moreno: Racial equality and social justice go hand in hand.

These two issues are manipulated by the political arena and city government has leveraged our minority communities for political expediency and shut them out of services and opportunities that are afforded to all communities normally or reached through the ability to pay. Opportunity and vision of a positive future needs to be apparent to our neglected communities. Racial equality is a natural part of life and needs to be recognized that way. Social justice is the community holding elected officials responsible for underserving select communities and overserving others.

The issues that drive the inequity in both these areas are crime, poverty, affordable housing, proper health care, career training, job availability, mobility, and financial independence. These are all financial-based problems and getting people to careers of their choice is the main priority in my plan. We must make sure that opportunities are available to everybody despite their zip code.