Wonky In Pittsburgh
I am new to Pittsburgh, having arrived here from Los Angeles on New Year’s Day 2013 to join the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council (GPAC) as its Research & Policy Director. It’s one of the few such positions in a local arts agency in the U.S., reflecting GPAC’s ongoing commitment to strategically integrating research, policy, and advocacy.
Overall, even though, alas, Pittsburgh’s signature dish (pierogies) is no replacement for Southern California’s fish tacos--sorry!--and Burghers’ sense of direction seems to rely more on landmarks long gone than concepts like east, west, north, and south, I’ve had a very happy landing here, in part, because it’s a dream locale for an arts policy wonk like me.
Pittsburgh is a policy wonk’s paradise for several reasons--its many assets and accomplishments, challenges, and policy windows.
Assets and Accomplishments
--Our state (Pennsylvania) is the birthplace of the Cultural Data Project, thanks in part to Pittsburgh-based foundations, while GPAC is a standing member of the PA CDP task force, which helps give direction to the use of CDP data by arts & culture organizations (and researchers).
--GPAC participates in national arts research initiatives on a regular basis, for example, TRG Arts’ Community Database Network, the Local Arts Index, and AEP IV, for which GPAC created its own customized report--Arts, Culture & Economic Prosperity in Allegheny County. The “Prosperity” report found, among other things, that our county’s arts & culture industry generates $410 million in household income annually which, in turn could be used in many ways--for house payments for 44,000 families or to buy 505,849,383 pierogies.
--GPAC has a long-time arts policy research partnership with our distinguished counterpart on the eastern end of PA, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. One collaborative study showed how arts participants in the state are exceptionally engaged in all aspects of the political process.
--The Pittsburgh Arts Research Committee, consisting of independent arts researchers and those affiliated with universities (University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, think tanks (RAND Pittsburgh), arts service organizations (Arts Education Collaborative and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts), and major foundations (Heinz Endowments, The Pittsburgh Foundation, and the McCune Foundation), provides a forum to explore relationships between arts research and policy development. A recent meeting focused on current research into the needs and assets of smaller arts organizations and how cultural vitality indicators can help measure community cultural life in many contexts throughout Pittsburgh.
--Pittsburgh is also home to the outstanding Master of Arts Management program at Carnegie Mellon University, where, BTW, I get to teach the Cultural Policy & Advocacy course.
--Finally, Pittsburgh has a strong, effective arts advocacy infrastructure. For example, this past year GPAC led advocacy efforts to successfully create the new bi-partisan, bi-camera Pennsylvania Legislative Arts & Culture Caucus, designed to coordinate policy action on behalf of the arts & culture. On May 7th, in collaboration with Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania, our statewide advocacy coalition, led 10 personal meetings between state legislators and SW PA arts advocates during Arts Legislative Day in Harrisburg. The meetings were an opportunity for us to discuss both the PA Arts & Culture 2013 Legislative Priorities and the PA Arts Education Network Policy Agenda, the latter prepared by the The Pennsylvania Arts Education Network. This activity was preceded by GPAC’s coordination of an 18-member delegation from SW PA to National Arts Advocacy Day on April 9th to make visits to U.S. senators and representatives. (Pennsylvania led all states in participation in Arts Advocacy Day this year thanks, in part, to the attendance of 15 students from Carnegie Mellon’s Master of Arts Management program).
For there to be all of these arts policy assets and accomplishments, it’s necessary, of course, to have an arts & culture sector with scope, diversity, and vitality in the first place. The Pittsburgh certainly fills that bill. It’s home to 350 arts & culture organizations in all disciplines, ranging in budget size from $25,000 to $10 million +, many with major international reputations. Other indicators of cultural vitality include: 1) 18.2 arts & culture nonprofits per 100,000 in population; 2) $315 in per capita spending on nonprofit arts & culture by each resident (the national average is $267); 3) 249 individual artists per 100,000 in population (the national average is 148); and 4) 45% of all arts & culture attendees personally create art. GPAC will continue to research and document the many assets of our area’s cultural community.
But opportunities for research, policy development, and advocacy are often borne of challenges, gaps, deficits, and standards not met. Pittsburgh provides several of these as well:
--in 2010, 63% of the area’s arts & culture organizations ran a deficit
--in 2010, the region’s cultural organizations spent $110 million on physical plant maintenance, while investment in new infrastructure was minimal
--while 78% of adults in the area agree that the arts are a very important part of the curriculum of K-12 schools, many schools still lack quality arts education programs, and
--African Americans in the Pittsburgh area are more likely than other groups to compose or play music, sing in a choir, or dance, yet African-Americans here are 33% more likely to find the area’s cultural offerings unsatisfactory than other racial groups.
In addition to persistent challenges, unanticipated policy windows, on occasion, present opportunities for research and policy activity. In Pittsburgh, the incumbent Mayor, in office since 2007, unexpectedly withdrew has candidacy for re-election a few months back. GPAC jumped at the chance to impact the election and to focus attention on arts policy issues and solutions. So we are soliciting responses to key arts policy issues for the candidates to respond to and developed a 9-point Arts & Culture Platform for each Mayoral candidate to respond to in writing and during Mayoral forums and debates.
I could go on. But it’s clear that Pittsburgh really is a great place to work for an arts policy wonk like me. I see a bright future of documenting our cultural assets, addressing cultural challenges with research, policy, and advocacy, and responding pro-actively to new policy windows that are sure to open. And, one of these days, I may even come to love pierogies and find my own way around town.