Photo courtesy of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

When the pandemic shut down stages, the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council (GPAC) started its engine.

The organization, which represents nearly 600 local artists and venues, launched the Restart the Artsmobile, a converted food truck that brings free live performances and ice cream to events around town.

Throughout September, the vehicle — which has chimes like an ice cream truck, but with a hip-hop beat — is making the rounds at 25 events, from farmers’ markets and community festivals to an arts corridor day on the North Side, performances in Penn Hills and an open mic night with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. A full schedule is available online.

GPAC team members serve as drivers and emcees for the 30-minute acts and pop-up art installations. When the applause dies down, you can walk up to the side window and get sweet treats, along with information about the Restart the Arts program.

Participants include the Hill Dance Academy Theatre, Local 412, Pittsburgh Opera and Libertoca.

“It was definitely difficult to select performers for this project,” says Kristen Wishon, senior director of external affairs for GPAC. She says more than 50 artists and organizations applied to be part of the Artsmobile.

It was relatively early in the pandemic when staff began discussing how to best help support the arts and culture community in Pittsburgh.

“We saw our entire community crumble — canceled shows and performances, no opportunity for steady income, furloughs and layoffs,” Wishon says. “The Restart the Arts campaign came to fruition through a grant application to the Richard King Mellon Foundation in 2020 as a response to the pandemic’s effect on the arts community and economy.”

With further support from the Allegheny Regional Asset District and the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, they were able to take their show on the road.

Photo courtesy of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

The Arts Council is monitoring the pandemic’s effect on audiences by participating in a longitudinal study through research firm WolfBrown called the Audience Outlook Monitor. This data provides insight into how spectators were responding to the pandemic and returning (or not returning) to cultural venues and arts spaces.

Wishon says GPAC also pivoted its Emergency Fund for Artists to support creatives who were experiencing a loss of income during the pandemic.

The fund originally supported artists impacted by unforeseen emergencies such as fire, flood, theft, or accidents that impacted their ability to create art. In total, they gave away $500 Covid support grants to nearly 500 artists.

Artsburgh continues to serve as a tool to help performers and venues reach an active and engaged audience. Each month, more than 260 participants representing over 125 organizations throughout the region engage in virtual meetups to tackle pandemic-related issues.

If additional funding is secured, the Restart the Arts campaign will continue into 2022.

“The pandemic has lingered with us much longer than anticipated, so our work to support the community’s resurgence isn’t over,” Wishon says.

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.