As far as arts and culture during the pandemic goes, the winner has been Netflix (and streaming services in general).
The loser has been almost everybody else.
Local arts and cultural organizations — especially the ones that require people to show up in person for a concert, a play or an art exhibition — were hit hard by Covid shutdowns and have struggled mightily to adapt to a still-infectious world.
The Henry L. Hillman Foundation is tossing a life raft of $7 million to 57 of Pittsburgh’s cultural institutions to keep them afloat during the remainder of this crisis and help them adapt to whatever comes next.
Grants range from $20,000 to $1 million, and recipients range from the August Wilson African American Cultural Center to Attack Theatre to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust to MCG Jazz. The full list of recipients is here (all receiving part of the $7 million are listed as “COVID-19: Arts and Culture Recovery Support”).
Funds will be used to bring back furloughed staff, improve health and safety procedures and develop creative reopening plans.
“With the prospect of additional federal support in the coming months and, hopefully, the end of this difficult period in sight, we thought this was the right time to provide needed support for the arts sector and encourage others to do so, too,” says David Roger, president of the Hillman Foundations.
“These organizations, so critical to our quality of life in the Pittsburgh region, have proven to be resilient and creative in keeping their lights on to the extent possible. However, make no mistake, they’ve been terribly impacted and we need to get behind them as they ramp up operations and programs in the next year.”
“Our general mission is to improve the quality of life in Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania, and having a robust, diverse and accessible arts sector is a critical part,” says Roger.
He pointed to the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council’s Culture Counts 2020 report that shows the profound economic impact of arts and cultural organizations in the Pittsburgh region. Those organizations employ more than 32,000 people and account for $641 million in resident household income as well as $115 million in state and local tax revenues (according to 2017 data).
“We can be very proud of our arts sector for having demonstrated resilience, creativity and the sheer will to survive, but they need help to ensure that they can thrive again,” says Roger. “We’re hoping that many others will see their importance … and get behind them with financial support.”
From March 2020 to March 2021, the Pittsburgh-based Henry L. Hillman, Hillman, Elsie H. Hillman, Mary Hillman Jennings and Polk Foundations — have given more than $45 million in emergency response grants to meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable, boost public health and education, and prepare for economic recovery.
Other (non-arts) recipients of Hillman funding in the past year have ranged from the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank ($350,000), to a grant ($80,000) for a Carnegie Mellon University project combating disinformation about the vaccine rollout in Pennsylvania.