We’re well on our way to that, especially with many of the outdoor festivals. The International Children’s Festival. Three Rivers Arts Festival. Jazz Festival. Gallery Crawls. They’re all open, all free to the public. It’s magical to go out in the middle of Penn Avenue and see thousands of people from all backgrounds, people having a great time with art.
Along the same lines, we’re also seeing a substantial increase in individuals who care about sustaining the Cultural Trust. We’re fortunate in that regard, too. We can’t have one without the other. We had to have the philanthropic capacity to build the Cultural Trust. But building it was only half the program. We need people to use it. We have millions of people a year who come to the Cultural District.
NEXT: How solid are those numbers?
McMahon: A little more than 10 years ago the Cultural District was bringing in around a million people a year. Now we’re routinely bringing in about two million a year. We’re happy with that.
In terms of residential apartments, the market has absolutely exploded. It wasn’t too many years ago that there were just 800 or 900 apartments Downtown. Now we’re approaching 10,000 residents in the Golden Triangle—a huge increase. One of the most significant elements is that 10 to 15 years ago the Cultural Trust was pretty much alone in promoting residential development. Now we’re just one of a dozen players—and no longer the largest. That’s the ultimate success, where the Cultural Trust can let market forces handle it.
NEXT: As you look out at all this real estate, which are your favorite places?
McMahon: The Benedum is our premier facility –our aha moment. I take people in there all the time from all around the world, and when they walk in those doors they just can’t believe it. We’re so lucky that we valued that building and didn’t destroy it in an effort to modernize it. Not only is the restoration beautiful, but it’s also state-of-the-art—one of the best functioning theaters in the world. There is not a single production that couldn’t work in that space.
Around the Cultural District we have such a wide variety of buildings and spaces. Michael Graves’ O’Reilly Theater. Katz Plaza—how fortunate we were to have world-renowned artist Louise Bourgeois and landscape architect Dan Kiley create that kind of public plaza of the heart of the Cultural District.
The 900 Penn Building was one of our first Downtown residential conversions. While it’s relatively small—32 units in an old warehouse—it’s gorgeous inside, raw wood, softly lit, restored brick.
NEXT: Sounds like a good place for the Cultural Trust to be, no?
McMahon: I’d love us to do even more. We have great local arts. Many cities our size don’t have a ballet or opera company—yet alone a world-renowned symphony. Above and beyond that, I would love us to have more opportunities to experience other kinds of arts and culture from around the country and around the world. We have some of that now, probably more than other cities of our size. But I’d love even more.
It’s a shame that people feel they have to go to New York or the Kennedy Center to see the Bolshoi Ballet, for example. I’d love to see that kind of national acclaim here.
NEXT: Bringing major international events — is that the Cultural Trust’s next mountain?
McMahon: It’s complicated. We run the Cultural Trust in a very business-like manner. We never run a deficit. So what we would like to do, and what we’re able to do, are not always the same thing.
So many different arts organizations count on the Cultural Trust to be there for them, to help them with their art. We are enablers. We provide first-class performance and gallery space. When things get tough economically, I don’t think it’s an option to close the Byham Theater, for example, for a year. Because if we did that there would be serious consequences if hundreds of arts organizations didn’t have an opportunity to perform in that space. So we take our responsibility of being there very, very seriously.
NEXT: You arrived at the Trust in 2001. Did you expect to be here 13 years—and counting?
McMahon: I’ve now been here longer than anywhere else. It’s been very gratifying. I enjoy every day here. It’s intense—there’s no question about that. This is a 24/7 job, at least two shifts a day. I do my job all day, then I go out every night with people—all the things I’ve done all day I experience at night. There are not a lot of free weekends. I’m pretty much here all the time.