Benedum

In yet another article about Pittsburgh, The Atlantic is devoting its attention to downtown; and therefore by extension, The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

Pittsburgh’s downtown area was not always—and still may not be to some—the beating heart of the city. John Tierney, author of The Atlantic article, says that not long ago, our downtown used to be a congregation of “porn shops, strip joints, massage parlors and sleazy bars.”

While it is nowhere close to maintaining such a reputation these days, Tierney writes, Pittsburgh owes a great deal of downtown’s comeback to The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, calling their work one of the city’s “most vivid transformations.”

Tierney points out that this process is not unique to Pittsburgh—many cities have attempted to use the arts as an economic catalyst to revive their downtown sectors: attracting people to restaurant openings and other amenities.

What’s different about Pittsburgh, however, was the Cultural Trust’s vision to not simply insert an arts center into the fray. What the Cultural Trust did was create an entire district that reflected the group’s desire to see the arts as a pervasive, eye-catching and stimulating core within the fabric of downtown.

The Atlantic, in their American Futures series, writes “Pittsburgh’s is widely regarded as the most impressive and successful such effort, respected for its sensible, clearheaded approach based on preservation.”

Tierney sums it up like this:

“In other words, the idea for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust quickly became one of “curating” a large, 14-square-block area of downtown, with the combined goals of restoring the theaters, buying and managing adjacent properties, ridding the area of its sleaze and ruin, constructing new performance spaces, commissioning public art projects, developing new urban parks, and creating recreational spaces along adjacent riverfront areas.”

Tierney says the Cultural Trust plans to focus on the kind of art that the people of Pittsburgh can’t get anywhere else: large-scale musical performances (that, according to the Trust, are growing like “gangbusters”) that can really only be achieved in the Trust’s large-scale venues, a unique modern-dance series, the much-loved Gallery Crawls, as well as productions from Pittsburgh’s innovative theater companies like Bricolage Production Company and Pittsburgh Playwrights.

Here’s the rub: when other cities go to replicate this kind of success in their own urban center, Tierney says there may not be room for duplication. Pittsburgh’s success is due largely to contributions and support from the Heinz, Benedum, and Mellon philanthropies.

What other cities can take away, according to J. Kevin McMahon, President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, is “expert advice” from organizations like ArtPlace America, which has a “creative placemaking” program. McMahon also cites determined leadership and authenticity as essential qualities to develop before groundbreaking.

Read the full article here.

Rebekah Zook

Rebekah Zook is a Duquesne grad and all-around story-telling enthusiast. A former fellow at WESA, she worked as a production assistant for their daily talk show. Most recently, she taught in the Propel...