Painting the Sun, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from MJIPhotos’ photostream

According to the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, the arts and culture industry in Allegheny County is directly responsible for more than $341 million annually. Investment in the arts by foundations, corporations, and philanthropists has spurred thousands of jobs, led a revitalization of Downtown, and put our city on the map nationally and internationally. The only factor missing is a direct and strategic involvement by the City of Pittsburgh.

1. Arts Education

Saint Paul, Minnesota created the nation’s first city artist in residence in 2005. The city provided an annual $50,000 grant to create a staff position in their Department of Public Works to house one artist to work with schools, community organizations, and city departments to create and enhance public art throughout the city. Working with the Art Commission and our partners in cultural foundations and nonprofit organizations, Pittsburgh should create an artist in residence program. Selected through a public RFP process and an online vote of city residents, the Pittsburgh Artist in Residence would be responsible for developing arts education programming for Pittsburgh Public Schools, community recreation centers, and community organizations in addition to create one or more flagship works of art in the city.

2. Placemaking and Economic Development

Working closely with the newly created Pittsburgh Art Corps, the Department of Public Works, the Department of City Planning, and the Art Commission, the Pittsburgh Artist in Residence would help lead placemaking activities in neighborhoods across the city by creating and enhancing neighborhood signage, visual identity, and special event production.

3. Dedicated Funding Stream

Seattle, Washington pioneered city investments in public art through their use of a 1% set-aside for public art in all city-funded construction projects and economic development initiatives. The funding stream ensures that every development project incorporates community-approved works of art that add to the long-term value of the project. This funding stream, when implemented in Pittsburgh, would make up the bulk of the annual budget of the Pittsburgh Artist in Residence position. Seattle’s program has led to more than 350 permanent works of art and 2,800 portable works of art that have spurred neighborhood revitalization and a thriving arts tourism industry.

With the amazing talent we have available to us in Pittsburgh, we can become a destination for innovative public art that supports our neighborhoods and provides good jobs to dozens of our residents.