Monday, December 21, 2009

Four Years Later, Alcoa Foundation Leadership Grants Show Big Impact

by David Seals

Four years after the Alcoa Foundation launched a pilot re-granting program through the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, we’re asking grantees to reevaluate the professional growth experiences made possible by this funding stream—and the initial results indicate strong impact.
Of those surveyed, one hundred percent agreed or strongly agreed that the experience gave them valuable connections with peers that they have utilized or will utilize in the future. All respondents also agreed or strongly agreed that they were able to step outside of the day-to-day and consider some big issues/challenges in their work. When asked if they would have been able to participate in this opportunity if it weren’t for the Alcoa funds, eighty-three percent indicated no.

Some grantees in their own words:

“I raise my entire budget, including my salary, from grants. I definitely did not have a professional development budget.... The Alcoa Grant meant a great deal to me. It's almost a year later and I have been able to establish a network of colleagues from all over the U.S.”
“By broadening organizational capacity...and increasing the professional skills of the administrators...the Alcoa Grant is strengthening the cultural landscape of the region in a very real way.”

“It was invaluable being able to connect with others in my field and keep that communication going; knowing what is going on in other theaters around the country helps us to keep production costs down and give/receive help from other organizations. It would have been difficult/not possible for me to attend the conference without the generous funds received from the Alcoa Grant—thank you.”

“Professional development opportunities allow staff to gain perspective and inspiration.... The Alcoa grants remove one of the barriers for participation in these valuable programs.”
“What a wonderful opportunity! I was able to attend an international conference to learn from others and benchmark our own success! A great way to gain perspective on the impact of our programs and operations while discovering some new idea, technology and colleagues! This would NEVER have been possible without the grant. We couldn't have even thought about being able to attend without your valuable financial support and I thank you so much! It means quite a lot to our small -but growing- organization!”

“The Alcoa Leadership grant provided assistance at a time of great economic turmoil. It is extremely important to continue this funding as the leadership and staffs of arts organizations struggle to sustain themselves over the next several years.”
“This was an excellent first opportunity for me to interact with colleagues on a national scale. Thank you so much!”

We extend a special thanks to the Alcoa Foundation for making these grants possible.

Republished from the 2009 Update newsletter.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Programs that Encourage a Thoughtful Pause

by David Seals

I’m standing at the whiteboard, marker in hand. It’s filled with text to the edges. Colors. Arrows. Boxes. It is an a-ha! moment. It is the moment of freedom where nothing is sacred except mission—where the methods are merely expendable means to an end. “What is the best method,” I ask myself, “to cultivate an effective arts community?”

Programs that Cultivate Innovation
Perhaps the most sobering anecdote to cross my desk recently was the discovery that, in the time since we distributed last year’s PA Partners funding, three of our forty-six grantee organizations have ceased operations—each for its own complex reasons. Clearly, one of the greatest needs in the current climate is funding, and we will continue to pursue current and new ways to re-grant funds directly to artists and arts organizations. Having said that, I wonder if our grant funding would return a much greater mission ROI if coupled with a powerful counterpart: the a-ha! moment.

Nearly all of the Arts Council’s programs are designed for this moment. Our audience development grants ask you to step back and imagine what new people might fall in love with your theatre or museum. Our artist grants ask you to imagine what’s next in your career as a working artist. Our leadership grants ask you to find a context in which you can explore a new perspective on your administrative work. Our business volunteers are available to help you think bigger about where you are going—whether it’s the way you talk to your audiences or the goals for your organization.

Our Changes in the Current Year
Like many of you, Arts Council leadership has had to make some difficult choices about where to focus staff time and resources. For the year to come, our professional development initiatives will favor more need-specific consulting through Business Volunteers for the Arts (BVA) and Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (VLA). For example, in-depth arts marketing guidance can be found by applying for a BVA consultant to review your current marketing efforts, help with audience research, etc. For intellectual property law issues, we encourage you to apply for a VLA attorney to advise you on legal issues in your work. Our workshops and events will be fewer, but also more collaborative, making the most of community partners such as the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management and the Emerging Leaders Network. The idea here is to give you direct exposure to best practices in arts management while utilizing our vast network of expert, arts-passionate professionals.

Also this year, you will see a streamlined schedule of grant deadlines that will allow our staff to give you the focused help you need to write applications that have a better chance of doing well before each grant panel. To that end, the Artist Opportunity Grants and the Alcoa Foundation Leadership Grants for Arts Managers will be accepted twice per year, instead of quarterly. (The complete list of 2010 deadlines is listed below.) Finally, beginning in the spring of 2010, you will see us begin to develop a stronger partnership with the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management, whose nonprofit management workshops will begin to include some arts components. Also this spring, we’ll be unveiling a new education program designed to help arts organizations collaborate and share resources. Stay tuned for details!

Use the Arts Council to Rejuvenate and Rethink This Year
It’s hard to pause. There’s a tendency to turn-to, working harder with fewer staff to accomplish the same mission in the same way. This year, the Arts Council invites you not to lose the forest for the trees. Take time to step up to the white board and rethink things. Open yourself up and imagine how you might accomplish your mission in new ways, and take advantage of our programs to make that happen. In the end, your thoughtful participation in the Arts Council’s programs will grow your effectiveness—which is, after all, the reason we exist.

Republished from the Fall 2009 Update newsletter.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Membership Keeps Pace with Evolving Needs

by Dek Ingraham

Whether anticipating change or responding to it, the Membership Department of the Arts Council evolves to support its members. The past year has proven to be a great challenge to individual artists and arts organizations. Though arts groups are used to a certain amount of fluidity, the recession has brought fast changes that have challenged even the most adept. The Arts Council has restructured its membership accordingly, and has helped many of its members navigate this shifting landscape to accomplish their mission, despite some difficult situations.

When the economic crisis began to unfold, the Arts Council reviewed and revised its member-ship dues schedule to smooth out the “jumps” in price from one level to the next. This resulted in savings for many of our member organizations, allowing some to continue membership when it otherwise would not have been affordable. Our flexible payment options and “open door” communication policy are designed to help our members continue to receive the benefits of membership when they need it most.

When the Brew House Association was told by the city that it had to vacate its Southside facility, the Arts Council stepped in to help the artists who were left without living and work space to find alternate spaces across the city. Similarly, the small, independent theatre company, The Rage of the Stage Players, lost their performance venue at the Brew House the week that they were scheduled to open Dorothy in Oz. Though they located a new space on their own, they needed liability insurance right away. The Arts Council was able to help them get low-cost insurance within forty-eight hours through its partnership with Fractured Atlas.

Not only does the Arts Council respond to the changing economic climate, we also respond directly to the administrative needs and concerns of our membership. Our members told us that they didn’t want to fill out complete renewal forms, so we created a new system to save them time and increase the accuracy of our information. We were told that our old events listing was too cluttered and too difficult to navigate, so we introduced the new Arts Pittsburgh Events Listing powered by the Helios Calendar system. When our members told us that they wanted additional health coverage options, the Arts Council partnered with Fractured Atlas to provide access to a menu of traditional insurance options through their Open Arts Network.

The Membership Department has a variety of quality of life changes in store for our members as we make our move to a new data management system. We’ll have more details about these soon! We are also interested in what our members think about what we do and how we do it. Watch your inbox for a comprehensive membership survey to help us become even more responsive to your needs. Change can sometimes be a scary thing, but with your Arts Council to support you, change can become opportunity.

Republished from the Fall 2009 Update newsletter.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Pittsburgh’s Changing View

by Maggie Johnson

For many leaders in the arts community, The Pittsburgh Summit (G-20) was an unparalleled opportunity to promote our amazing arts and culture community while all the world looked on. To this end, the arts community instigated Pittsburgh is Art, a highly collaborative initiative that brought together artists and arts organizations in a unique, productive way.

Like other misunderstood sectors of the local economy (i.e. technology and environmental initiatives), arts and culture often suffers simply from being overlooked. President Obama claimed to choose Pittsburgh as his G-20 host city because of its innovative transformation “from an aging industrial town into a tech-heavy, eco-friendly metropolis” (Time Magazine, 09/23/09). Arts and culture are part of that story. Given a short timeline, the challenge for Pittsburgh is Art was to mobilize and coordinate the interests of many independent groups quickly and proactively.

The Arts Council’s first proactive response was to employ the use of its comprehensive regional events listing. With easy access by email and the internet, Arts Pittsburgh Events could serve as a prime resource for media reps, G-20 delegates and local citizens interested in events happening before, during and after the Summit. However, the format was in need of an upgrade and the Summit presented the perfect impetus for the change. Through hours of hard work and ingenuity, Arts Pittsburgh Events was moved to the Helios Calendar open source platform, which provided several enhancements including more interesting user-generated content, greatly enhanced search and email subscription capabilities for users and the potential for mobile applications.

Then in mid-July, board member Hilary Robinson, Dean of Carnegie Mellon’s College of Fine Arts, convened a meeting of arts leaders who were interested in promoting the arts sector during G-20. From that gathering, the Pittsburgh is Art campaign ultimately emerged. By September, clear messaging had been crafted to tell the story of the how “Art transforms Pittsburgh.” The message spread in numerous ways, from a jointly composed editorial signed by over 30 local organizations, to groovy t-shirts emblazoned with a new logo created by Landesburg Design.

By the time the actual Summit swept over our fair city, the results of this collaboration proved fruitful. The arts enjoyed significant media attention, from articles in Forbes Magazine and The Washington Post to surprise visits at cultural venues from international media. Pleased by its collaborative nature, several funders also committed funding to the project. Relationships with potential partners, such as VisitPittsburgh and the Mayor’s Office were strengthened on behalf of the entire arts community, and a successful guerilla marketing campaign was established that continues now.

Not to be taken for granted is also the “esprit de corps” that was formed among all involved—and we’re not done yet! In the August 24 issue of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Hilary Robinson said, "I very much hope—and the people involved hope—that the momentum we've got going here will continue long after the G-20, and that the wider Pittsburgh community know about the opportunities and benefits that the arts in this town give to them." To move the campaign forward will require even more participation from Arts Council members and partners. We hope you’ll get involved!

To learn more about this initiative, please visit or email Maggie at

Republished from the Fall 2009 Update newsletter.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Stemming the Tide of State Budget Cuts to the Arts

by Ryan Freytag

The 2010 Pennsylvania state budget crisis significantly expanded the Arts Council’s capacity to advocate for the cultural community. While advocacy has always been part of our mission, we had not yet been tested to the extent that we were when state funds for programs that support arts and culture were threatened with elimination. The challenge was to lead the best possible effort with the limited time, resources and connections available. Led by the Arts Council, the cultural community rose to the occasion to “learn by doing.” Through collaboration at both the local and state level, we presented a unified front that strengthened our ability to deliver an effective message.

Help on the Home Front
Our local efforts were bolstered significantly by a number of individuals, especially Marilyn Coleman (Colman Consulting) and John Federico (City Theatre). With Marilyn’s help, we were able to acquire a Pittsburgh City Council Proclamation in support of state funding for the PA Council on the Arts (PCA) that was sent to both the Governor and every member of the legislature. Soon after, John helped us broaden the picture of state arts funding to include the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, on which a number of local organizations depend as a significant source of revenue. Expanding our advocacy agenda to include funding for the PCA, EITC and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), we were able to convince Mayor Ravenstahl to write a letter to the Governor calling for state support for all three of those programs.
Taking the Message to Harrisburg
The Arts Council and a number of arts and cultural organizations across Pennsylvania participated in statewide advocacy phone calls led by Citizens for the Arts. In addition to keeping us informed about the advocacy work being done across the state, these weekly teleconferences were the planning ground for larger efforts such as the July 14 Save the Arts in PA rally in Harrisburg. The 400-person rally was a huge success, with more than fifty participating individuals from the Pittsburgh region including artists, educators, arts managers and the heads of local cultural organizations who met with their legislators to discuss the issues at hand. This marked the first of several visits to Harrisburg by members of the Arts Council staff during the budget process.

An Unpleasant Surprise
In a further test of our mettle, statewide arts advocates were blindsided by a last minute proposal to lift the sales tax exemption on admissions to arts and cultural events. This unexpected addition led to our second and third visits to Harrisburg, where we were joined by our counterparts from the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance for more than twenty meetings with elected officials and staffers, including Governor Rendell, Senator Pileggi, Representative Eachus and others. The combined efforts of the Arts Council and the Cultural Alliance enabled us to access to the offices of legislators outside of the districts in our respective regions, expanding the reach and power of our message. These meetings helped convince legislators that the tax was bad public policy and would not raise the funds that they had projected. In the end, the tax exemption was preserved, and although they were funded at lower levels, the PCA, PHMC and EITC programs remained in the budget—a significant victory for the cultural sector as a whole. By speaking in a unified voice, we were heard above the other interests competing for state funding.

Looking Ahead
This year the budget challenges will be even greater, but the Arts Council will be better prepared for the fight. Building on what we learned during the last six months, we have already begun to meet with legislators and plan our efforts with partners across the state. We have shown what we can accomplish when we work together, and it is important that we maintain this level of interest and participation in the community moving forward.

Republished from the Fall 2009 Update newsletter.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Staff Leadership in Difficult Times

This summer, I had the opportunity to sit down with Maura Walker, Chief Operating Officer of Americans for the Arts.  She gave me some thoughts on the subject of staff leadership in difficult times, and reading over my notes last night, I thought it might be a good time to share them.  They are short, practical and digestible...and I hope you find them helpful as you wind down the calendar year, looking toward 2010.


Leadership = helping people break from the status quo, out of their ruts. It doesn’t have to come just from your CEO. Some thoughts:

  1. Take care of yourself. Eat properly and exercise. All reactions to change are emotional—you have to be in a good emotional place to help others through it. Have a good, safe place to vent that is not your spouse.
  2. Communicate like crazy. This avoids rumors. Get (and act on) good info, build a team that shares info well, and address rumors directly.
  3. Get out of the office and meet with people face-to-face. Management by walk-about. Get out in the organization and have conversations where people are--or get out of the office building altogether.
  4. Harness the power of collaboration. Be willing to share quality information and staff with other organizations. Trust in yourself to be a good collaboration—go in with confidence that you have a lot to offer. Build trust with your leadership.
Some qualities to cultivate:

  1. Integrity – consistency in the way you treat people; follow through with what you say.
  2. Decisiveness – Be quick, speedy, know what you’re doing and do it.
  3. Vision – Know where you want to go, and draw people into it.
  4. Be Unselfish – Shut up and listen. Be generous with your praise.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Art for August … August Forever

At the August Wilson Center, more than 50 musicians and dancers from around the world performed at Drum Talk during October 15-18, providing an eclectic mix of lively concerts emphasizing rhythm traditions from Africa, Japan, Middle East, Latin America as well as U.S. jazz roots. Drum Talk was organized by Pittsburgh-based Afrika Yetu, and audiences – adults and kids alike – were clearly struck in seeing how drums and percussion have been so instrumental (despite differences in the availability of native materials) in cultural development across the continents.

In keeping with the festival theme - Many Rhythms, One Heart - Afrika Yetu members remind us that perhaps the human heart, the rhythm of the heartbeat itself, might be the source of this fascination and celebration of drums throughout history in building this sense of community and celebration of the human spirit. Perhaps we all have music inside us, which also innately connects us. Rhythm that makes us know we are alive.

With such diverse performances and engaged audiences at Drum Talk, Afrika Yetu also remarked that the event itself could be viewed as its own G20 onstage. Comments like that made me smile, and while nearly a month has passed since the G20 Summit, at least we still have the fun “Pittsburgh is Art” t-shirts campaign as a reminder. Arts bringing people together – a simple message throughout the ages as well as today.

Sure, 2009 has been some year for Pittsburgh, with many favorable articles (e.g., The Economist) and media outlets touting the region’s strengths. Of course, the G20 Summit provided unprecedented global exposure that over time may help further stimulate the region in attracting new people and companies that might seek to re-locate here with considerable economic benefits.

While the summer of 2009 went by entirely too fast, Pittsburgh did land some prestigious national and international conferences as well as interesting events, including the world’s richest professional bass tournament, the Forrest Wood Cup, attracting fishing enthusiasts from across the country. It is pretty incredible considering the large number of visitors coming to Pittsburgh for the very first time. And just as significant, what they experience first-hand once they arrive as compared to what they might have expected as far as scenery and the environment given the region’s heavy industrial past. This nexus of cleaner air, cleaner watersheds, brownfield development, river trails, and others successes in boosting recreational opportunities while Pittsburgh emerges as a leader in high tech and green technologies has certainly enhanced Pittsburgh’s image with its impressive skyline and unique mix of historic and modern architecture in many neighborhoods. The region has certainly made huge strides in becoming recognized as a desirable place to live, work, and play.

Pittsburgh celebrates some important cultural milestones in 2009, including the 50th Anniversary of the Three Rivers Arts Festival, the 40th Season of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre now underway, and 25th Anniversary of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust which has helped lead the remarkable re-vitalization of downtown.

But perhaps the most visible and longlasting milestone of 2009 is the opening of the August Wilson Center. The feeling of heartfelt pride and excitement was so evident back on the May 30 AWC Open House where over 10,000 people gathered on a beautiful Saturday afternoon full of festivities. And since that time, with incredible evenings such as the AWC Grand Opening Gala (perhaps the best party of the year) and other performances, including Lalah Hathaway, modern dance company Philadanco, the return of the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra (led by Sean Jones), Multicultural Arts Initiative, and last weekend’s Drum Talk.

The AWC has also been the site of some unique fundraisers, including the First Annual Women ROCK! on October 2 where over 35 artists and performers gathered for an evening of poetry, dance, theatre, jazz, and rock, as well as an inspirational “I Am Your Sister” photojournalistic tribute to women that have overcome adversity through Dress for Success Pittsburgh programs that have collectively helped over 3,000 women obtain professional clothing, prepare for job interviews, and support to meaningful new careers -- ultimately achieving economic independence for themselves and their families.

I’m not African-American. And I’m not from Pittsburgh. But one of my most memorable experiences were two trips to South Africa where I spent over 4 weeks, much of which were in the townships of Kutlwanong, Qalabotjha, and Soweto for a project to support the introduction of energy-efficient housing and capacity building aimed at eliminating the use of high-polluting residential cookstoves inside shacks, where we often found levels of dangerous carbon monoxide and other pollutants that are especially so harmful to the vulnerable elderly and small children most susceptible to respiratory disease. Air pollution in these townships can be 4-10+ times higher than World Health Organization standards while many township residents spend 40% or more of their income on high-polluting coal, paraffin, and other fuels. Thus, finding practical affordable ways to reduce these high-polluting fuels can dramatically improve public health while helping break the cycle of poverty.

I had some amazing experiences in South Africa, and can recall being the only white person inside township establishments called shebeens (many of which began during apartheid), where many people would come up and thank me knowing I was from the USA. I met many unforgettable people on those projects, including a Soweto health official who once told us that while many South Africans may be very poor, they can still afford a smile. Now that’s culture.

As an engineer who loves the arts, I’m sometimes asked about experiences that have helped transform me along the way from once being an occasional theatre person living in the suburbs to the more avid arts patron today. Cultural experiences abroad certainly broaden one’s perspective, and sometimes friends laugh when I mention ‘Living Like a Tourist in Your Own City’ and how lucky we are to have such a vibrant cultural scene. And awe-inspiring events like the Million Ripples Gala when Archbishop Desmond Tutu came to Pittsburgh during October, 2007.

As I reflect on this article, I’m reminded of other experiences, like once being a volunteer stationed at 707 Gallery on Penn Avenue on a Gallery Crawl night in February 2006 for an exhibit called “Art for August” featuring beautiful artists like Leslie Ansley and Monique Luck along with many others whose art had been inspired by August Wilson. It was very cold, but still over 1,300 people came through that gallery in one night.

Soon, the August Wilson Center will become a treasure not just for Pittsburgh, but for the nation. I hope many Pittsburghers will experience its stunning design and many performance events coming up. I’m particularly looking forward to the Aunt Ester Cycle being planned in November to showcase four of August Wilson’s remarkable plays. In a society where there seems to be so much division, arts is something we can all feel passionate about. Many rhythms, one heart. Arts bringing people together. August forever.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pittsburgh is ART

In case you've been under a rock recently, the message is out: "Pittsburgh is ART" and we want the whole world to know.

A collaboration of Arts Council members and other local arts organizations have gathered to develop a collective voice to share our story with visitors of the Pittsburgh Summit and beyond. It's the "Pittsburgh is ART" initiative and basically, the message breaks down like this:

  • Art transforms Pittsburgh

  • Art employs Pittsburgh

  • Art "greens" Pittsburgh

  • Art inspires Pittsburgh

Those are the basics, but you can read even more detail over at the Community E-Forum, hosted by our friends at the Pittsburgh Foundation who have outlined it on their blog quite well.

Visit to learn about the bounty of arts events taking place in and around Pittsburgh through the G20 Summit and beyond. Also check out, an excellent "crowd-sourced" site to the best of Pittsburgh.

Want to get your arts organization directly involved in the "Pittsburgh is ART" initiative? Contact Maggie at for an invite.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Arts Funding in SERIOUS Jeopardy

The situation is dire!

All reports are that Senate Bill 850 (which eliminates state funding for arts and culture and the Educational Imporvement Tax Credit (EITC) program) is back in consideration plus another $1.7 billion in cuts to other remaining appropriations. This proposal would abandon the Governor's recommendation for an increase in the personal income tax. The strongest possible message of support for state funding for arts and culture must be sent to your elected officials without delay.

- Attend the Rally in Harrisburg on Tuesday, July 14th. If at all possible, you need to come. The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council has chartered a bus and some seats still remain. Reserve your seat at If you plan on driving to Harrisburg on your own, please let us know so that we can provide you with all of the information about the rally and the legislative visits that will follow.

- Sign the petition to save the arts in Pennsylvania, if you have not done so already.

-Contact your legislators and let them know that you would like the state to include funding for arts and culture in the budget at

- Heed the calls to action that you receive from us in the coming weeks.

If the budget in Senate Bill 850 is passed in the House we will lose the PCA, grants to arts and cultural institutions, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program and much of the outstanding arts and culture that they bring to residents of Pennsylvania. As a result, we will lose jobs, tax revenue, tourism dollars, and a whole lot more.

For more information or ideas on ways that you can assist in efforts to save funding for arts and culture visit out website or contact

Temporary Art Exhibition: Showcase G‐20, Pittsburgh International Airport

Announcing a Request for Proposals for a Temporary Art Exhibition: Showcase G‐20 at the Pittsburgh International Airport.

The Pittsburgh International Airport is committed to promoting the rich culture and arts of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Region. The Airport is seeking proposals from regional museums, cultural institutions, galleries, and others to develop one temporary art exhibition in the terminal to welcome guests to the G‐20 Summit.

This Request for Proposals is open to organizations, groups and individuals engaged in the arts and culture of the Pittsburgh region who are interested in developing a temporary exhibition for the Temporary Art Exhibition: Showcase G‐20. Pittsburgh International Airport is the front door to our region, and The Allegheny County Airport Authority wishes to make the facility welcoming to world leaders, international guests, and news media. Submissions for Temporary Art Exhibition: Showcase G‐20 should address this audience in a creative and welcoming manner.

For the complete RFP click this link:

Contact with any questions.