At the forefront of the breathtaking Pittsburgh skyline rests the iconic Point State Park fountain. A landmark since 1973, the fountain recently underwent a four-year, multimillion-dollar refurbishment and will reopen in June. The reopening marks the 30th anniversary of an economic crisis in Pittsburgh and the celebration of Pittsburgh's remaking of itself into an internationally renowned comeback city.
Much like the fountain, the city of Pittsburgh needed revitalizing following years of deindustrialization and population decline in the 1970s and 1980s. In response, government, business and nonprofit organizations collaborated to think outside the box. Their unique and brilliant vision discounted the popular notion of relying on chain stores and restaurants and instead showcased the city's artistic institutions and artists. The result is not just a city flourishing with arts and culture, but more importantly a city with a distinct cultural identity that showcases the voice and vision of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh alone. And the world is increasingly intrigued by what the city has to say.
In naming Pittsburgh among the "2012 Best of the World," National Geographic cited the city's "wealth of fine art and architecture" as one of its main draws. The Huffington Post recommended a trip to Pittsburgh, saying, "From ballet to world-class art museums, a marvelous symphony and a healthy theater scene, Pittsburgh has just about everything you could want a city to have, arts-wise." Stories in CNBC, Forbes Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post and US News and World Report, among others, have cited Pittsburgh's thriving arts community as a reason to visit or relocate here.
Businesses, too, have taken note of the city's transformation. The result: an increasingly global city that has become a symbol of the benefits of a diverse economy fueled by knowledge, technology and innovation, and a place where strategic investment in the arts has provided quality-of-life essentials that attract and retain newcomers and natives and generate tourism.
But investment in arts and culture returns more than kudos, it grows the local economy. And Pittsburgh's arts industry is serious business. Spending by Pittsburgh's arts and culture organizations and their audiences, and the ripple effects of those investments, annually yields:
• Nearly 21,000 jobs (four out of five of which are in non-arts professions);
• More than $400 million in household income; and
• $74 million in local and state tax revenues, enough to pay the salaries of almost 1,400 school teachers, firefighters, librarians and police officers.
Pittsburgh draws more than 2 million tourists and art lovers a year. In fact, Pittsburgh's commitment to the arts has attracted no fewer than five major art and museum conferences since January of last year, including Americans for the Arts' Annual convention this June.
Speakers and guests at the convention will generate conversations about the importance of the arts in local communities and in education. And with Pittsburgh as their backdrop, attendees will witness first-hand how pivotal a role the arts can play in the creative revival and cultural diversity of a city.
Much like the Point State Park fountain today, the city of Pittsburgh has come far from its days of disrepair. This year the spotlight is on Pittsburgh -- a place where deliberate investment in the arts has provided quality-of-life essentials that are now paying dividends in national recognition and economic impact. The city and its artistic life force are proof that the arts mean business.
Robert L. Lynch is president and CEO of Americans for the Arts (www.artsusa.org). Mitch Swain is CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council (www.pittsburghartscouncil.org). First Published March 22, 2013 4:00 AM