Dear G-20: Pittsburgh is art: But you wouldn't know it from what our public officials say

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This is so duh, you have to wonder why anyone even brings it up any more. Except, it seems, no one in a position of public authority ever does bring it up. Except the president.

We've heard all these reasons for bringing the G-20 summit to Pittsburgh: Rust to revitalization. High tech; higher ed. Robots and health care. By the way, do robots qualify for health care under the proposals being floated in Congress? If not, I'm sure I can find a town hall meeting and disrupt it.

The duh, truly duh, thing is this: The G-20 will be in Pittsburgh in part because Pittsburgh has such a dense and ubiquitous arts scene. Where will the leaders visit? Phipps, The Warhol and CAPA. Duh.

They aren't going river rafting or dining on Mount Washington. They won't be knocking back a few on the South Side or tripping the light fantastic at some peripheral industrial park. Nope. They will be bobbing and weaving in the arts.

It would be nice if one of our local leaders understood what the president of the United States understands. Pittsburgh is all about art. And why on earth would we not brand it that way?

Well, we have, actually. A bunch of arts folks got tired of slogans like, "Pittsburgh, the City with a Smile on Its Face." Or worse, "Imagine What You Can Do Here." Imagine indeed. Let's imagine what you can't do here, like have a couch on your front porch or elect anyone who isn't a part of the Democratic machine.

We came up with this catchy phrase: Pittsburgh is Art. Meaning, Pittsburgh itself is a work of art, a combination of manmade and natural beauty. But it is also all about art. Even people who don't think they are artsy benefit from a city that is all about art.

Take, for example, the 14 straight blocks of Downtown Pittsburgh known as the Cultural District. Downtown would be little more than a place to toil, a smudge on the Rand McNally atlas, if the Heinz family had not had the foresight to transform a pornographic wasteland into something magnificent. And the pixy dust they sprinkled was art. Art is transformative, and anyone with a decent Internet connection or corrected 20/20 vision knows it.

Allow me to bore you with a few facts. The nonprofit arts and culture industry in Allegheny County generates $341 million in economic activity --$230.7 million by the organizations themselves and an additional $110.7 million in event-related spending by audiences. The industry supports more than 10,192 full-time equivalent jobs and $33.7 million in local and state government tax revenues.

Like I said. Duh.

Meanwhile, we've got a bunch of state senators who wanted to zero out all funding for the arts in the current WWF smackdown infotainment brawl known as the state budget talks. You've got to be kidding me. The current "compromise" offers $10 million, a more than $4 million reduction from last year. Please, someone, get me a No. 2 pencil so I can do some ciphering.

Ah, no one is listening. Except everyone here in the choir. When this subject comes up people tend to bob their heads along as if, well, duh. But there are not many people outside of the arts willing to say, hey, this is a huge part of our character, a huge part of who we are, of what has made this place not just really good, but great. So what if we put french fries on our sandwiches and talk like we're gargling.

Art makes us better than good, and the president of the United States seems to know this better than we do.


Charlie Humphrey is the executive director of Pittsburgh Filmmakers ( charlie@pghfilmmakers.org ).


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