Pittsburgh prospers from arts and cultural community

| Tuesday, June 11, 2013, 8:48 p.m.

Mitch Swain knows Pittsburgh is No. 1 — in the economic impact that the region's arts community has on generating jobs, income and tax revenue.

Swain is CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, which studied the responses of 182 regions across the country contained in the Americans for the Arts 2012 Arts & Economics Prosperity IV Project.

The results of that study is one of the reasons the Americans for the Arts, the nation's leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education, will convene in Pittsburgh for its annual convention June 12 through 16.

When compared with nine other similar-size communities, the Pittsburgh/Allegheny County art-and-culture providers and audiences ranked No. 1 in audience and organizational spending, as well as job creation, household income and tax revenues.

According to the study, which was based on data from 2010, arts and cultural events and offerings generated $1.17 billion in spending here, which generated the equivalent of 20,550 full-time jobs, $410 million in household income and $74 million in tax revenues.

“The arts and culture sector is a force able to accelerate the pace of our current economic recovery alongside the medical, higher education, finance, energy and technology sectors,” Swain says. He points out another positive: “Unlike many industries, most arts and culture jobs can't be exported.”

One of the study's biggest surprises for David Pankratz, the research and policy director at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, was that many of the jobs generated were not directly related to arts and culture, such as musicians, actors, box-office staffers or set builders.

“There's a ripple effect,” Pankratz says. “Four out of five jobs generated are outside the culture.”

Paula and Fred Ruprecht know that.

They own Fred's Signs in Ben Avon, which supplies banners, signs, sandwich boards and other graphic products for Pittsburgh Cultural Trust events, such as First Night and the Three Rivers Arts Festival, as well as window signage at the Byham Theater, Downtown.

Over the past seven years, the company has grown from 7 to 14 full-time employees.

“We have grown 30 percent in the last three years because of the amount of jobs brought on as a direct result of the Three Rivers Arts Festival,” says Paula Ruprecht, who estimates that Pittsburgh Cultural Trust jobs represent15 percent to 20 percent of their business.

In addition to creating jobs, a vibrant arts and culture scene helps recruit desirable employees to fill them, says Jim Fawcett, senior vice president of provider contracting and relations at Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and board chair for the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

“Pittsburgh is now in an international economy, and we are competing for (business) talent globally. Right after housing (the second question asked) is always ‘What do you do around here?' “ Fawcett says. “Without art and cultural capabilities, we would not be able to attract, recruit and retain top talents.”

A large slice of the economic impact comes not from job creation but from indirect spending done in seemingly insignificant amounts by individuals — paying the baby sitter, having dinner or buying a bag of nuts at intermission.

But, when those purchases are viewed collectively, the impact is bigger — $5.2 million spent on event-related child care, $187.3 million on meals before or after an event or $25.2 million spent on refreshments or snacks during an event.

The region's arts and cultural offerings can also attract large groups of people from outside the region who deliver a more-obvious economic impact.

The Americans for the Arts convention will welcome upwards of 1,000 participants, 56 percent of whom come from outside the Greater Pittsburgh region.

While they are here, they will spend an estimated $1.2 million.

“Pittsburgh is the perfect place to gather local arts agencies from across the country, because you can literally see the positive impact the arts can make in transforming a city,” says Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, who lives in Washington, D.C.

Lynch first got to know Pittsburgh in the late '70s and has seen its evolution through economic downturns and upswings.

In addition to heading Americans for the Arts, Lynch serves as a representative to the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board.

“When I get the opportunity to tell stories about economic development and change through the arts, Pittsburgh is an example I use,” Lynch says.

Getting that message heard locally and globally is one of the outcomes Swain hopes the Americans for the Arts conference will facilitate.

“There are two things I'm hoping for,” Swain says. “No. 1, I want people to come from the outside area to experience or re-experience Pittsburgh and come away with the sense that it's a wonderful place to visit and have world-class culture. No. 2, I want the local government and officials to understand that the rest of the world sees us as a great arts and culture place and (for those officials) to be supportive of the arts and culture in ways they can be (such as) economic policy, for a start.”

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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