Cal U. hosts arts forum

April 23, 2013
Michael Slavin, chairman of California University’s Department of Theatre and Dance, speaks with Jamie Kasper of the Arts Education Collaborative Monday at Cal U. - Rick Shrum / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

CALIFORNIA – On a bright, crisp Monday morning along the Mon, California University of Pennsylvania was in full spring splendor. The campus was at a picturesque peak, an ideal setting for a forum on the arts.

“Arts and culture not only brighten our lives, but make our entire region better,” said Geraldine M. Jones, interim president of the school.

Her welcoming remarks helped to kick off the session, “Arts, Culture & Economic Prosperity,” which focused on the economic effects that arts and culture have on a city, town, county or large area. And, as the six speakers attested, the impact can be profound.

“We see arts and cultural districts as economic drivers,” said Jim Denova, vice president of the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, which supplies grants to support inititives that include economic and community development.

Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council organized the event and asked the university to be host, said Chris Kindl, director of communications and public relations at Cal U.

About 40 people attended the forum, which lasted about two hours and included two arts council members discussing results of the group’s study of the economic impact of arts and culture on the Pittsburgh area; a spirited question-and-answer thrust and parry; and an advocacy workshop on arts education directed by Jamie Kasper, associate director of the Arts Education Collaborative.

Data from fiscal year 2010 – including dining, overnight lodging and other expenses – was incorporated in the council’s study of nonprofit arts and culture. Allegheny County was the major focus of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Culture Count, but figures also were used from seven surrounding counties, including Washington and Greene. The others were Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette and Westmoreland.

It found that arts and cultural organizations and audiences had an annual $1.17 billion impact on Allegheny County, including $74 miliion in tax revenue, and created jobs that generated $410 million per year in household income and $74 million in tax revenue.

Those jobs also benefited Washington and Greene, creating $19 million in household income in Washington, most among the surrounding counties, and $1.5 million in Greene.

David Pankratz, research and policy director for the arts council, said the study also showed that residents of other counties “spend twice what local residents do” while patronizing arts and cultural events in Allegheny County.

Providing viable arts and cultural opportunities can be costly, and funding doesn’t come easily. Arts council Chief Executive Officer Mitch Swain said statewide funding for the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts decreased 47 percent from 2009 to 2012.

“Support from foundations has been a huge driver in Western Pennsylvania,” Swain said. “We have a lot of cultural districts in Pittsburgh because a lot of small projects lead to one thing and more in a district.

“Downtown Pittsburgh has been re-established because of the arts.”

Vibrant cultural communities are not particular to midsize and large cities, though.

“One of the exciting things is that a cultural district can be developed in a downtown area, in a suburban community, a rural community … it can happen anywhere,” said Denova, of the Benedum Foundation.

“College towns in rural areas offer a lot,” he continued. “I think California is a good example.”

“California is a town that gets it,” Pankratz said. “This is a small town that works with the arts.”

That will continue, Jones said. “We are truly committed to the arts.”

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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