Arts and Culture in Steel City

24 Apr 2017
ICV Pitt 2Last week, I had the opportunity to join the delegation for the Chamber’s InterCity Visit to Pittsburgh. Never having been to Steel City, I have to say the City was much more than I expected, and arts and culture plays a pivotal role.

Many know the role Pittsburgh played in the Industrial Revolution, once the nation’s largest producer of steel. But as manufacturing technologies changed over the years, the steel industry in Pittsburgh began to evaporate. The City was losing residents and businesses at an unsustainable pace. In the late 1970s, Senator Jack Heinz and a band of dreamers believed arts and culture was critical to the future success of downtown and began investing in what was a red-light district in Pittsburgh’s downtown. Maxwell King, CEO of the Pittsburgh Foundation, says the most critical factor in downtown Pittsburgh’s post-steel revitalization was Heinz’s belief in arts and culture that led to the City “doubling down” on arts and culture.

Today that area is a thriving Cultural District for the city home to a Symphony Hall, several historic performing arts venues, the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, and several galleries. Woven between these venues are several public art installations and they have their share of great murals too. Along a recently created two-way bike lane through the Cultural District are newly installed bike racks that also serve as public art. These racks were so creative that apparently locals were not comfortable attaching their bikes to them until the employees of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust that manages the Cultural District began locking their own bikes to the racks.

What was once a dream in the 1970s has become a reality 40 years later. Driving $260 million in annual economic impact, the Cultural District is one of the primary reasons people cite for moving to Pittsburgh. Arts and culture is attracting creative talent to support companies like Google and Uber, and research at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

ICV Pitt MuralIt’s an impressive Cultural District in Pittsburgh and it makes me dream of what arts and culture can do for Richmond. We already have incredible assets on our side. We have over 200 arts and culture organizations across our region, spanning visual and performing arts, history, science, nature, and more.

In fact, some things we do even more than Pittsburgh. They have a First Fridays-like celebration too, but they only do it once each quarter. But we can still do so much more to harness the economic, educational, and social impacts for our region. And that’s what we’re working toward at CultureWorks every day.
-Scott Garka

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