As the pandemic closed the stages, the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council (GPAC) started its engine.
The organization, which represents nearly 600 local artists and venues, launched Restart the Artsmobile, a converted food truck that brings free live performances and ice cream to events across the city.
Throughout September, the vehicle – which rings like an ice cream van but with a hip-hop beat – makes the rounds of 25 events, from farmers markets and community festivals to an art corridor day on the North Side, performances in Penn Hills and an open mic night with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. A full schedule is available online.
GPAC team members serve as drivers and presenters for the 30-minute acts and pop-up art installations. When the applause subsides, head to the side window for sweet treats and information about the Restart the Arts program.
Attendees include the Hill Dance Academy Theater, Local 412, Pittsburgh Opera, and Libertoca.
“It was definitely difficult to choose artists for this project,” said Kristen Wishon, GPAC’s senior director of external affairs. She says more than 50 artists and organizations applied for the Artsmobile.
It was relatively early in the pandemic when staff began discussing how best to support the Pittsburgh arts and culture community.
“We saw our entire community collapse – canceled shows and appearances, no chance of a steady income, vacation and layoffs,” says Wishon. “The Restart the Arts campaign was realized through a grant application to the Richard King Mellon Foundation in 2020 in response to the impact of the pandemic on the arts scene and economy.”
With further support from the Allegheny Regional Asset District and the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, they were able to get their show on the streets.
The Arts Council is monitoring the impact of the pandemic on audiences by participating in a longitudinal study by research firm WolfBrown called Audience Outlook Monitor. This data sheds light on how viewers reacted to the pandemic and returned (or did not return) to cultural venues and art spaces.
Wishon says GPAC also set up its artist emergency fund to support creatives who suffered a loss of income during the pandemic.
The fund originally supported artists who were affected by unforeseen emergencies such as fire, flood, theft, or accidents that affected their ability to create art. In total, they gave away $ 500 in Covid support grants to nearly 500 artists.
Artsburgh continues to serve as a tool to help artists and venues reach an active and engaged audience. Each month, more than 260 participants from over 125 organizations across the region attend virtual meetings to address pandemic-related issues.
With additional funding secured, the Restart the Arts campaign will continue through 2022.
“The pandemic has been with us for much longer than we expected, so our work in support of community resuscitation is still ongoing,” says Wishon.
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