Foundation Awards More Than $2.5 Million in Special Funding to Help Pittsburgh’s Downtown Performing-Arts Organizations to Overcome Daunting Challenges

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 26, 2024) – Pittsburgh’s Downtown performing-arts organizations are essential pillars in the region’s quality of life and its economy. But, like their counterparts across the nation, Pittsburgh’s performing-arts organizations are under significant stress.

The national crisis facing the performing arts has been documented by The New York Times and others. Attendance plummeted during the pandemic and never has fully returned. Revenue is down. Costs are up. And traditional performing-arts audiences often are “aging out,” without younger audiences to succeed them.

To help Pittsburgh’s Downtown performing-arts organizations to overcome these challenges, the Foundation has awarded more than $2.5 million in special funding to support creative solutions to revitalize attendance, engage new audiences and improve financial operations. The special funding is on top of the $1 million in general operating support the Foundation awarded to Downtown performing-arts organizations last year.

“The Foundation’s Board has invested significantly in the Downtown performing arts for decades,” said Foundation Director Sam Reiman. “But it was clear to our Board that this critical moment required a special infusion of additional support. This funding will give these organizations capital to take risks and test creative ideas that have the potential to engage new audiences, and to inspire traditional audiences to return Downtown.”

The Foundation awarded special $500,000 grants to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre; Pittsburgh Opera; Pittsburgh Public Theater; and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Ideas already are moving forward as a result, such as the novel initiative announced earlier this month by the Pittsburgh Opera to offer free Uber rides to patrons. The initiative is a response to research that shows some opera patrons stay away from performances because of transportation impediments.

As another component of the initiative, the Foundation awarded three grants to the Pittsburgh Trust for Cultural Resources, the umbrella organization for the performing arts in the Cultural District. One grant for $225,000 is to enable greater utilization of data in the organization’s decision making; another, for $100,000, is to study the use of shared services, to save money for the Trust’s member performing-arts organizations; and a third grant, for $150,000, will enable the Trust to study how best to activate the more than 1 million square feet of real estate it holds Downtown.

The Foundation also awarded a $215,000 grant to Carnegie Mellon University to study and develop a strategic plan to attract leading theatrical artists to Pittsburgh to write and workshop their newest shows.

The eight special-funding grants total $2.69 million.

The Foundation commenced its performing-arts initiative early last year. First, the Foundation announced the hiring of Prosser Mellon Fellow Catherine Walker, a Broadway star who studied at CMU, to serve as an advisor on the initiative, to the Foundation and the performing-arts organizations. The Foundation also retained consulting firm Deloitte to assess the Downtown arts and culture marketplace, and to identify promising, research-based practices to attract and retain new audiences.

Their findings were shared privately with each of Pittsburgh’s Downtown performing-arts organizations, which subsequently were invited to submit proposals for Foundation funding, to implement each organization’s most promising solutions.

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About the Richard King Mellon Foundation: Founded in 1947, the Richard King Mellon Foundation is the largest foundation in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and one of the 50 largest in the world. The Foundation’s 2022 year-end net assets were $2.8 billion, and its Trustees in 2022 disbursed more than $152 million in grants and program-related investments. The Foundation focuses its funding on six primary program areas, delineated in its 2021-2030 Strategic Plan.