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Arts Profile: Ryan Freytag Talks About Arts Advocacy

July 23, 2009

I’m sure by now all of you reading this are familiar with the fight over arts budgeting in Harrisburg. Just in case you aren’t, this week we spoke to Ryan Freytag, the Manager of Cultural Policy and Research for the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. GPAC (and Ryan) have been incredibly involved in fighting for arts funding for Pennsylvania.

Ryan followed an interesting path to get to his position at GPAC. He did his undergraduate degree here in Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon, in Art.

One of Ryan's more recent collages.

One of Ryan's more recent collages.

Although he still enjoys producing work, his time at CMU made him realize how often “artists got the short end of the stick and didn’t know how to protect themselves legally.” He was inspired to look into going to law school, and earned his JD from University of Pittsburgh. Through a series of internships with local organizations, like the Cultural Trust, he “fell in love with working with the arts in non-profits” and applied to the office manager at the recently founded Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. By the time they got his resume, the position had been already been filled, so he interviewed for a position in Development and Membership. From there, he moved into cultural policy, which is his current focus.

We asked him to tell us a little bit about what GPAC did in his own words, and he said “everything but put on art.” In addition to fighting for arts funding and raising awareness about the importance of art in the local community, they connect artists and arts groups with legal and business volunteers, regrant money, and run a ticketing service. They also have a partnership with the City of Pittsburgh through their Office of Public Art (funded by the Heinz Endowment), which helps with city planning and creating and preserving public art spaces. Current projects include a behind the scenes look at G20 for members, so stay tuned for info on that.

Ryan also gave us the lowdown on the current budget in Harrisburg. In short, the state House and Senate can’t agree on the budget to pass- the current Senate budget does not include funding for “non-essential” programs, like the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. The House budget does. Yesterday, the House voted to nonconcur with the Senate budget, which means it will go into conference committee, a place where Representatives and Senators will reach a final compromise on what is and isn’t in the budget. The current budget has been mostly split along party lines, with Democrats voting with Governor Rendell to keep funding, and Republicans slashing “non-essential” programs, like cultural funding.

Rally for arts funding in Harrisburg last week, partially organized by GPAC

Rally for arts funding in Harrisburg last week, partially organized by GPAC

What you may not know about the budget fight is that if the proposed arts-less budget goes through, Pennsylvania artists will no longer be able to receive national funding as well. The National Endowment for the Arts distributes money through the state arts council, and if it goes away, so does any chance of deserving PA artists getting federal grants. We would be the only state in the entire country without a arts agency. In short, this budget cut has real implications for every Pennsylvanian. Arts organizations would suffer setbacks from having to cutup to 30% of their staff to disappearing overnight.

What you should do is keep up the arts advocacy. As Ryan said, it’s “amazing how many people are now involved, and how much this brought people together.” However, what he stressed to us is that artists and organizations always need people who are willing to speak about how important arts are to their lives. Just because the budget fight is almost over doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still call your representative, stop by their office or invite them to your new opening. The arts always need defending, so as he said, “stay involved.”

For more info on the budget and for updates, you can go to the GPAC website (http://www.pittsburghartscouncil.org/). You can also follow them on twitter at PGHArtsCouncil. You can follow Ryan at stormy7.

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