CMU Master of Arts Management students present their findings with the ELDI team on the feasibility of creating an artist residency at Sts. Peter and Paul Church. | Photo by Catherine Sandford

The pointy double spires of Saints Peter and Paul Church rise up as a familiar sight in East Liberty’s skyline. For more than a decade, the church has sat vacant and deteriorating, becoming a site for squatters, vandals, and curious neighbors.

Seeing the potential of this historic neighborhood landmark, ELDI has undertaken a community-led process to find a viable new use for the church since 2014. In July 2021, The Rooney Sports and Entertainment Group helped us develop a two-phase redevelopment plan. Phase one consists of transforming the church into a multi-purpose performance venue with a 500-seating capacity and 1,000-person standing capacity. Phase two entails the construction of an annex on the side of the church, which will include offices, workspaces, and a black box theater.

At the end of 2022, ELDI was awarded $2.5 million through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) and we are currently fundraising to make that plan a reality. Around the same time, we were also exploring another exciting piece of this vision: the potential of using part of the annex to house an artist residency program in partnership with local arts institutions. To evaluate the feasibility of creating such a program, ELDI enlisted the help of Carnegie Mellon University’s Master of Arts Management (MAM) program.

As their cumulative project, students from the program’s “Systems Synthesis” course embarked on an analysis of Pittsburgh and East Liberty’s artist landscape as well as best practices for artist residency programs from across the nation.

Based on these analyses, they created guidelines for artist residency structures, request for proposal (RFP) frameworks and distribution methods, and selection committee recommendations. As ELDI is committed to using the residency to support diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion best practices, we asked that this lens be applied to all areas of research.

“They did a fantastic job,” said ELDI Deputy Director Skip Schwab. “The level and depth of their analysis blew me away and has helped us validate this project.”

Qinyuan Shen, a student in CMU’s Master of Arts Management program, presents findings from their analysis of creating an artist residency in East Liberty’s Sts. Peter and Paul Church. | Photo by Catherine Sandford

Using raw data analysis, a review of literature, interviews, benchmarking, and the creation of case studies, the students put together a comprehensive final report with targeted recommendations. 37 residencies across 13 cities were studied, and four arts residency programs were used for benchmarking; two in St. Louis (chosen because the city most closely resembles Pittsburgh’s art scene) and two in Pittsburgh (the Kelly Strayhorn Theater and the New Hazlett Theater).

Overall, the report found that Pittsburgh has a robust artist residency landscape, and that within that landscape, East Liberty is a key hub for artists.

“I think one of the big pieces that none of us knew was how many actual artists are living in the East Liberty area of Pittsburgh and how great of an impact an arts residency opportunity could have,” said Dr. Brett Ashley Crawford, associate teaching professor for the MAM program.

Analyzing data from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council’s (GPAC) 2022 Survey of Artists, the students found that the highest-represented zip code was 15206, with 14 artists. Most of those artists identified as visual artists, with theater being the most presented live performance discipline.

Findings from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council’s 2022 Survey of Artists, which the students used to inform their analysis

Across Pittsburgh, the survey found that the three resources artists reported needing most are money, space, and mentorship, and that the desire for residencies and mentorship is especially strong in East Liberty.

“Even though the Pittsburgh arts residency landscape is robust, it very much leans on the visual artists’ side,” said Isaac Fisher, a student in the program.  “There’s plenty of room for residency programs that meet a diversity of artists’ needs, particularly for programs that cater to performing and media partnerships.”

Beyond insights into the Pittsburgh and East Liberty arts landscape, the students offered several recommendations to help ELDI create an effective artist residency program at Sts. Peter and Paul.

Three key takeaways were:

  1. First, define and clarify the purpose of the residency in order to determine the details of the residency (from the length to the type of artists we’re looking to attract). Then invite artists to steer the structuring of the residency, invest in community partnerships, and provide resources to artists through an artist stipend, project budget (if applicable), space, and mentorship.
  2. Incorporate diversity and inclusion best practices into the RFP process through an accessible application, a transparent and personal process (including making the evaluators representative of the community and evaluation metrics clear), and communication through diverse channels. Applications should be accessible, free, and easy to complete.
  3. Partner with another arts-focused organization in the beginning with the knowledge base and skill set required to run the program. In this case, ELDI would be responsible primarily for providing the space for artists.

Pointing to the need to create a diverse and inclusive residency program, the students found that 64% of artists in East Liberty who participated in the GPAC survey are white while only 37.4% of East Liberty residents are white.

“East Liberty is one of the most diverse communities that we have in Pittsburgh in terms of breadth of diversity, but it is a Black majority community, and keeping that front of mind is important,” said Crawford. “The diversity, equity, and inclusion approach is in many ways founded on the concept of transparency.”

As the team reported, transparency not only helps effective arts residency programs gain trust, but it also makes the whole application process smoother. There are fewer questions when the process is clearly articulated because applicants can see what’s going on.

In practice, that looks like allowing applicants to talk to program officers before they apply to ask questions, having a log in to check the status of an application, as well as transparency in regard to who is judging the applications, among other things.

At the core, best practices center around finding ways to let the artists and their work shine. For example, if a visual artist feels more comfortable submitting a video application rather than a written application, then that should be an option.

Another big takeaway from the students’ findings was that an artist residency can serve more than just the artists within a community — its effects ripple out to members from all walks of life.

“Historically with some of these residencies, it’s those moments of accidentally bumping into someone where ideas are sparked,” Crawford explained. “I see the combination of the events venue side and the residency side fueling some creativity that I don’t think anybody’s even tapped yet, because it has yet to happen.”

➡ Read the full report to learn more about the students’ findings.

➡ Learn more about how the CMU MAM program is transforming Pittsburgh communities