The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and Kevin McMahon stay nimble to stretch resources


The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and President and CEO J. Kevin McMahon are in the business of doing things — but unlike many other arts and cultural organizations across the country, it goes far beyond booking shows, creating events or opening galleries.

Over the past 30 years, the Cultural Trust has been at the forefront of revitalizing 14 city blocks in Downtown Pittsburgh — creating the Cultural District as an economic generator.

“We’re still very much involved in the overall economic development aspects of the city. We look at how much activity we are creating,” McMahon says.

From the number of people coming into the Cultural District to the new restaurants and apartments that are sprouting up, the Cultural Trust monitors it all.

“Those are things that probably many, if not most, arts organizations aren’t really paying a whole lot of attention to, but it’s in the forefront of what we do,” he says. “And certainly our business leadership, our board, is very focused on those aspects of the Cultural District.”

In fact, within the past three years, the Cultural Trust has attracted more than 2 million people annually to the Cultural District, doubling the attendance in less than a decade.

In one area, the Cultural Trust is like other nonprofits — managing resources to use them most efficiently is one of its biggest challenges.

“It is a constant struggle to sustain a vital organization when you need those resources, and we need to be as creative as we possibly can,” McMahon says.

Here’s how McMahon and the Cultural Trust work to make the most of its $50 million operating budget.

Supporting others

The Cultural Trust has had to take steps to help maintain its strength and position in the community, while ensuring it stretches its dollars as far as possible.

McMahon says the Cultural Trust is a lean organization, operating both its nonprofit and for-profit operations on a business-like basis, from theaters to parking garages.

“We don’t run operating deficits. We never have in our 30-year history,” he says. “Hopefully, we never will.

“So, when we have leaner times economically in our country, like we did a couple of years ago, we, like everybody else, had to tighten our belts and make sure we weren’t spending more money than we had to spend, and cutting back programs appropriately to match our revenue and resources,” McMahon says.