Jones RADical for cultural support

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In an age where municipalities are defunding classical and performing arts, and even closing parks due to the economic downturn, Allegheny County is not doing so because it has something unique—the Regional Asset District.

JonesRadman
RAD MAN—Robert D. Jones, chairman of the Allegheny County Regional Asset District, says more cultural entities should seek RAD funding and more residents should support those that do.

Enacted under the administration of then County Commissioner Tom Foerster, and funded through an additional 1 percent county sales tax, RAD disperses millions each year to keep parks, museum, art and music schools and concert and theater venues viable. And it is currently led by an African-American—board chairman Robert D. Jones.

While grudgingly acknowledging that having a Black man in charge of the board that, for 2010, allocated more than $79 million is rare in western Pennsylvania. Jones, who has been the face of People’s Gas Co. to the Pittsburgh community for almost two decades, insists in his typical low-key fashion that it is not about him, but about what RAD funds.

“The economic impact of RAD in regional communities is huge, in 2009 entities we fund generated $357 million,” said Jones. “And we continue to have world-class cultural organizations. We have a great team and try to make the best decisions we can. Me, I just run the meetings and ask people what they think.”

But Jones said a lot of people are not even aware of the cultural treasures to be found in Pittsburgh and municipalities throughout the county.

There is an art museum in Bellevue, he noted and the Frick Museum of Art in Homewood. Even people who live in those communities don’t know they are there. By the same token, Jones said, a lot of cultural entities, including Black music art and performance organizations do not know that RAD funds are available to them—and they should.

“We fund—with annual grants—around 90 organizations,” he said. “There are a lot more around than that. Of those that applied for 2011 funding, how many were Black—10.”

An advantage to receiving RAD funding is that it is unrestricted, and can be used for either operational or capital expenses. Government funding and many times foundation funding, Jones noted, is often tied to a specific project and cannot be used for anything else.

Entities applying for RAD funds must either be municipalities or a 501(c)3 tax-exempt agency, and they must deliver artistic or cultural work that draws visitors from across the county.

“If they are a neighborhood organization, with a limited audience, it doesn’t mean they aren’t an asset, but they are not likely to qualify for funding,” said Jones. “But if they attract people from beyond neighborhood, city, country or even state boundaries—they know we’re here, and there is no limit to what they can ask for.”

And just to make sure people know they are here, the district is kicking off its ninth annual RADical Days festival Sept. 19. The month-long celebration of RAD funded entities will offer 41 free admission sites, new performances and activities and will culminate with a 24-hour event at the Andy Warhol Museum.

“You could spend all day, every day at the museums, parks, zoo aquarium and still not see everything we do,” said Jones. “All manner of amazing free stuff—that’s a huge measure of what we do.”

For a complete schedule of RADical day events visit http://www.radworkshere.org.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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