By Ann Leach

Crista Cunningham is forging the way for Pittsburg, Kansas, artists to continue influencing and contributing to Pittsburg’s booming arts scene through her efforts as president of the Pittsburg Arts Council, and she’s more than happy to do so.

“I lead a committee of very art centric and passionate individuals who are always on board to build a bigger and better arts scene in our area,” Cunningham said. “There is never a shortage of exciting and sometimes ambitious ideas that get added to our proverbial bucket list after each meeting. Creating an arts district was one of those items on my list. I felt it was time to put a proper label on the ‘heart of art’ in Pittsburg and pitched the idea to my committee.” 

The support from the group was unanimous, and the next step was to gain support from local citizens and to create a pitch for the mayor and city commission. 

“I remember spending several hours preparing a presentation, practicing my speech, preparing for rebuttal and gathering supporters,” Cunningham said. “I was truly ready to go to bat for this initiative and expecting pushback. To my surprise, when the presentation was over, the commission happily voted unanimously to pass the resolution naming a 16-block radius of downtown as the Pittsburg Arts District. It was incredible to me to see the unequivocal support of the pursuit of art from our local leaders.”

The Council presentation highlighted arts happenings from the past decade, including the biannual ArtWalk, the ongoing renovation of the Fox Theater, the development of Block 22, and the collaboration between artists and business owners. “Murals are popping up on every block, business owners have organically started hosting paint and sips, open mics and small musical acts, and festivals are seeing record participation rates,” Cunningham shared. “The groundwork for an arts district had already been laid for the creation of a district that celebrated creators and artistic values. Designating this area as the Pittsburg Arts District was not intended to replace any of our current downtown organizations or efforts but to pay homage to those responsible for Pittsburg’s cultural past, present and future.”

The Pittsburg Arts Council is comprised of an 11-seat board of artists, musicians, business owners and residents of Pittsburg, as well as four officers. Cunningham said it is not necessary to be a board member to attend meetings. The group also welcomes art-loving individuals to get involved by creating events and showcasing local artists through the town. 

“It takes a village to bring great ideas to fruition,” Cunningham said. “Our committee meets on the first Saturday of each month to discuss the ArtWalk and other upcoming events. Anyone interested in sitting in on a meeting or becoming part of a committee can reach out to the council by emailing us at [email protected] or messaging us on Facebook or Instagram. 

The council’s focus is to maintain the current culture, become a mechanism for tourism, draw creative individuals and families to the area, and generate additional economic growth. The arts district stretches as far north as Trailhead Park, south to Euclid, east to Elm, west to Walnut, and everywhere in between. Cunningham said, “It is home to local artists, residents, businesses and organizations that wish to maintain the spirit of art and culture in Pittsburg.”

See more photos in the July 2023 print issue on on the digital edition.