Unsung - Chamber Music Ed

Following Matt Lehrman’s packed AudiencesEverywhere presentation last month at the Senator John Heinz History Center, the arts-centric audience was given the opportunity to hear from local arts groups about ways they are involving the community in what they do. The goal of the day was to get arts non-profits thinking in new ways about audience engagement - critical to the success of arts non-profits, anywhere.

Led by Brett Crawford of the Arts Management & Technology Laboratory at CMU, the panel consisted of janera solomon, Executive Director at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater; Kristen Linfante, Executive Director of Chamber Music Pittsburgh; Lucy Stewart, Associate Curator of Education at the Carnegie Museum of Art; and Erin R. Perry, CEO/Executive Director of the Legacy Arts Project.

janera soloman started things off with a discussion on how the Kelly Strayhorn develops its season of theater, dance, and jazz performances. “How can we connect audiences with each other and what we’re interested in?” she asked. “We start with the assumption that no one cares.”

One of the Kelly Strayhorn team’s strategies is to present performances they find interesting -- these may have small audience interest but would be a remarkable experience for those that did attend. And, hopefully, these events would be a stepping stone to building future audiences.

Chamber Music Pittsburgh’s Linfante segued into the need to develop audiences for the future. The group was facing a problem confronting other classical music organizations -- classical music was for the elderly and the elite. In fact, a recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the results of a survey conducted by the Pittsburgh Symphony. It wasn’t good -- potential audience members responded in the negative with remarks like “old” and “boring.”

As a result, Linfante and her team is hoping to move away from those assumptions.  They have changed the name of the organization from the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society to Chamber Music Pittsburgh and are beginning to do things differently

“We want to make the community feel they belong,” she noted. To that end, the organization began an annual Just Summer Series with performances at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, the Pittsburgh Performs series with all-Pittsburgh musicians, and concerts in non-concert venues like bars, restaurants, and rooftops.

“Who is programming and exhibitions for?” asked Lucy Stewart from the Carnegie Museum of Art. “How do we make art relevant?”  To answer her question, she talked about the Braddock Art Lending Library project. The Art Lending Collection, which opened in 2013 as part of the Carnegie International, allows anyone in Allegheny County with a library card to check out works of art, just as someone would check out a book. In addition, two patrons of the library were hired to provide information to visitors about the art.

She also mentioned the “Culture Club: Old Masters, New Music” event in which local composers were asked to select works of art from the 16th Century and write music to be performed at the museum.

Erin R. Perry of the Legacy Arts Project emphasized her organization’s connection to the community: “We are the community we’re developing programming for,” she said.  As a community arts organization, they are concerned about social justice and making a connection with the community.

Another means of connection used by the Legacy Arts Project is the use of “transformance,” a way by which an audience is not just spectators at the event but part of the experience.

She also mentioned the spotlighting of important community individuals in the Project’s newsletter as well as a listing of other events happening in the area. “It’s like the ripples in a pond after throwing a stone,” she said.

Image: Kristen Linfante, Chamber Music Pittsburgh's Executive Director, courtesy of Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council


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Questions for Ana Alba of Alba Conservation

Wednesday, 25 March 2015 10:44 AM Written by

Annamember edited-1Who are you? Some kind of a conservator or something?
Who am I? I'm still working on that one. I consider it a work in progress. Maybe a similar question would be "How did you get into conservation?"

Go on.
I got an undergraduate degree in Art History and wanted to try for something a little more hands on. After fulfilling pretty intensive prerequisites, I was accepted into the Buffalo State College Art Conservation Dept. Following graduation, I was an intern and then contractor at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and then was awarded a fellowship in the conservation of modern and contemporary art at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington D.C. I grew up in Export though my family moved away when I was in the third grade. I came to know and love Pittsburgh revisiting the city later in life.

Go Export! You recently moved here from New York? I hear that the arts are kind of a big deal there. By comparison what strengths or weaknesses have you noticed in Pittsburgh's arts community?
Yes- I just moved here from NYC. There are lots of differences in the two scenes and I find Pittsburgh's art scene to be refreshing, compared to the stiffness of the NY gallery scene. The New York art scene, though exciting, fits the stereotype so well. Plus, many people's experiences of NY's art scene is through their camera lenses. I love that the Pittsburgh art scene represents a wider variety of people and the events are open and welcoming. The art is more accessible and there are more ways to interact with the artists involved and understand how it relates to Pittsburgh as a city.

Go Pittsburgh! Maybe this is too elementary but for the enlightenment of all readers can you explain what a conservator does?
Many people don't know what a conservator does and how it differs from art restoration. Conservators are generally graduates of a recognized Conservation MA or MS program where we are trained in the preservation, conservation, and maintenance of artwork. Conservators adhere to a code of ethics that stresses minimal intervention, reversibility and documentation. Aside from the actual restoration process, we are trained in the science of the materials, analysis, and prevention of further deterioration. Restoration is the act of aesthetically returning a piece back to its assumed original state. I'm trying to educate people on that difference with my own work and outreach.

Cool. We need conservators. Can you tell me about one of your favorite conservation projects?
One of my favorite previous treatments, which combined both research and hands on treatment, involved removing 15 year old ketchup from the surface of a Frank Stella painting while at the National Gallery of Art. Ketchup got on the artwork when two children were playing in the gallery with ketchup packets. The ketchup was analyzed to determine insoluble components that might remain on the surface. What remained of the ketchup was removed, and the surface was retouched, as the acidic nature of the ketchup had affected the surface quality and appearance of the painting. I even called Heinz to ask what could have been in the ketchup but got no response.

That makes sense because Heinz' ketchup recipe is a guarded Pittsburgh secret. That's why Heinz ketchup is the best of all ketchups. What are you working on now?
My work now is mostly focused on building connections and education. Pittsburgh is a small city in that you can meet a few people and have connections to most anyone in the art scene. The more information I can share about conservation, the larger the field can grow and people can become more active in preserving their art and cultural heritage. I have started to make client connections but that takes time. I will be exhibiting at the upcoming Preservation Fair at the end of the Month. I encourage anyone who has a work of art or photograph to come and meet their local conservators.

Pittsburgh is obsessed with its own history. We really do love our past but ironically preservation has not been a consistent priority throughout our renaissances - we've parted with a long list of beautiful architecture, a historic jazz district, public art, and various other panels of our cultural quilt. What should we as proud Pittsburghers be focused on preserving now before it is too late?
Conservation education ties into people's understanding of preserving history on a grander scale. I can't speak about the architecture here, because I've only been here a few months and haven't seen the changes that other long-time residents have. But, I do feel the key to preservation is education. Once people know what is possible, they're willing to fight and preserve what's left, especially if they want the city to retain its character during periods of growth and change. I hope it does.

Me too. So, I'd like to ask you about the conservation of digital art. How is that going to work? Some really smart guy at Google coined the term "Digital Dark Age". Is there a movement in the conservator community to address that concern, like a Digital Monk preserving monastic code? Someone tell the Google guy I coined "Digital Monk".
Digital conservation is totally a big thing. There exist specialists that deal with generational loss and file corruption. Museums with collections of digital and electronic media are forming initiatives and special conservation labs to address their particular needs. Museums are also taking the lead in interviewing living artists to determine how to best preserve their media. So much of the conservation process involves archiving the needs and expectations of the artist and determining how to appropriately exhibit pieces into the future. There is a whole MA program at the Tisch school of art at NYU in moving image archiving and preservation that deal more specifically with this.

This is really interesting and I could keep asking you questions. But we only have so much time and I don't want you to bill me. So what are you looking for as an arts professional in Pittsburgh and how can GPAC help?
Since I am on a mission of education, I am looking for ways to interact with the public. I'm also looking for ways in which the art scene overlaps. Since everyone is connected somehow, it's nice to discover upcoming events that force mixing and mingling. I am also looking for ways to meet more artists. It's very helpful to see them at work and learn about their materials and techniques because it informs my work and how I would approach treatment. The artist's intent is all important when knowing what to preserve or if a work should be preserved. On many occasions, conservators have worked with artists to inform them about what they're using and how to better use the materials they have, without influencing the vision or final outcome.

How can people get in touch with you if they want to hire you or invite you to something?
Contact me through Alba Art Conservation's website or come meet me in person at the upcoming Preservation Fair happening on March 28, 2015 at Carnegie Music Hall. Details on the Preservation Fair can be found here


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Advocating for Arts & Culture - D.C. style

Monday, 23 March 2015 11:14 AM Written by

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You may remember a time in the early 90s when the National Endowment for the Arts was the object of great political controversy for having supported (however indirectly) contemporary art works deemed obscene or sacrilegious by some vocal, political activists. Some objections were over content, others rejected the very idea that funding the arts and culture, however minimal the dollars spent at the federal level compared to the private sector, was something the federal government should do.

Since that time, the NEA has generated less controversy and less "bad" news. There are good reasons for this. The NEA, in both Republican and Democratic administrations, has made certain that ordinary Americans are more integral to its decision-making about grant-making. The agency has also broadened its focus to serve an even more diverse range of constituencies. There's the Our Town initiative which uses the arts in "creative placemaking" programs to revitalize urban, rural, and suburban communities. Another publicly popular initiative is Blue Star Museums, a collaboration among the NEA, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and 2,000+ museums across America to offer free admission to the nation's active-duty military personnel and their families.

So, with such good will already generated by these and other programs, why is the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, on March 23-24 leading the SWPA delegation to National Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, DC, an annual gathering of several hundred arts & culture advocates from around the country? Well, it's not only to hear Norman Lear, the legendary TV producer, who will deliver the 28th Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on the Arts & Public Policy at the Kennedy Center.

No, we go primarily because it's a special opportunity to demonstrate to our elected officials how the arts & culture can continue to serve a range of public purposes if there is support and funds for the NEA, the arts education programs of the U.S. Department of Education, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. We'll also talk about how preserving charitable giving to the arts, tax fairness for artists and writers, and protection of Internet neutrality are essential for a vibrant American culture.

Our delegation, using a mix of the latest research on the public benefits of the arts and our own stories, will share our messages with the offices of Representatives Mike Doyle, Keith Rothfus, Tim Murphy, and Mike Kelly, and Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey.

Another upside to the trip? We get the chance to meet with our PA colleagues from Citizens for the Arts in PA and the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance to discuss PA arts policy issues, such as the potential implications of Governor Wolf's budget proposal for the arts and culture.

An integral part of our delegation is 13 students in the Master of Arts Management program at Carnegie Mellon University. Arts Advocacy Day is a chance to show these future arts administrators how becoming an advocate will be an essential part of their job descriptions going forward.

You can download your own Congressional Arts Handbook, here and read up on the latest facts, figures, and federal issues in the arts.


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Not Just Another Inconvenient Truth

Thursday, 19 March 2015 10:19 AM Written by


audienceeverywhere banner

Matt Lehrman wants you to be extraordinary.

Lehrman brought his Audiences Everywheretm workshop to the Senator John Heinz Regional History Center last week, to a full house. Sponsored by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and Patron Manager, in attendance were artistic directors, marketers, and curators from non-profits that included museums, theater companies, and music organizations from the Pittsburgh area.

At the start of his presentation, Lehrman said he didn’t expect the things he would be talking about to work in every city.

But referring to a recent survey by the National Endowment for the Arts on arts participation of adults in America, he reported that this activity had fallen from 39% in 1982 to 33.3% in 2012. And Lehrman was less than reassuring in letting us know this drop had occurred in cities across the country. In addition, using household data (1.2 million households during a 5-year timeframe) from Phoenix, Arizona (where he is Interim Managing Director of the Arizona Theatre Company), Lehrman presented data showing the rate of return visits by individuals to theaters and museums: 80% of the households had just one visit to an arts group during that period. The numbers for the Pittsburgh area are not much different – about 75%.

So how do non-profits relying on audiences visitors get people to attend and -- more importantly -- come back? “Our enemy is empty seats,” he said. “An empty seat never recommended anything to anyone.”

Lehrman suggested many ways to build an audience including changing an organization’s PUSH paradigm from MISSION, CURATION, MARKETING, AUDIENCE INTEREST to a PULL paradigm made up of MISSION, AUDIENCE INTEREST, CURATION, ENGAGE. Because, he said, an audience comes to an event for their values, not yours.  This change would take into account what an audience might be interested in before an artistic director or curator developed a theater season or a museum exhibit. Otherwise, he emphasized, you’re just selling a product:  “More marketing has started from the need to sell rather than the need to buy,” he noted.

The workshop ended with Lehrman asking the attendees to name their “extraordinary” -- what are they doing that is inspiring or relevant?  The need now is to get people out of the house to participate in extraordinary experiences.

As an example of bringing together the arts and a community, he told us about the Opera Memphis Sears Crosstown Building project. Once a thriving shopping area, the building was closed in 1993. However, Opera Memphis commissioned composers to write short operas about the people who worked, shopped, or lived near the building. 

Why is being extraordinary so important in the arts today?  According to Lehrman, “The arts and cultural sector is on thin ice.”  It’s our own inconvenient truth.


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The Cost of Art?

Thursday, 26 February 2015 12:06 PM Written by

Did you ever wonder what is the real cost of presenting superior art?

Great art requires great artists, working hard to make a living, as well as organizations to present it. In the world of music, the costs include the musicians themselves but also the performance space, the organization’s staff, and all of its daily operating expenses. So what is the real cost of presenting a concert?

The Pittsburgh Music Alliance is a collaboration of five organizations in town: The Bach Choir of Pittsburgh, Chamber Music Pittsburgh, Chatham Baroque, The Pittsburgh Camerata, and Renaissance & Baroque. These organizations work together on a variety of efforts, helping one another in building the rich offerings of musical performance in Pittsburgh. Recently we looked at the real cost of presenting great art, and the members did an exercise looking at the cost per attendee. That cost ranges from $58 to $83 dollars per person. Yet the ticket prices are much lower than that, perhaps one half of the actual cost and often even less. The standard ticket prices range up to $46, a little more than half of the performance’s actual cost of $83, and student ticket prices can be as low as $12.


On the one hand, we want to bring audiences the finest works and musicians, and those goals have significant costs. On the other hand, we want to make sure that your ticket prices are low enough to accommodate all who might want to see the show. So there is a certain “art” to bring the art to audiences. In the process, arts organizations depend on a variety of revenue in order to cover the difference between ticket price and actual cost. This is part of the math of running a nonprofit organization.

The difference comes in philanthropic support, in the form of grants, volunteerism, and individual giving. For us to present programs with the excellence you want to experience - without the fundraising and behind the scenes efforts of volunteers - your ticket might cost far more. However, because of the generous support of so many, prices for PMA organizations have been stable and affordable.

Now for the best part: You can always help. Probably the easiest way to help is to spread the word about performances. Each new ticket sold helps to bring down the per-ticket cost. The more, the merrier! Second, please do keep this in mind as you approach your charitable giving. Often people become more and more committed to the success of an organization, and they show that increasing support through charitable gifts. Those gifts help to keep ticket prices lower, which might help us to reach new audiences…which might ultimately produce another committed patron in time.

For all that you do to support music, thank you. 

Photo: Mickey Miller


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Culture Count 2015

Thursday, 19 February 2015 08:58 AM Written by

 first-numbers 1 edited-1There are 350 arts & culture organizations in Allegheny County, and 143 more in the surrounding counties of Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Washington, and Westmoreland.  Well, at least there were in 2010 when the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council (GPAC) did its first "Culture Count." 

With Culture Count 2015, GPAC wants to learn how many cultural organizations are here now, and how they are similar and different they are five years later.  Plus, as a reflection of GPAC's goal to serve individual artists more effectively, we want to learn how many working artists there are in SWPA and some key facts about them. 

GPAC’s partner in this project is the Cultural Data Project (CDP), a Philadelphia-based national organization that gathers, tracks, and analyzes data on the arts & culture sector for use by funders, policy-makers, researchers, and cultural institutions.     

As in 2010, the project defines arts & culture quite broadly.  The Performing Arts category includes theater and dance companies of all kinds, and music ensembles ranging from bands, jazz ensembles, and choirs, to orchestras, opera companies, and concert presenters.  Another group comprises visual art museums, media centers, and galleries, science and nature museums and sites, and history archives and libraries.  Finally, we’ll be counting community-based arts and arts educations programs. 

In addition to counting such institutions in our region by category, we’ll learn about variations and similarities in their budget sizes, financial structure, geographic locales and distribution, years founded, numbers of employees, paid and unpaid attendance figures, and whether institutions are led by or serve specific cultural traditions, disabilities, or orientations.  With artists we’ll learn, in part, their artistic discipline, whether they’re full time or part time, and how long they’ve been a working artist in SW PA.  

So what to do with all this information?  Having complete, up-to-date information means GPAC will be able to respond to data requests of all kinds from artists and the arts & culture organizations it serves, from business and economic development partners, and from elected officials at the local, regional, and statewide level.  To make the data user-friendly, GPAC will work with CDP to create a variety of maps, data visualizations, and customized district-level reports.  In the longer-term, Culture Count 2015 data can also provide a reliable, comprehensive foundation for further research on the arts & culture sector in SW PA.    

Are you an individual artist or someone affiliated with an area arts & culture organization?  If so, please go this link (http://www.pittsburghartscouncil.org/culture-count) and take 5 minutes to fill out the Culture Count 2015 questionnaire.   Thanks!

Just curious about Culture Count 2015 or related research projects of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, please contact David B. Pankratz, Research & Policy Director, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , 412.391.2060, x232


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Singing a Song for the Unsung Majority

Friday, 06 February 2015 01:47 PM Written by

Large arts organizations bestride the cultural landscape in Allegheny County like the Colossus at Rhodes. But there are many smaller groups -- theater, music, dance -- that are an essential component of the arts scene in our area.

The Unsung Majority,” a report released in October of last year, was designed to start a conversation about how these arts groups, with budgets under $1.5 million, work -- and work together.  Some of the topics covered by the report included the financial strength of an organization, the talent pool available to a group, and whether or not an organization is part of a community of like-minded creative people.

“The report,” said David Pankratz, Research & Policy Director at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, “represents a recognition of the majority of arts and cultural organizations in Pittsburgh.”

The Consortium of Small Arts Funders, made up of GPAC, the Heinz Endowments, the Pittsburgh Foundation, the McCune Foundation, and the Allegheny Regional Asset District, recognized there was little information available on grant making and other ways to support these local arts groups.

According to Pankratz, the report would provide information on these small and mid-size groups -- their character, challenges, and strengths.  “It was a good opportunity to take a look that hadn’t been done before,” he said.

GPAC was involved in every step of the process of developing the report including defining how the research would be conducted, data collection, and reviewing drafts.  In addition, GPAC unveiled “The Unsung Majority” at a one-day public event held at the Hill House Kaufmann Center on October 28th that included a series of panels and break-out sessions covering every phase of the report.

According to Pankratz the public release was an opportunity to say: “Okay, here’s where we are” and the panels gave people in the arts community a chance to reflect on what was in the report and the work that still needs to be done.

Not surprisingly, one of the key findings of the report concerned the difficulties that smaller and mid-sized arts organizations have in successfully marketing a new work -- not only the knowledge needed to produce such a campaign but also the costs involved. To address this need, Matt Lehrman of Audiences Avenue will be coming to the Senator John Heinz History Center on March 10th to help the Pittsburgh arts and culture community learn more about the tools and strategies that can help them to reach larger audiences. Information on this event can be found, here

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A Conversation with Mohammed Fairouz

Thursday, 05 February 2015 12:10 PM Written by


Mohammed Fairouz's conversation moves effortlessly from global turmoil to nineteenth-century English poetry, from modern Egyptian drama to the self-definition of nations. Through it all, he shows an insightful perspective on the human history and how art fits into that canon. What makes his discussion so much more impressive is that Fairouz is neither diplomat, author, journalist nor academic.

Fairouz is a composer, and specifically the composer of Sumeida's Song, which the Pittsburgh Opera will perform February 21, 24, 27 and March 1. His ability to move seamlessly from lyric poetry to global geopolitics makes opera a fitting form for this artist. The musical storytelling of opera spans well the poetic moments of individuals and grand transformations of society, and Sumeida's Song is indeed both an intimately personal tale and one of social change.

Telling the story of a family feud in an Egyptian village, Sumeida's Song has all the core elements of a powerful drama – honor, villainy, a society on the cusp of change. Indeed as Fairoz notes, it is "very classical in its composition" and was originally a stage play written in 1945 by Egyptian author and dramatist Tawfiq al-Hakim.

There is something special in the fact that Sumeida's Song tells this story as a contemporary opera. As I talk with Fairouz about the piece, I find it difficult not to get trapped in my own preconceptions about opera. If you think that opera only consists of works from a bygone era, usually performed in Italian, then it might just be time to have someone like Fairouz shake you out of that perspective. Fairouz speaks of this work as linked to ancient archetypes of drama as well as the realities of modern culture where things organically intersect between nations and traditions. "The boundaries between nations are becoming more porous," he observes, and his comment applies to opera as for all aspects of culture. Through it all, opera shows itself to be a living, active, and dynamic art form, and Sumeida's Song is evidence of that reality.

"Life and history are much more of a mess than a prix fixe meal," says Fairouz, and his comment really speaks to as much to art forms as to global history. Art forms evolve constantly, and as societies intersect ever more, their shared influences organically shape those forms. If you want to define opera, or any art, as one easily boxed thing – Fairouz's "prix fixe meal" – then you will miss out on special moments of artistic serendipity. In the case of Sumeida's Song, it reminds us of how a talented artist synthesizes so many artistic possibilities.

It is no surprise then that Fairouz graciously declines both to define opera and to situate himself within its historical context. "You have to look at what is contained in the art form. Talking about the art form is like talking about the jar. It's about what's inside the jar." With that said, he gladly moves into talking about great narratives and poetry, and setting those words to music. He quotes Wordsworth without pausing a moment to recall the lines, which has set to music in his songs, and then moves fluidly to the Egyptian playwright from whose work Sumeida's Song is drawn.

Fairouz recognizes that the future of his art depends not just on himself but also on the companies that perform it and the audiences that support it. He has high praise for the Pittsburgh Opera and specifically for their commitment to both support the familiar works of tradition as well as new works. "It is very easy for me to go to a city and talk about myself, but I think that this company deserves some serious shout out, some serious kudos," he says of their artistic profile in general. He then moves to their institutional commitment for cultivating young artists, noting "It takes a special company to have the residency programs, and to cultivate the next generation."

As for audiences, he sees them in a dialogue with the art form and its growth, each serving one another. The creation of new art and nurturing of new artists engages new audiences, and expands the reach of the art. At the same time, they in turn help to keep art fresh by embracing both the old and the new.

An artist who never rests for long, Fairouz has a series of new projects forthcoming. They include the recent release of Follow, Poet, a song cycle that sets the poetry of W. H. Auden and Seamus Heaney to music. He is also at work on two operas, including one on the life of Benazir Bhutto, the female prime minister of Pakistan who was assassinated in 2007. Of this work he says, "When you break down the walls, when you break down the boundaries, that's when the renaissance starts. She believed in that." Fairouz is very much about breaking down walls and boundaries. If you face any boundaries in embracing opera, his work may just help you to break them down.

Sumeida's Song will be performed on February 21, 24, 27 and March 1 at the Pittsburgh Opera facility, 2425 Liberty Ave. in the Strip District. Click here for more information. 


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 Three Pittsburgh artists/arts administrators traveled to Charleston, South Carolina to meet with others like them to talk about artist communities, what they are, and what Pittsburgh has to do with that.

New Orleans microbus styleChristiane Leach, Artists Relations Coordinator, Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council
During the first year in my new role as Artist Relations Coordinator, I was looking for a conference that spoke directly to supporting artists, one-on-one, in submitting residency applications. 

I then attended my first Alliance of Artist Communities Conference last year in San Jose, CA. Not only did I fall in love with California, I fell for the experience at the Conference. With sessions such as “Cultivating Community Beyond Diversity”, “Connecting Artists to Resources” and “Integrating Artists with Disabilities”, I knew that it not only aligned with the work that I do, but with other GPAC initiatives, such as the Increasing Accessibility in Pittsburgh Arts and Culture initiative and the Pittsburgh Coalition for Racial Equity in the Arts. Last year, the added bonus was keynote speaker, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, whose weekend long Performance Art workshop at Carnegie Mellon University I had the pleasure of attending a few years back, thanks to Tavia LaFollette of Art Up.  

Here I found Arts administrators who didn’t work from the top down, but on the “ground” level as liaisons between artists and their communities. Social engagement may be today’s buzzword, but it seems to be intrinsic to the very work that artist residencies do, that of connecting artists to communities, communities to art. While residencies provide a variety of experiences ranging from solitary to community engagement, to rural or urban, transformation occurs through embedded interaction with the environment, and people of a place leaving an artist, a community changed.

I left that conference feeling invigorated and part of a larger, community conversation dedicated to the role and experience of the individual artist. This year’s conference was no different, with the exception that I was accompanied by colleagues Dave English and D.S. Kinsel, who presented the Urban Engagement and the Relevance of Place panel, with our peers from New Orleans, Gia Hamilton, the Director of the Joan Mitchell Center and Alysia Savoy, Program Manager of The DISTILLERY Artist Residency.  

Dave English, Manager of Membership and Development at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council
The Alliance of Artists Communities Conference 2014 in Charleston, SC delivered on their promise to explore the ways in which we can advance today's artists and their role in developing healthy, vibrant, engaged communities. Our delegation from Pittsburgh joined 300 arts leaders, funders, policy-makers, board members, educators, artists, and others from across the globe for three days of performances, trainings, tours, and talks. 

This was my first year attending the conference and as conferences go this one was very good. The people really made the experience. It could have been more diverse for sure but the mostly white group openly recognized this as something that needs work. We were fortunate to meet a lot of cool people doing work worth knowing about.

D.S., Christiane and I aren't exactly shy so we had no problem making friends and getting straight to some real conversations. All three of us have continued to stay connected with new colleagues around the country and all three of us talked about attending again next year if possible. I think the curating of the programs, panels, and events created a crowd-flow that allowed people to make those connections. If you've been to enough conferences you've probably had the experience of feeling rushed, distanced from the presenters, you're not where supposed to be, you've missed something, or like you're at a trade show with tons of vendors, screens, gadgets, and tech. The AAC Conference was none of that. It was one of the few conferences where I felt relaxed enough to actually exchange experiences and perspectives with the other attendees enough to get to know them.

The panel that D.S. Kinsel and I were on, Urban Engagement and the Relevance of Place, was co-presented by two women who are leaders in New Orleans' arts community: Gia Hamilton, Director of the Joan Mitchell Center; and Alysia Savoy, Program Manager of The DISTILLERY Artist Residency. We each represented cities that have experienced decline and rebirth. One city in reaction to natural disaster, and the other coming out of post economic chaos related to the collapse of the steel industry.

While New Orleans and Pittsburgh are clearly very different places both cities credit the arts, culture, and tourism as a big part of their revivals. Both are in the midst of redevelopment issues relating to creative placemaking/placekeeping, gentrification and displacement, and we find ourselves having similar discussions about what progress means, for whom, and what role we play in making sure the creative class is accounted for. The conversation opened up to the audience and started a healthy dialogue about artists and arts organizations, policy makers and elected officials, foundations, and developers all being responsible community members.

The feedback we received was flattering to us as individuals and as Pittsburghers. We had a great team and did right by The Steel City. I would definitely do it again.

Darrell and guest

D.S. Kinsel, artist and co-proprietor of Boom Concepts 
The conference was a chance to test our coolness levels and exchange strategies with arts professionals from across the world. It was amazing to see people's reactions to our Pittsburgh ways. Oftentimes we don't believe that our theories and practices are ahead of the pack because we live them ery'day. But the conference was an opportunity to rise above the everyday and take a view "from the balcony" of the awesome things that Pittsburgh’s art community is accomplishing. We made lasting connections with colleagues from across the country working in organizations and cities of all scale and style. The opportunity to spend time and share experiences with peers from places like AS220 in Providence, The MacDowell Colony in New York, The Headlands Center for the Arts in Northern California, to name a few, opened doors that we may not have even realized existed before. 


Images: Microbus in Charleston; D.S. Kinsel and guest, talking over dinner during the Alliance of Artist Communities Conference, October 2014


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Artists in your neighborhood: AIR

Thursday, 08 January 2015 03:21 PM Written by


As part of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council Membership Spotlight Series, Eseosa Azenabor, GPAC Intern and 1st year Master of Entertainment Industry Management at Carnegie Mellon University, met with artist Bob Beckman, director of Artists Image Resource, a printmaking studio and gallery space in Deutschtown, a North Side neighborhood in the City of Pittsburgh.

Printmaker, student and mom work on making a silk screened print, together.

GPAC: Tell us about Artists Image Resource. What is AIR - your work/organization/program?
Bob Beckman: AIR is a laboratory resource for artists, meant to support artists in making new work, specifically printmaking. We provide equipment, facilities and access to print and imaging equipment from, conventional, traditional, to experimental and contemporary. So, AIR provides a full resource for artists to pursue possibilities that they might not find other places. It’s not a terribly discipline-specific printmaking atelier. It’s more of a lab that bases itself in access to print imaging.

GPAC: What is your role?
Bob Beckman: I’ve been making work for quite a while. When I came into Pittsburgh, I got involved with constructing installations with the Mattress Factory. We then founded the Artists Image Resource in 1996 because there weren’t a lot of resources for fine art printmaking. Currently I function as the director of AIR.

GPAC: What is the organizational structure of AIR?
Bob Beckman: The whole engine of the place is the artists’ projects and the installation of new work in our gallery spaces. The second tier is our community access and education program. We want to fully support the working artist as well as the aspiring artists. We make the methods and practices of the artists more transparent and available and create a dialogue to speak about best practices for the aspiring artist. For community access education, we have mentorship programs with young artists. We do collaborative events with other artists’ organizations as well as Pittsburgh public schools. We also make the facilities available to open studio programs. On Tuesday and Thursday nights from 6-10, you can come and access the studio.

GPAC: What events do you have coming up next?
Bob Beckman: We’ve been reaching out nationally to people doing print related artwork and are currently hosting Printwork, our 3rd annual national juried competition of prints through February 2.  

AIR gallery opening

GPAC: How can people connect with you?
Bob Beckman: We have a website: www.artistimageresource.org, with a flickr account that gives you a running archive of images that gives you a good idea of what we’re about. Our main contact is through our email address This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Also, we're right at 518 Foreland Street on the North Side, within walking distance of downtown and near bus stops and you can visit. Our receptions are free and open to the public, we have parties, Tuesday and Thursday are open studio for printmakers and Wednesday is open studio for youth printmakers. Email us for more information! 

GPAC: How would you describe GPAC in a five words?
Bob Beckman: Good people doing good things.

GPAC: What aspect of GPAC/its programming do you really enjoy?
Bob Beckman: Coming to Pittsburgh, the creative community was broken up by neighborhoods, but in the last 20 years I’ve seen greater unity and for an organization like GPAC to be a part of that is a good thing for connecting artistry and community. I think there is great potential in what GPAC does to be a real connective tissue in the artistic community.

GPAC: Do you have any final/parting thoughts?
Bob Beckman: I believe the structures that are created to support the artist almost end up perpetuating themselves and so I think that the more organizations that truly value the work of the artist are then able to provide that net. I think the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council is structured in that way and that’s all good.


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