Launching City Studies

Monday, 26 November 2018 04:32 PM Written by

 A conversation between City Theatre’s Director of New Play Development Clare Drobot and Director of Education and Accessibility Kristen Link.

Sitting in City Theatre's administrative offices, with cubicles across from one and other, Clare and Kristen are frequently in conversation about ways to support the artistic community of Pittsburgh. On a recent snowy afternoon, they had the chance to chat about City’s latest educational offerings.

Two women sitting in a cubicle, facing the camera and sharing a bright blue blanket, smiling.

Kristen: It’s been a long term goal of mine to expand the educational offerings of City Theatre outside of a traditional academic setting.

Clare: We call our offices cubicle row and often when we receive inquiries or applications for teaching artists, interns, administrative positions or even play submissions or audition materials, we wish were able to offer in-depth feedback to applicants. While that’s not always feasible in an application process, it leads to conversations often including our colleague Artistic Producer Reginald L. Douglas (or as we say in the office Reg) about how we can share best practices for compiling submission materials. Through these discussions, we’ve noticed that there are few professional development opportunities outside of the classroom in town.

Kristen: All of us on staff, be it through internships, conferences, or other opportunities have all benefited from experiences gained working in the field.

Clare: It feels like part of City’s role in Pittsburgh is to be able to share our knowledge and experiences with the artistic community.

Kristen: Exactly! It’s beneficial to every arts organization in town to have a strong pool of arts administrators, teachers, actors, and playwrights.

Clare: So that was the inspiration behind City Studies—which is subtitled a studio for working artists—to offer affordable opportunities for growth.

Kristen: Really, the workshops are a chance to be able to explore your craft further with other professionals eager to expand their skillsets.

Clare: Hence the pilot program we’ve created. We’re testing out four initial offerings and the hope is to add additional courses in the spring including a directing seminar with Artistic Director Marc Masterson and a crash course in non-profit budgeting with Managing Director James McNeel.

Kristen: With any hope this will kick start the desire for expanded offerings that could span a semester or season.

Clare: We’re excited to hear from the community in terms of what they’re looking to learn. We’re working with one outside artist, actor Cotter Smith. We’d heard from multiple artists who had studied the little know Stanislavsky technique Active Analysis with Cotter how transformative that work had been and he was game to join us in this initial experiment.

Kristen: The staff at City cares deeply for the artistic community in Pittsburgh and we hope that through this endeavor we can support frequent collaborators and have the opportunity to forge new connections.

Clare: Right! If you have thoughts or questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Kristen or me. We’re always open to the conversation unless we’re watching cute dog and/or raccoon videos (not that that never happens during business hours).

For more information on our first four seminars you can visit City Theatre's website, here.

 

Portrait of an African American man in his 30s, looking into the camera and smiling and wearing a grey button-up shirt.

This is a transcribed phone interview between Jen Saffron, Director of Communications for the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, and Reg Douglas, Artistic Producer for City Theatre Company.

You're the artistic producer for a prolific theater company - I'm sure you've seen a lot of plays. What led you to Pipeline?
I remember when I saw the play in the summer of 2017 with City’s Director of New Play Development Clare Drobot – we are both friends with the playwright and in love with Dominique’s work – I was completely blown away by it. I so appreciated the honesty of the relationships and circumstances and experiences that Dominique was sharing. Pipeline is a wonderfully courageous examination of race, education, love, legacy, and America. I am so proud to be able to share this story with a Pittsburgh audience.

Pipeline centers on a relationship between a Black son and his mother, the hopes and fears that she has as he grows up. I really identify with that story – growing up surrounded by love in my household and family, but still often feeling at a loss as to how to best fit into this culture and this country where love feels denied for Black men in particular. Given the cultural assumptions about black male identity being rooted in anger and rage – which is not true – how does one find joy and hope in a society that is set up to only frame black men in terms of pain and loss? That is a question I am always interested in using art to investigate, as well as what are the limits of love? Are there any? I feel like Pipeline is an interrogation of these questions.

The play is a love story. Dominique has written a love letter to Black men and Black mothers. I think at the core of the play is how strong the bonds of family are. In the midst or in spite of both our country’s complicated history and present relationship with race, the play shows how love can still survive and thrive.
Three actors on stage - a middle aged white woman on the left, talking with a Black police officer on the right while a Black female sits at a table, between them. The Black officer's hand is outstretched.

We're in a place and time in our society when art is becoming even more of a vehicle for addressing tough topics - racism and violence during a time of rising actions of White Nationalists, for example. How can a play, and in this case a newer play, help?
I think that the power of good theater, and that’s what we want to make at City Theatre, is to reflect the world as both it is and as it could be. I hope that our production is honest in is specificity, but also that it imagines a world that surpasses our own. Our job in the theater is not to put book reports and news reports on stage, but to create art, to use magic and music and theatricality to help us to better understand the facts as well as find ways to overcome them.

Twenty Black women - leaders in the arts and our communities - have been asked to lead Post-Show Conversations - what do you hope these conversations will inspire?
I hope that the conversations show that this story is a Pittsburgh story. I hope that they inspire a dialogue between people who are normally not talking to each other. The ultimate goal of these conversations is to foster empathy and unity. I think that’s the goal for many artists – to use art to create deeper understanding – and it is certainly the goal of this production. The post-show conversations create a space where audiences can go on that journey towards deeper understanding together.

The post-show conversations have been overwhelmingly amazing. One of the most inspiring things of my career at City has been to witness long-time subscribers, first-time theatergoers, young people, old people, people of diverse nationalities and neighborhoods being courageous enough to share their experience of the play and what’s happening in our city and our country. It really feels like a community coming together to think, engage, live differently and I could not be prouder to be a part of fostering that dialogue and spirit.

Pipeline vertical imageThis play centers around a young Black man and you've collaborated with 1Hood, young Black men and also women, on the sound for this play. I often find that collaborations, when done well, transform and inform each participant. How was working with 1Hood  transformative for you, and what do you think were some takeaways for them?
I knew early on that I wanted to use 1Hood’s music in the show. They were one of the first organizations that I encountered when I moved to Pittsburgh and I have remained a big fan. It was a dream come true working with them on this production. Their artistry, feedback, thoughts, and ideas have been vital to every step of the production process for me and for the whole artistic team, including our amazing sound designer Zachary Beattie-Brown. The word transformative is spot-on. I think that the collaboration working with 1Hood has transformed how City Theatre thinks about being a community leader and community connector. I think all of our staff echoes the desire to continue to connect meaningfully with local artists and to provide space for them to tell their stories and share their work on our stages.

Some of the 1Hood artists were actually just here in the theater today. They’ve become deeply impassioned about theater-making and have interests that I hope we can find ways to support going forward.

And you know, I think very critically as an African-American artist and arts administrator of color in this city, and one of the only ones on the artistic side at our local theaters, about who is given opportunity to share; who is taking up space where and when and how; who is in power; who is making decisions. I helped provide a group of extraordinarily talented African-American artists with power by offering space and resources to make their art and share it with new audiences. That is a dream come true.
a double portrait of an African American woman laughing and squinting, in a brightly printed dress, and to her left an African American male in a baseball hat and windbreaker, calm face, looking directly into the camera.

What do you think educators here in Pittsburgh might say about Pipeline?
That’s a good question. We worked with quite a few educators on the production. We have two student matinees, and Pittsburgh Public Schools is sponsoring one of them. The teachers at Westinghouse High School also invited us to visit as a research trip and came to the show this weekend. And we have also worked with the staff at Shuman Juvenile Detention Center. The education community in this city has been very supportive.

I think this play shows how hard many teachers are working to provide the best educational experience that they can. Something in the play that I have always been struck by is the respect that Dominique gives the teachers. She even dedicates the play to her mom who is a teacher. I have heard from educators in Pittsburgh and beyond about how much they enjoyed the play and I think that is because the piece allows them to see their lives reflected with honesty and dignity. Like the mother in the play, I think that many of the best teachers are leading with love, and I have the utmost respect for that.
[End]

Pipeline, by Dominique Morriseau, runs through Sunday with evening performances W-Sat and matinees Saturday and Sunday. Tickets, information about the play, and showtimes are right here.

1Hood Media will performThursday, November 15, 2018, 6pm at the Andy Warhol Museum at their Artivist Academy Showcase. Pay-what-you-can, information and reservations, here.

Photography by Kristi Jan Hoover, featuring the cast of Pipeline and members of 1Hood: Nambi E. Kelley (Nya), Krystal Rivera (Jasmine), Carter Redwood (Omari), Sheila McKenna (Laurie), Gabriel Lawrence (Dun), and Khalil Kain (Xavier). 1Hood portraits featuring Jacquae Mae and livefromthecity.

 

 

 

Let it Rain: Stacy Levy, environmental artist

Wednesday, 31 October 2018 10:12 AM Written by

Artist reaching up to touch her mobile sculpture hanging from the ceiling in blue balls.

Stacy Levy: “It feels good to go back into Pittsburgh. I’ve done a lot more in Pittsburgh since I’ve moved to Central PA –I am glad to come back in this period because Pittsburgh needs all the liveliness, warmth and togetherness that it can have.” Stacy Levy will be live on stage with Walter Hood and Alisha B. Wormsley on Thursday, November 8, 2018 at Hill House for Green Building Alliance's Inspire Speaker Series. Tickets and information, here.

JS: Your art embodies how nature works and not just as an illustration - like Rain Ravine for the Frick Environmental Center. What do you hope your work actually does?
SL: It’s a real collaboration with nature. A lot of artwork pictures how nature works, but I’ve also really tried to move my work so that it’s both collaborating with natural forces and in some cases, working to fix some issue in the landscape.

The first thing is that Rain Ravine was very much a team process. I am a big believer that some of the next environmental artworks are going to be generated in these multidisciplinary settings, because nobody has all the answers in their discipline anymore. You have to share your head in order to come up with new solutions, because the old solutions are not solving the issues. We need new solutions for how we live with nature, in the city. It’s not going to be just engineers who decide where the rain goes – because they’ve been putting the same wine in new bottles for too long – they haven’t been coming up with enough good answers. They need to open up their thinking to engage in new approaches and this is something that artists can offer engineers, architects, and landscape architects. For Rain Ravine, I worked with these three groups and they are all essential to creating a sculpture that looks good and works well.

The Frick Environmental Center project was “can you help make a building and its surrounding landscape be sustainable” because it is a Living Building Challenge. This is the second one in Pittsburgh, the first one being the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps. The idea of sustainability, I think, is best characterized by equity between nature and people, so that people are sharing their landscapes with the natural function of the Earth.

So, rain is something that happens, and thank God it does happen, because all of this moisture is what makes this landscape what it is – it sustains all of the life we have in this biome. But, we treat fallen rain like it’s a toxin – once it hits the asphalt, it something we don’t want, and that’s a big mistake, to turn something precious into a kind of pollution. This is a misdirected idea.

cascading steps with rain flowing down them, in between a building and a hillside

JS: How do you feel Rain Ravine helps people think differently about rain?
SL: Rain Ravine (pictured, above) carries the rain that has fallen onto the building’s roof down to the treatment wetlands. It’s a conveyance that allows you to see the action of the rain, how much rain there is, and it reveals the extraordinary flow of fresh water that happens between the sky and the ground. I think there is real joy to watch that water rushing down the stairway of stone. I also think it is essential to understand the presence of rain even when it’s dry and nothing is happening: the artwork is waiting to carry the rain when it does fall – like an anticipation – so the artwork has to be evocative even when it’s dry, and to create a place to sit and walk and play.

But, it’s also a magnification of the local geology and the rock formations that you see once you get into the more wild areas of the park. Rain Ravine makes a pattern that magnifies this very specific geological formation. It’s like a giant drawing of something you might miss because it’s small in the rocks that make up the stream bed - the artwork riffs on the form of exfoliating stone in the creek.

JS: On November 8, you’re going to share the stage with landscape architect Walter Hood and artist Alisha Wormsley. What do you feel are some intersections in your work and what do you hope to accomplish with this conversation?
SL: Well, I am very invested in a particular kind of equity that is about humans sharing the city with nature. And, doing a more fair distribution of what nature gets to use and what humans get to use. We’ve been building as if we’re slicing the pie and giving nature only one tiny slice and we get the rest. And, in order to live with nature, especially with the increased rains of climate change, we will have to give rain some serious real estate – more space – so it can soak in.

Blue and purple amorphous blobs in a plan showing a place for water and a place for people to coexistI think that Walter’s work shows a tremendous sensitivity to people who are moving through the space. They are not meant to be seen from a helicopter - they are great to move through. His landscapes are compassionate to people who are on the ground. He is thinking about what people want in their own experiences as they are in the landscape. I’ve looked at some of his projects and they set the stage for human interaction.

JS: Your work is about awareness, despite those who don’t believe in climate change. How can we move people from awareness to action? As artists, how can we be the change?
SL: My job as an artist is to introduce people to what nature is doing, and to celebrate it so that people want to know more about it. I want to give people a way to understand other patterns that are happening in the world that they might not have understood before. If I am really successful, I hope I make them fall in love with nature in the city, and the next time there is a zoning meeting, they stand up for the need for water to soak into the ground instead of being piped offsite. I am creating places that people and rain can share – and sharing the urban space with nature is absolutely critical and becoming even more important as we face greater frequency of storm events and a greater amount of rain that falls per storm. We used to be able to kind of ignore run-off, but it’s coming back to haunt us – the rain draws the maps, now.

Stacy Levy is an environmental artist. Her rain-based works include Rain Ravine at the Frick Environmental Center in Pittsburgh and the Rain Yard at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Philadelphia, allowing nature to show its very own patterns to the viewer. Stacy graduated from Yale University with a BA in Art and a minor in forestry.  She earned her MFA from Tyler School of Art, Temple University. She is a recipient of the Pew Fellowship in the Arts.  Ms. Levy lives in Central Pennsylvania in the Penn’s Creek Watershed.

 

Making a Scene

Friday, 26 October 2018 11:46 AM Written by

 

banner CYNICS

In 1983 Gregg Kostelich and three of his friends in Pittsburgh started a garage rock band called The Cynics. In 1986 they began the Get Hip record label. Last year he opened a record store in a warehouse on Pittsburgh’s Northside that also hosts regular concerts. And Kostelich continues to help other musicians make a name for themselves in the local music scene.

“I was in The Cynics playing and our goal was to reside in Pittsburgh,” Kostelich remembers. “It was an inexpensive place to live. Then Michael (Kastelic, the band’s lead singer) and I wanted to see the world, everywhere we could, across the globe, and that‘s kind of what we did. And it led to contacts and information and we just started to develop from that point.”

Get Hip Records began, according to Kostelich, because “We were going to work very hard and we wanted the labels to work that hard. But we found out it just wasn’t in the cards. So if you think you can do it right, do it yourself, - and I’m going say ‘think’ because I’m still thinking about doing it right.”

In addition to The Cynics the label is also releasing albums by local musicians such as Nox Boys, Slim Forsythe, The Mount McKinleys, and Steel Miners. “We try and do a couple a year,“ he said.

 

The Get Hip record store opened a year ago and contains not only records and CDs from the Get Hip label but also genres of music from decades past and from around the world. In addition, the store has a website as well as a Bandcamp page where visitors can not only stream but also purchase digital versions of albums and singles.

The store also has an upstairs event center that hosts regular concerts. “Now that the word’s out it’s a cool place and I was very happy to hear from the agency that does Lou Barlow from Dinosaur Jr., Marty Willson-Piper, and Tommy Stinson from The Replacements,” he reported. “And she said - I thought maybe we’d be at the bottom of their wish list - actually you’re in the top three coolest places to play and they made the most money at the door and they loved it. They just made us feel good.”

Despite the success of the venue, Kostelich, who has watched the local music scene for over thirty years, acknowledged his concerns about the current state of affairs: “I don’t see any scenes developing any more,” he said, “and Pittsburgh was always one of the hardest scenes to develop.

“I see major artists touring through and Pittsburgh’s great, we have a lot of great bands, but I don’t see some of the major radio station at all catering to them,” he continued. “They could play them every hour and educate people and create this massive scene of local musicians.”

“I think there’s some movement towards making this happen,” he said. “The clubs are making it happen right now. The clubs are at least using Chet Vincent to open up and he has an open mike night at Mr. Smalls. We want to do that, we want to be involved. I didn’t open the event center to have a nightclub but I’ll do it if the opportunities are there, where there’s a lot of really great bands and they’ve got to be seen or they can’t get a gig anywhere else.”

“There’s only so much time in this life,” he concluded, “and with all the thirty, forty years of experience if you can’t apply yourself and help kids or help others then you should not exist. And that’s the motivation. You’ve got to lift people up. If you’re in a position to help every day, every hour, you’ve got to.”

 

“I would like to take a more active role in Pittsburgh’s music community but frankly, the infighting is a bit of a turnoff.”

“I’ve always been a DIY musician. It’s a lot of work alone. A whole lot.”

“It sux working this hard for crumbs.”

“The local scene from a musician point of view is very stuck in the mud.”

“While Pittsburgh has a ton of talented musicians, there is no industry to support them. A handful of decent recording studios, but no record labels, minimal booking agents, management opportunities, etc. All that being said, it seems like its getting better.”

The Music Ecosystem Project* report is finally out and the pressure is once again back to where its always been, on the people who occupy the music scene. This time, though, we have direct feedback from artists, venue owners, promoters, fans, and others on: where they stand financially; how they feel about professional and career development opportunities; the good and bad practices that have kept the scene stuck in the same place; and reasonable asks from the community about how the City/County governments and organizations can step in for much-needed positive impact and support.

If you read between the lines, the Music Ecosystem Project report points out directly what the scene yearns for. Some may feel as if the report doesn’t offer ways to tap into new approaches or that “they’ve been doing this already.” Many may also ask: “Well, who is going to fix this problem?” That’s a problem in itself and here are some hard facts:

- The lack of unified efforts has continuously led to the scene failing people time and time again.

- Living in Pittsburgh and only creating in a “DIY” setting leaves a huge gap in business growth for all.

- The lack of diverse ownership leads to even fewer opportunities for POC and LGBTQIA individuals and groups – those who have always been vital to the creation and growth of music communities.

- There have already been groups who’ve created ways to grow and excel, but the lack of support – funding and infrastructure - from the local government and organizations leads to movements stalling.

- "97% of venues believe they draw some or few fans/visitors/patrons from out of town" shows that marketing and promotion efforts need a reset and re-configuration in an effort to offer local musicians an opportunity to be heard and appreciated from surrounding areas and also *drum roll* bring in more earned revenue from outside sources for the venues, too.

So, how do we start. Well for one, there is a networking effort by the Music Ecosystem Project on August 15th at the Hard Rock Cafe for us to come together. Next, grassroots leaders in each sector should come together and discuss ways to move forward. Focus groups about the good and bad have been completed and the focus should be action items. Support from groups like Fair Play, who have already researched sustainable options and publicly discussed ways to positively push forward, are needed. Most notably, what should be done away with is the erroneous thought there is a group of important people in the music scene that controls what’s going on in this city. We are actually the people we’ve been waiting for.

For those individuals who answered the survey who say they have professional and business services, you should probably be speaking up and doing more outreach so that the scene can consult you whether your services are paid, what you believe to be affordable or un-affordable, or free.

In closing, it doesn’t hurt to collaborate nor does it hurt to unify our goals for a better outcome for all. Those who continue to plan against positive growth should be left to their own operations. We can compare and contrast with NYC, Chicago, LA, Houston but Pittsburgh’s general population isn’t a match and we have to creatively find new ways to function and address areas we lack.

Not to be cheesy but there’s always a value in high unified numbers. United we stand, divided we fall.

*The Music Ecosystem Project is comprised of:

Sound Music Cities

91.3 WYEP

The City Of Pittsburgh Office of Nighttime Economy

Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership

The Heinz Endowments

Henry L Hillman Foundation

Support Your Local Comics Makers

Friday, 06 July 2018 11:34 AM Written by

 

Frank Santoro"Bill’s store in Wilkinsburg was life-changing for me then,” said Frank Santoro, a Pittsburgh-based comics author/artist. “Here’s this guy, CMU-educated, genius bookworm, comic book nerd, who opens the comic book store in Wilkinsburg and he was the community there. The best education I ever got in my life was at a comic book store in Wilkinsburg in 1985 through 1994 until it closed.”

“I had been reading comics before - things I had found in the public library, things that some people had recommended to me, graphic novels kind of stuff” said Juan José Fernández, a comics maker in Pittsburgh. “But I never thought of comics as a medium and a mode for expression for myself until I discovered what Bill was doing.”

Santoro and Fernández are talking about Bill Boichel and his Copacetic Comics (now in Polish Hill). Bill and the store have been described as the hub of a support system, an ecosystem if you will (of which Santoro and Fernandez are also a part), for both aspiring and established comics makers.

Santoro is one of those who have benefited from his relationship with Boichel over the years. “Bill is my model,” he said. “He published my first comic when I was 16 along with two other friends who hung out at the comic book store. he wasn’t exploitative - he was very generous and helpful and so I realized as I got older how lucky I was.”

Santoro’s latest book is Pittsburgh, a non-linear memoir that he describes as being about “the erasure of family and an elegiac song, like a poem, to that loss.”

Frank Santoros book“It’s more of a most fully realized ethno-graphic study of this particular neighborhood but in a non-fiction graphic presentation,” he continued. “I’m specific about landmarks in Swissvale, specific about landmarks in the East End in Pittsburgh along the Monongahela River and into Braddock and Rankin.”

“I’m thrilled to be able to be a working cartoonist in this way for my students and the comics community in general, in Pittsburgh, and at large,” said Santoro. His correspondence course for comic book makers allows him to pass on his knowledge of the craft.

“The course grew out of doing workshops in person and being at a lot of comic book conventions and panel discussions,” he reported. “Comics are such a difficult skill set to teach and even to talk about. But there are these things that you can do - modular approaches to inventing narrative visually without writing text and that skill set is not taught in schools because they don’t know how to do it.”

Santoro has also set up a comics residency in his neighborhood in a house that was funded through an Indiegogo campaign. “It’s like an airbnb. You get a room, there’s a kitchen, and you’ve got a roommate but one of those roommates is a great cartoonist. We talk about cartooning all the time, you get to see how a cartoonist actually lives, and you just kind of hang out.”

“What you’ll see at Bill’s shop is a lot of standard-format sized comics,” said Fernández, who in addition to being a comics maker is also an educator, Administrative Coordinator at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, and a former volunteer at the late, lamented Toonseum. “But you’ll also find books that are made by people more like me. I’m just interested in making the art of the comic where it’s that dance between image and word and that really interesting space between how you unify stuff together.”

an image of JuanHe described his work as playful, full of experimentation, and wide-ranging in terms of its forms. “Poetry is a big thing that I’m interested in,” he explained. “What kinds of poetics can you work with in images and words? I love to make books, big and small.”

Both Fernández and Santoro have been involved in presenting the Pittsburgh Comics Salon, a meeting for the region’s comics-making community. The workshop is held the first Wednesday of every month in Lili’s Café which is in the same building as Copacetic Comics.

At the workshop, said Fernández, “through diligence, doing warm-up exercises, you’re training your brain and your hand to communicate through pictures in a way that’s really vital to the culture that we live in but we don’t practice nearly enough.

“We get people who have never made a comic but are really interested,” he continued, “we get people who make comics professionally, we get people who used to draw and want to get back into it. Through it all, we’re just trying to help people cultivate their own personal practice and take it in whatever direction they need to.”

 

Photos:
Frank Santoro, courtesy of the artist
"Pittsburgh", Frank Santoro's latest book, courtesy of the artist
Juan José Fernéndez, photo by Njaimeh Njie 

Lindsey Scherloum works with he womens group of United Somali Bantu of Greater Pittsburgh. Photo by Kahmeela Friedson
Despite there still being questions about the fate of the Dreamers under the DACA program and a decision from the Supreme Court on President Trump’s immigration ban being handed down later this year, the Pittsburgh region continues to be a welcoming place for refugees from around the world.

Last Spring, the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council’s Office of Public Art, with funding from the National Endowment for the Art’s “Our Town” grant, awarded four artists-in-residencies. Our Town grants are creative placemaking grants, designed to strengthen communities through arts, culture, and design strategies.

“We did a call for organizations that served immigrant refugee communities,” said Sallyann Kluz, Director of GPAC’s Office of Public Art. Christine Bethea is working with the Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh, Mary Tremonte is working with the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, Molly Rice is working with the Northern Area Multi-Service Center (NAMS), and Lindsey Peck Scherloum is working with United Somali Bantu of Greater Pittsburgh.

“They’ve been collaborating for maybe nine or ten months of the residency so they’ve gone through a process of community engagement, a getting-to-know-each-other phase, and then community engagement activities,” Kluz reported. “And then they’re trying some different ideas for projects before they put together their final project proposal which will be coming up in the next couple of months. Once they’ve made their final project proposal, and it’s got everyone’s final sign-off, they’ll have a year to implement that.” Sallyann for the blog

According to Kluz, the Bhutanese and Somali community organizations deal with specific populations and NAMS performs senior outreach, outreach within the community, and the region’s largest refugee resettlement program. The Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council conducts English as a second language programs and Tremonte is working with teachers who are in those programs.

Recent changes in U.S. government as they apply to immigrants and refugees have certainly had an effect on the communities taking part in the current Artist in the Public Realm program.

“It’s really been an intense period,” admitted Kluz. “And particularly looking through the lens that we have of seeing people coming in, I know that NAMS has seen some fluctuation in terms of the number of refugees they anticipate to be resettling. They still have a pretty steady stream of folks though because of how things were in the pipeline.

“But there’s a lot of stress in that community of people who are serving and trying to help refugees,” she continued. “My sense is that the Bhutanese and Somali communities certainly have family and people that they would like to come here. But they are not necessarily dealing with day-to-day immigration flow in the way some of these other agencies are.”

The importance of public art to address issues like these that are critical to the Pittsburgh region have been recognized since 2007 with the Mayor’s Award for Public Art.

At GPAC’s recent Response/ABILITY Annual Convening, Mayor Bill Peduto announced that this year’s award would be given to artist Andrea Polli and collaborator Ron Gdovic of WindStax for their “Energy Flow” light installation on the Rachel Carson Bridge from November 2016 - April 2018.

In an interview for a GPAC blog post last year, Polli said: “For me, some of the most exciting things that are happening with science and technology include our ability to monitor and understand our environment. So how do you try to make something visible more visible or bring that awareness to the public of something that is actually having a big impact on them but they don’t necessarily see it? That’s where I think public art can be really valuable.”
Energy Flow

Energy Flow. Image: Jason Cohn

 

 

Recoil

Monday, 09 April 2018 09:28 AM Written by

 

Recoil
“It’s an exploration of the history of America’s fascination with guns,” said Cynthia Croot, Associate Professor and Head of Performance at the University of Pittsburgh Theatre Department in describing “Recoil,” the student-developed theater piece. “I think of it definitely in relation to the mechanics of a gun.

“But something really profound that my students were sharing with me is that in the show,” she continued, “we’re not just recoiling from ideas, we’re recoiling from each other and that we’re sort of moving backwards into these spaces where we’re not communicating anymore.”

The theater piece was initially inspired by Croot’s personal history with guns. “I grew up with guns,” she said, “but my experience with them since leaving my childhood home has been very different than it was when I was growing up shooting cans off a railing in my backyard with my dad. I think that the mass shootings of the last few years have seemed to me such a clear call for action that’s not been answered.”

“Over the last two years here at Pitt, I’ve been teaching a class on devising, which is basically building a play from the ground up,” she reported. “And in each of the two classes I’ve taught we’ve had a section on guns. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from my students and they’ve taught me that this needed to be talked about in a larger form.”

Both students and faculty have been involved in the creation of “Recoil” including student designers, all student performers, and faculty members advising and working on projections. “But all of the creation, the collaboration, is almost entirely student driven,” Croot emphasized.  

Black and white portrait of a white woman looking straight into the camera, shoulder length hair.
The development of the piece itself was approached in a number of different ways. Some of the material was generated through composition exercises where students were a list of ingredients and had to come up with a scenario, a piece of choreography, or a vignette.

There were also conversations among Croot and the students, an on-line survey sent out to the student community to get a sense of the polarization around the question of how to respond to gun violence, and research into academic journals and on-line news outlets to pull text and quotes.

Croot acted as final editor of the piece, putting the text down on paper and working with the students to determine the order they wanted to tell these stories and how they will be presented on stage. “I would say there’s almost an episodic quality to the text rather than thinking of it as a realistic, well-made three-act play,” she said. “I would think of it as episodic but the relationship to the audience is more direct.”

The goal of “Recoil,” according to Croot, is not to make people uncomfortable but to inform, engage, and create a conversation.

“I think there are probably things that are going to feel a little provocative to people,” she said, “but I think that in large part we wanted to represent our own process, our own collaborative process together, and to reflect that back to the audience: these are some of the questions we’ve tried to tackle, here’s what we went through trying to do it, and this is what we have to share with you.”

“Recoil” will be presented at the University of Pittsburgh’s Richard E. Rauh Studio Theatre on April 5th through April 15th.

 

The State of the Art(s)

Wednesday, 21 March 2018 02:21 PM Written by

 

Two men facing the camera, smiling and wearing suits and conference tags around their necks.
According to a March 2018 report by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the arts added $763.6 billion to the economy, which included a $20 billion international trade surplus. In addition, the National Endowment for the Arts supports the arts in all 50 states, and every Congressional district benefits from an NEA grant.

So, given how much the arts bring to both the economic and creative health of the country, how much has the President allocated for the arts in his proposed budget for next year?

“Zero,” said David Pankratz, Research and Policy Director for the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. “He wants to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. All of that.”

But, Pankratz reports, all is not lost.

“I think there really is a broad base of supporters for the arts in Washington,” he said. “We are relentlessly bi-partisan in our messaging and the arts do enjoy bipartisan support for the arts as a result. We’re able to find points of connection with a wide variety of legislators whatever their inclination might be.”

He has developed responses for all types of objections to arts funding: “For example, some people are budget hawks and say ‘Gosh, is this really a wise use of public dollars?’ But then we have information, based on research done on both the local and national level, about how the arts sector creates jobs not only in the arts sector but also in other sectors.

“Others say ‘Aren’t we just subsidizing programs for people who can pay for this already? Isn’t this a kind of elite enterprise?’” he continued. “Well, a large percentage of NEA funds go to rural areas. Sure, some do go to urban areas, and large organizations, but lots to smaller organizations, often rural organizations.”AAD Dr Jane Chu 2018 by Mitch Swain

“It’s a matter of persuading, finding those touch points that might be of interest” Pankratz said. “Everybody’s interested in jobs - that’s kind of a go-to argument for us. But some can have interest in smaller-town rural development. We’re had some very interesting conversations about that and how the presence of a small theater or something like that has helped to really stimulate a small town to get traffic.”

Not only is the lack of projected funding in the president’s budget cause for concern, but the tax reform legislation passed last year will deal a serve blow to charitable giving. People who take the increased standard deduction will not be able to itemize their deductions, including donations to non-profits.

“It’s projected that the overall sector, including the arts, but also other non-profits, face a loss of $13 billion in charitable giving,” said Pankratz. “It’s not as though donors are going to stop giving but they may not give as much if there aren’t the tax benefits. The heart will still be there, but the head may modify the amount.”

“I wouldn’t say we’re not worried and obviously we have to make out best case,” he said. “I don’t know that it’s that much of a different case than we’ve made, maybe a little extra urgency. The arts sector, the non-profit sector, will be strategic on how to get along in this new situation. We’re in a different world but a lot of the groundwork laid up to this point will help immensely.”

Photos:
Randy Cohen, Vice President of Research and Policy at Americans for the Arts, and David Pankratz, Research and Policy Director at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. Photo by Jen Saffron
Dr. Jane Chu, Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, speaking at National Arts Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill, March 13, 2018. Photo by Mitch Swain

 

Three Awesome Facts About Arts Advocacy 2018

Tuesday, 20 March 2018 10:41 AM Written by

 This blog originally appeared on March 16, 2018 on City Theatre's blog. Ryan Ferrebee, staff member at City Theatre, joined 16 other arts delegates from Southwestern PA on March 12 - 13 for National Arts Advocacy in Washington, DC. Ryan is also co-chair of the Pittsburgh Emerging Arts Leaders Network, a peer network of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. More about the Southwestern PA delegation in the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council press room, here.

AAD Capitol building edited

I recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Washington, DC, where I represented City Theatre at National Arts Advocacy Day organized by Americans for the Arts. Over the course of two days, advocates underwent training and took to Capitol Hill, urging elected officials to take actions on arts policy. These ranged from very public issues like funding the National Endowment for the Arts and enacting a universal charitable deduction for all taxpayers, down to including tool replacement grants under FEMA for self-employed artists effected by disasters–under current policy, for example, a self-employed potter whose kiln is destroyed during a hurricane is ineligible to receive a tool replacement grant from FEMA.

On top of all that learning, we had really great meetings with legislative teams from across Pennsylvania. I felt listened to and supported by our legislators and—most importantly–I feel like they understood just how important the arts are for the residents and the economy of our region. In total, the Pennsylvania delegation stumped for 18 arts-related issues to 13 of our elected legislators. It was, quite literally, all in a day’s work.

I learned a lot during the training sessions and my visits. Another Pennsylvania advocate said trying to take in all the information was “like trying to drink from a fire hose,” which I totally agree with. Since I can’t list them all, here are my top three favorite things I learned while repping City Theatre at Arts Advocacy Day 2018:

1. Arts Advocates are Fierce.
Rest assured, the people who go to DC for arts advocacy day take it very seriously! Many of them are spending their own money and using vacation days to spend 20 hours training and advocating for your arts organizations. More than 700 advocates from 49 states (where were you, Montana?!) and DC showed up, trained hard, and pounded the pavement and hallowed halls of Capitol Hill for the arts. AAD Ryan Ferrebee and Caitlin Skaff 2018 by Mitch Swain

Me? I logged over 10,000 steps in 6 hours going from meeting to meeting. That’s a lot of walking!

2. The Arts Are Great for the Economy.
Pop Quiz!
In the last recorded year, what industry added four times more to the U.S. economy than the agricultural sector and $200 Billion dollars more than the transportation sector?
Answer? The Arts!

The arts sector is a huge boon to the economy. Locally, according to the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, City Theatre’s economic impact was $3.7 million last year. That includes $905,362 in audience direct spending on food, beverage, parking, lodging, babysitting, and other associated expenses. That breaks down to about $30.64 per person per visit, much of which goes to local businesses like Streets on Carson and The Urban Tap.

Let’s look at it another way—everything you buy on top of your ticket when you come to the theatre amounts to supporting 28 full-time, local jobs.

Great work! Celebrate by ordering yourself another round next time you visit us.

3. The Arts Are Bipartisan.
A lot of people today feel like the arts are a one party issue based solely in spending philosophy. Conservatives would rather cut the NEA to save the country money while Democrats want to expand arts funding at the risk of increasing the deficit, right? Wrong!

It’s not that black and white. People on both sides of the aisle understand the value of and support the arts! 161 out of 435 members of the House of Representative and are members of the Congressional Arts Caucus and 33 Senators are in the Senate Cultural Caucus —they span the whole political spectrum. It’s important to remember that our legislators are real, three-dimensional people, elected to represent the interests of all of their constituents. I may not agree with a certain legislator on all their policy issues, but I can still meet them, learn where they stand on what’s important to me, and provide them the strong information on why it should be important to them.

I met with Democrats and Republicans. It may have taken different strategies to get everyone on the same page, but within 15 minutes—whether through discussing economics, Veterans affairs, or education—it was clear that each one of them saw the value of the arts for their districts and was willing to help ensure their constituents had the access to the arts that they deserve.

The arts are a big part of our economy and our identity as a nation. They help everyone—from children in community programs to veterans suffering from PTSD (both of which are NEA-funded projects, by the way). Nearly everyone has had a life-changing experience with the arts at some point, and those are the stories we tried to tell.

So, what’s next? Advocacy, much like the seasons, is cyclical. Now my job is to keep the arts at the top of our legislators’ minds by calling, writing letters, scheduling more meetings, and (most importantly) thanking them when they take action that positively impacts the arts. Want in on the action? Pick a day in April, call your representative, and let them know that you would support their decision to fund the NEA at $155 million for the 2019 fiscal year!

Thanks for reading!

Ryan Ferrebee is the Development Officer—Institutional Funding for City Theatre. In his six years as a fundraising professional, Ryan has raised over $5.5 million to support programming at nonprofit theatres. He lives in Swissvale where he spends his free time renovating his 90-year old house and trying to provide the best lives possible for his two rescue dogs, Dottie Mae and Boomer Ray, his cat, Freddie Purr-cury, and his husband, Kevin.

 

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