What are we going to DO, tonight??

Friday, 15 January 2016 02:15 PM Written by

 black rectangle with text that reads "What Do I Want To Do, Tonight"

How do you find free family-friendly events in your area? How do you find the right event - whether it’s comedy, craft, or cinema - for a date? How can you do either of these things without making the task an event in itself?

Artsburgh (Artsburgh.org), a new online listing of arts and cultural events, classes, and happenings throughout the region, was developed by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council to help people access arts and culture easily and with their own preferences.

“Right now throughout the region we have many arts and culture calendars and it’s really hard to locate what’s really going on over all,” said Jen Saffron, GPAC’s Director of Communications. “Artsburgh is designed to be that one-stop hub and, as it grows, that’s exactly what it’s starting to become.”

“It’s also a tool that’s great for arts organizations,” she explained, “because you can put your information into Artsburgh and it will feed out onto other calendars making your life easier.”

Artsburgh came about from a national conversation among colleagues that grew into what is now the Project Audience organization. Tiffany Wilhelm, GPAC’s Deputy Director, was in on some of the early discussions. Project Audience, a national nonprofit with funding from Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, seeks to address the fact that the arts and culture sector depends on audiences.

A recent NEA survey on the arts participation of adults in America reported that this activity had fallen from 39% in 1982 to 33.3% in 2012, a drop that occurred in cities across the country.

Recognizing that two-thirds of Americans do not participate in arts and culture at all, Project Audience and GPAC started to discuss what needed to be done as a sector -- not just locally and regionally -- but nationally to make the arts visible and important.

Said Saffron, “How can we make our art relevant and visible and important to others? Artsburgh is one answer to that question.”

Black square with the word Artsburgh in it and a round bubble of colorful pixels

Any arts and culture organization or artist can list an event on Artsburgh. There is no charge to the organization and they can go online and set up a user account right here.

Users who visit Artsburgh can use filters to tailor their experience and buy tickets and map directions onto their phone. “It’s not just a general listing,” she emphasized. “It’s meant to be customized for you.” It’s also customized for those who list events, with Artsburgh remembering user preferences and allowing for flexible event schedules.

In addition to paying for the development of the product, GPAC has also begun a marketing and advertising campaign to get the word out about Artsburgh. They have a marketing program with WPXI mobile marketing, online marketing programs with Treading Art, and Whirl magazine, and digital billboards on parkways around town. There is also a strong social media campaign with an Artsburgh Facebook page.

According to Saffron, although Artsburgh is only two months old, “it is something that is growing and evolving and we’re looking forward to having more arts and culture offerings so that the arts are more and more at top of mind for choices of what to do with our time, energy, and money. That’s really the goal.”



Join the conversation:

Welcoming the Creative Class

Wednesday, 02 December 2015 02:50 PM Written by


street scene of main street with shops, cars parked and lightposts
When Jack Kobistek became mayor of Carnegie six years ago, the town had an active arts scene, but, in his words, “it was kind of under the radar.”

There was -- and still is -- the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall which presented performances from Stage 62, a community theater company that produces traditional plays, the Gilbert and Sullivan group the Pittsburgh Savoyards, the Carnegie Performing Arts Center, and the music hall itself bringing in classical music performances. There was also jazz at the Third Street Gallery and outdoor jazz festivals. “They do a fabulous job of providing arts and culture,” say the mayor.

Three years ago things began to change when Off-The-Wall Productions and, soon after, the Pittsburgh New Works Festival, came to town. “That definitely took us to a new level when it came to arts and culture in the community,” Kobistek remembered. “That was a real turning point for us. When Off-The-Wall Productions came, they provided us with another venue -- and this venue is totally different from the venue at the library.

“This is a small, intimate theater and a professional theater group,” he continued. “Off-The-Wall Productions have professional actors that put on these very original avant garde plays. The plays they put on are very prominent when it comes to supporting women playwrights and different diversity issues. If you love theater, you’ll love what Off-The-Wall does.”

Building on this increase in artistic activity and visibility, the town is currently working with the Carnegie Community Development Corporation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to develop and grow the Carnegie community, to establish a cultural and professional district.

“The goal is to hopefully start attracting more unique artistic-based businesses, also attracting young artists,” states Kobistek. “There is some affordable housing in that area we believe would be very enticing to artists. We’re looking to make the area more of a traditional cultural district where it doesn’t become commercialized or cosmopolitan. We hope this can be a really fresh, unique area for artists.”

“To redevelop any town -- there’s a school of thought out there -- many communities that have used the arts to jump start their town have been very successful,” he says.

Referencing the work of urbanist and author Richard Florida, whose 2002 book “The Rise Of The Creative Class“ gave a name to this issue, the mayor speaks about his thoughts on what artists can bring to a town. “The arts bring in what they call the ‘creative class.’ I believe Richard Florida had the recipe: You bring in the creative class and what they do. They bring to town an energy that you can’t get always get.”According to Kobistek, artists bring to a town an eye for aesthetics: “Right off the bat they want to make your town look better.”

The arrival of the creative class also helps a town’s economy. “When your town looks better, people want to come to your town,” he says. “One of the biggest attractions for any town is the night life, what you have going on. The arts community always has a diversified night life. So it attracts so many different people to your town. It’s like a commercial every evening I guess you could say.”

“When people come to see a show, or a play, or any of the arts, they usually make it an evening, concluded the mayor. “It’s not like you’re coming in to shop at a grocery store -- you pick out a few items and you’re gone. You’re coming to town for an evening and you want to experience all that.”


Join the conversation:

Forget Zombies. This is about Mind Control.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015 11:14 AM Written by


woman in black trench coat standing on the Roberto Clemente Bridge, wearing an eye patch and passing out leaflets to passersby, standing next to another woman holding a sign that reads, "Ministry of Truth"Bricolage Production Company strives to the very edge of theater, even producing theatrical experiences where the audience members are blindfolded and led across town. In fact that production, Ojo, which debuted as part of the 2014 Three Rivers Arts Festival, just finished a run in San Diego at the La Jolla Playhouse’s Without Walls Festival.  The talk of the festival, Bricolage may even remount Ojo in yet another location, furthering their creativity and innovation and broadening the national conversation about contemporary theater.

Bricolage’s brand of adventurous theater often extends to the company’s marketing and PR efforts, sometimes mirroring the shows themselves. This type of marketing is about taking risks, but how scary is that, when we need to get butts in the seats?? We’re dealing with a scarcity of arts audiences in the U.S. right now, with the NEA reporting 2/3 of Americans never participating or attending ANY arts events. What does this mean for the risk-takers? An opportunity, or a threat?

Bricolage’s PR Director Emily Willson’s take: “I feel like a great way to get the message out about an event or show is to give audiences little taste of it, to experience similar emotions to what you might feel during the show, itself.” Currently in the middle of mounting George Orwell’s 1984 in Bricolage’s signature Midnight Radio format, the dystopian story was recently mirrored by a form of um, dystopian marketing – if there wasn’t such a thing before, there is, now!

If taking to the streets with immersive theater is where it’s at, then why not do the same with promotions? Far more interesting than a static postcard or poster, immersive PR sounds fun, but can also present challenges - far less control with the audience, for one.

“We specifically picked the Pirates’ playoff game because we knew there would be a huge number of people crossing the bridge, like a captive audience, and we staged a demonstration, handing out the manifesto of ‘The Party,’ the oppressive government entity described in Orwell’s novel.”

Continues Willson, “We were out in the streets, staging a mock demonstration with actors to draw attention to the show, not knowing if we’d be arrested or if we’d encounter angry or overly curious people. We had a run in with one of the vendors on the Roberto Clemente Bridge during the ballgame. He didn’t understand what we were doing with the mock demonstration – he thought we were selling something and trying to take away his customers. With this kind of marketing, we have to be prepared for anything.”

Parag S. Gohel, actor and the creator of the demonstration, agrees, “One of the most successful aspects of this guerrilla marketing campaign was the collaborative process involved in both creating it and experiencing it:  the actors had to work together, using cues to fabricate the presence of Big Brother and the passersby in downtown also had to work together using cues to decipher what was actually happening.  

“At the surface for anyone who saw us, we might have looked like another group of extreme activists taking the streets to impose our beliefs, but when someone read our leaflet containing terms and quotes from Orwell's 1984, or conferred with those around them, or physically went to the window of 937 Liberty Ave (Bricolage) - as we instructed - they put the pieces together, which created more of a buzz than simply handing out information about the show itself.”  

During the “demonstration,” actors encouraged passersby to “See the future, go to the window!” meaning to visit Bricolage’s living art installation in the window at 937 Liberty Avenue. This art installation by R.B. Scott features a live person during the day and disturbing, “eyeballed worker” at night. Working tireless away under the watch of Big Brother, the installation shows viewers the future, as imagined by Orwell’s classic novel.

Demonstrations and installations – two tactics Bricolage brings that reminds us that perhaps art is the lens through which to get people into yet more art.

1984 opens Thursday, October 29th and runs through November 14, 2015 at Bricolage Production Company, 937 Liberty Avenue. For more information, visit www.bricolagepgh.org.

Performers in the demonstration: Parag S. Gohel, Tonya Lynn, Joseph Martinez, Connor McCanlus, Mary C. Parker, Jen Schaupp, Jennifer Tober, Sarah Wojdylak 


Join the conversation:

A Theater of One's Own

Thursday, 08 October 2015 09:06 AM Written by


“When we moved to Carnegie our decision was to have the majority of all plays produced be written by women, also the majority directed by women,” said Hans Gruenert, co-founder of Off-The-Wall Productions. “All the plays that we pick have to have something to do with women’s issues.”

Off-The-Wall Productions is a professional Actors Equity theater company, one of five in the Pittsburgh area, and produces a minimum of four plays a year at Carnegie Stage. It began in 2007 in Washington, PA, when Virginia Wall Gruenert, co-founder and Artistic Director of the company, wrote a play called Shaken & Stirred.

“We originally started with one of her works,” said Hans. “We were new to the area and really didn’t know anybody. We decided to produce it all ourselves. We found a run-down facility in downtown Washington and we put the whole thing together.”

“I had a play inside of me that needed to come out -- and it just did,” she remembered. “And this is even before we had any thought of opening a theater. It was about four women who have been touched by alcohol, who were alcoholics themselves or in love with an alcoholic -- about how they survived. It just poured out of me.”

To stage the play, Virginia called an old friend from Massachusetts to direct, decided to play all of the roles herself, a friend’s daughter was brought on board as stage manager, and they located someone to handle the lighting. “It was sort of piecemeal, putting the puzzle pieces together,” she said “The first production was one actor --me -- and very limited sets, the way I love to do theater: the simpler the better.”

Shaken & Stirred was in 2007 and in 2008, says Virginia, “We got the ball rolling. I put some feelers out there and got some names of directors. I knew what plays I wanted to do in my head and I just needed to find a way to put it all together. After that we just took off.”

After a move to Carnegie in 2012, Hans stated, the company wasn’t the same as it was when it stated out in Washington.  “We basically started out a little on the mainstream side. We’re always looking for plays that are a little bit challenging, plays that have something to say.”  

The company’s emphasis on plays that have something to say, especially plays by women, has been recognized by the International Centre for Women Playwrights. In September, for the second year in a row, Off-The-Wall Productions received an award acknowledging that more than 50 percent of the plays it produced in 2014 were written by women.

In addition, in August, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize invited the Carnegie-based theater company to become one of its “Source Theatres” and was asked to submit a new play written by a woman to be considered for the Prize. The invitation included the following remark: “Your commitment to new plays and plays by women has distinguished you in the field, and we would be honored if you would join our family.”

Women are also a critical part of the day-to-day activities of the company. “Women are grossly under-represented in the theater and have been forever -- since the beginning of time,” said Virginia. “So I’m very much into gender-parity and there are women out there who are enormously talented and when I find them I hire them. My associate artistic director is female, my stage manager, my technical director, my costume designer. It’s wonderful to work with all these women and I love to work with female directors.

“It’s nothing against the guys -- we love the guys,” she concluded. “But I like to focus on talented women when I can because they don’t get the opportunity as much.”

Off-The-Wall’s production of Tunnel Vision by Andrea Lepcio begins performances at Carnegie Stage on October 16th and runs through October 31st.

This is the third part of our four-part There’s Something About Carnegie series.


Join the conversation:

There's Something About Carnegie, Part 2

Friday, 18 September 2015 11:32 AM Written by


night time image of old library building, looming in the dark trees with some of the lights on in the building's windows

Christine Smith thinks Carnegie is unique.

Smith is originally from the San Francisco Bay area and moved here about four years ago when she started the Treading Art blog. The blog covers arts and culture in the Pittsburgh area and doubles as an events-based marketing firm that works with local cultural organizations and non-profits. Treading Art, according to the website’s copy, “seeks to connect creative communities and the public.”

As for Carnegie, “It’s been fun to see how the town is unfolding,” she said. “Every couple of months something new pops up. But it’s not just generic bars but different, interesting things.”

For example, there’s the 3rd Street Gallery, a fine arts space which advertises itself as having a collection of local, national, and international artists in a variety of media.  “It’s also the studio for a gentleman named Philip Salvato,” said Smith. “And they host a lot of music events, primarily jazz, that are cool and that are BYOB.

Gallery with beautifully framed artworks hanging on yellow and white walls

“That’s something that’s interesting that’s happening in Carnegie,” she continued. “It’s kind of exciting - a fine arts space which is interesting because not every small town in this region has something like that.”

Carnegie also has the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall: part library, part theater, part dance studio, part exhibition space, and part concert hall, the building could be considered Carnegie’s artistic town hall.

“They call their library the ‘Carnegie Carnegie.’” reported Smith. “It’s a very cool space. The building itself is on top of a hill and is very beautiful. They have a sort of informal exhibition space that has rotating shows.”

The library’s Music Hall is home to Stage 62, a community theater group in residence at the space, and the Carnegie Performing Arts Center, dedicated to dance education. The Music Hall is booked throughout the year with a variety of performances and its acoustics have been favorably compared to those of Carnegie Hall in New York City.

A current exhibition at the library is a rare collection of 100 photographs of Abraham Lincoln taken between 1847 and his death in 1865.

“Not a lot of people know about it,” Smith said of the library’s activities. “They do really great programming and regularly.”

People in costume on an older stage, small twinkle lights around the proscenium

“My definition of art is not just visual -- it’s food and travel and poetry and music,” she said. “It’s everything together that makes the town interesting.”

For example, there’s now a mead winery in Carnegie -- Apis Mead & Winery. “It’s a kind of mead that’s made from honey or sometimes stone fruit. It’s a fermented drink,” Smith explained. “A gentleman who’s worked for Penn Brewery who makes a home-brewed mead has opened up a little shop in Carnegie. I think it’s artistic because it’s a craft that not many people are aware of. It’s not very common.”

“I think that’s the kind of thing that makes Carnegie unique,” she concluded.


Join the conversation:

There's Something About Carnegie, Part 1

Tuesday, 01 September 2015 10:02 AM Written by

Image of the backs of heads of an audience, facing the stage with red drapery curtains in the background. People are seated in the shape of a letter U.

This year marks the Pittsburgh New Works Festival’s 25th anniversary. And for over 20 years it has been presenting new, un-produced one-act plays in a variety of places throughout the city and its environs.

“We never had a physical location,” said Claire DeMarco, the Festival’s president. “Before I even got involved with the Festival there were some shows that occurred in Oakland and then we were in the South Side for some time in the Hamburg Theater that’s right beside City Theatre. After that we were in the Strip District.”

However, three years ago, the Festival found a home in Carnegie.

Why Carnegie?

“This will be our third year in Carnegie,” she said “The Off-The-Wall people, Hans Gruenert runs that establishment, asked us if we were interested in joining them as Carnegie is an up and coming place. We weren’t thinking of leaving McKees Rocks. But it really worked out well. We went and visited them and it was something we decided it was something we wanted to do.”

“When we moved to Carnegie it was probably the best thing that happened to us,” says Mindy Rossi-Stabler the Festival’s Director. “The community there is so welcoming and really eager. The mayor and everybody in the town are just nice people. I’ve got to know a lot of the restaurant people as we spend a great deal of time there. I’m usually there at every show. I spend a lot of time in Carnegie.”

This year’s New Works Festival runs through September 27th. For the four weekends in September audiences will get to see a total of 12 fully produced new plays at Carnegie Stage.

As for how this activity is helping the town of Carnegie, the Festival is taking an active role in collecting that information.

Board member Dek Ingraham shares, "We're a small organization with not a lot of monetary resources, so we've learned to work smarter.  We know a great deal about our audience and our impact on the community by using a variety of data tools from our membership with the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.  We're able to learn about our audience's demographics using the Audience Builder Co-op and have been able to calculate our contribution to the Carnegie community at around $47,000 by using GPAC's Economic Impact Calculator.  We're proud that we can give back to this amazing community that has been so welcoming of our Festival." It doesn't hurt that Dek is also the Technology Specialist at Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

According to Rossi-Stabler the Festival is bringing a whole new set of people to the town. “The month of September is a really vibrant thing there because we’re there Thursday through Sunday,” she said. “I think a lot of people in town really support the businesses.  They come to the theater and go out after. I’m hoping that that’s the case. It’s certainly a lovely community and this space is wonderful. We’re very lucky to be there. I know it’s a really good fit for us and it’s a good fit for them as well.”


Join the conversation:

Peripatetic Passions in Korea and Vietnam

Wednesday, 05 August 2015 02:37 PM Written by

Five people in a restaurant in Korea, dressed in business clothes for a business luncheon. One man seated at the left, two women standing behind and two seated at the right in a group portrait.
As Research & Policy Director for the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, I have a passion for how public policies can help artists and cultural organizations serve the public via direct funding, tax incentives, education regulations, and intellectual property protections, among others.  

Another one of my passions is international travel. So when my wife Susan and I planned a June vacation to South Korea and Vietnam, I decided to combine my passions and meet with fellow cultural policy wonks in both countries. Why, not.

As Susan and I do more traveling, we're finding that intentionally meeting people with shared interests, and then staying in touch afterwards, is a great way to "extend" our trips well beyond photos and souvenirs.  For Susan, as President of the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh, we met with Tran Tuyet Lan, Director of Craft Link, a non–profit Fair Trade organization in Hanoi that helps traditional craft producers to revive their cultures, earn a fair wage, and market their work worldwide.  Very impressive organization.  

Now, to be honest, our trip wasn't all such high-minded faire. As one friend said, It was very "Bourdainey" (as in Anthony Bourdain). Yes, lots of eating--from "Jungsik," the noted restaurant in the Gangam district of Seoul featuring "new Korean" cuisine to touring the food stalls of Hanoi to finding locals' favorite versions of Pho (rice noodle soup with beef) and Bun Thit Nuong (vermicelli with grilled pork) to whipping around the streets of Saigon on the back of Vespas seeking fresh seafood and Banh Mi sandwiches. (I guess food is a passion too).  

Another "Bourdainey" feature of our travels was an extended "layover" in Seoul.  We originally were just passing through on our way to Hanoi, but elected to hang out for a few days and visit with three of my former students from the Master of Arts Management program at Carnegie Mellon University, where I'm an adjunct faculty--Sophia Ahn, and Bomin Angela Choi,Yejin Kang--who are now living and working in Seoul.  Lovely chance to catch up (and eat).  

Eight people standing in a group portrait on the steps of an educational building, in Vietnam.

Sophia and Yejin were also part of the meeting I set up with noted cultural policy scholar Dr. Kiwon Hong, director of the Cultural Administration program at Sookmyung Women's University, and arts research consultants Dr. Chae Boyeon  and Jee-Hye Suh.  Fascinating discussion.  South Korea is dealing with how to "professionalize" its arts sector, how to expand public dollars for the arts beyond relying on a percentage of movie admissions, and how best to fund the humanities.  I hope to return in 2016 for the International Conference on Cultural Policy Research, which Dr. Hong is hosting for the first time in Asia.  

On to Hanoi where I met with officials and researchers at the state-run Vietnam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies. I heard about their 15-year plan to develop creative industries in Vietnam with UNESCO support.  They were very interested in American approaches to arts administration and cultural policy training, fundraising, and creative placemaking.  Since the visit I've sent along many a link to resources in the States and Europe on these and related topics.  

Finally, in Saigon, I visited with the Foreign Office head of the Ho Chi Minh Conservatory of Music, who acknowledged that Vietnamese parents, like those in America, worry about whether their music major offspring can find jobs after graduation.  I've sent him research from Indiana University's Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, which shows that arts graduates, contrary to many media reports, do quite well on a range of financial and quality-of-life measures, especially those who are resourceful entrepreneurs.  

Mixing personal and professional passions is a great way to travel.  We certainly learned that in South Korea and Vietnam.  Now, where to apply this approach next?  Bon voyage.    

David B. Pankratz is Research and Policy Director at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

Join the conversation:

Neu Kirche projections

Pittsburgh has been enjoying a rhythm of renaissance as it continues to attract boomerangers and transplants that inspire new ideas fused with that unbreakable Pittsburgh spirit. New ideas include the attraction of artists and creative workers to neighborhoods in transition. While the press has continuously praised us for neighborhood and economic progress and even President Obama comments on Pittsburgh as a role model for revitalization, any city experiencing changes can fall prey to power players seeking to command the vibrancy of our neighborhoods, which is deadly to the arts.

Art’s role is more about breaking boundaries, even sometimes causing discomfort. With a tenacity focused on exploding boundaries in an inclusive, neighborhood way, Neu Kirche Contemporary Art Center has planted new roots in a stained-glass filled historic church in East Deutschtown and just celebrated its one-year anniversary.

Neu Kirche functions not as an exclusive arts organization - it is a community center in its truest form, in a neighborhood lacking basic services. This is refreshing, contrasting art groups all over the globe who use the trendy phrase “community engagement” in an effort to join the social responsibility movement but barely practice it beyond their mission statement. Neu Kirche walks the walk.

A smile-inducing example of Neu Kirche’s commitment to authentic community work is their face-to-face interaction with neighbors, resulting in hands-on art collaborations. Neu City’s July Resident Artist, Georgina Brett, spent a recent afternoon with nearby residents asking them to create imprints of their hands in clay that will later be displayed around her garden project. Outdoor initiatives involve surrounding homeowners, who lend their empty lots for these exploratory public works: gardens, sculptures, performances, illumination.

three middle school aged children playing with a sculptural ball on a pole, in a garden

While restoring its church building headquarters on Madison Avenue and improving surrounding lots of East Deutschtown, a neighborhood cut off from amenities by a major highway, Neu Kirche is determinedly striving to bring uplifting programs and opportunities lacking in a community both rooted in heritage and also plagued by blight. I know how difficult it can be to produce new programs in a rapidly evolving location while trying to maintain a balance of tradition and contemporary practices but Neu Kirche isn’t deterred and is in fact, showing success both with neighbors and with artists.

Their Bach PGH program offers artist residencies for women artists from New Zealand, reciprocating by sending Pittsburgh artists to New Zealand. This offers a solution to the lack of international influence available here and focuses a portion of the spotlight on artistic environments beyond our region. Neu Kirche will offer their regular programming throughout August including youth and adult yoga in addition to an Open Artist Critique & Conversation (8/12), closing reception for Verklären (8/14) and they will be a stop on the Office of Public Art’s Public Art Bike Tour (8/27).

This progressive approach also extends to their gallery space. It doesn’t quite hit the high-end commercial mark but does offer a level of professionalism to the pursuit of creative exploration within a neighborhood context.

As well as public programs such as gallery talks and receptions, Neu Kirche offers artist-driven discussions of self-evaluation during their Artist Critiques – artists bring their work and discuss in a professional development, salon style session.

As Neu Kirche roots itself in community practice, a portion of their work focuses on youth programs. Oreen Cohen, Community Programs Coordinator, has genuinely befriended (and the whole staff, really) the neighborhood youth. Oreen recently told me about the evenings she has spent at the nearby defunct basketball court hanging out and listening. These conversations are turning into hands-on art projects such as teaching welding as a means to get the basketball court back in action.

In addition to all of theses initiatives there are others and I hope their admirable number of endeavors does not weigh them down because they increase the already incredible breadth of what Pittsburgh has to offer. Whether you are a part of the creative community here in Pittsburgh or perhaps feel slightly intimidated I encourage you to attend one of Neu Kirche’s events. They are truly more like celebrations, the direction in which our fine city is no doubt headed.  

Christine Smith writes the blog, Treading Art including a weekly-curated events listing, the Weekend Treadings.   


Join the conversation:

There's Something About Braddock, Part 4

Wednesday, 15 July 2015 11:44 AM Written by

 Grey and dark blue corner of a contemporary building with orange numbers stating 501, black lamppost and sidewalk to the right

When John Fetterman became mayor of Braddock in 2006, the arts were a crucial part of his strategy for the revitalization of the town.

“When you’re dealing with a community that’s a fantastic community but has suffered so severely the way Braddock has the arts just make sense,” said Fetterman. “Artists are known for seeing things differently. When you have a community where 90% of population is gone, folks that can help re-imagine are one of the things that are needed.”

One of the first things the town did was to secure a long-term lease for a building on Braddock Avenue. They offered free space to anyone that wanted to move to Braddock. “That was kind of a real revolutionary idea,” he said. “Would anybody come out to Braddock at 8 o’clock or 9 o’clock at night to make art in this vacant building?”

According to the mayor, the response was overwhelming and both artists and musicians flocked to work out of that building. “That was really the first example of arts programming in Braddock that really brought people out to the community,” he said.

When the town lost that lease, a new space was found in an old Catholic school that during the summer hosts gallery openings each month and offers old classrooms that can be rented as art studios.

More permanent artists living/work spaces are being made available. “We are about to start construction on the building where we had the artists come in 2006,” reported Fetterman. “It’s being converted into loft-style apartments that are going to be very conducive and inspired by like-minded people who are looking for a more raw space to live and work out of.“ In addition, artists are purchasing homes in town for as low as $5,000 and moving right in to create their own work spaces.

In addition to recent productions by Barebones Productions and Bricolage Production Company, the mayor mentioned arts activities in Braddock that included two plays by Quantum Theatre (one of which took place in the library’s old swimming pool), concerts sponsored by Levi’s that sold out in a matter of minutes, and a Flux event that brought several thousand people to town. He also name-checked the UnSmoke Systems Artspace and Braddock Avenue Books as examples of the wide-ranging arts activities in the town. “We have really tried to make arts a part of the revitalization efforts,” he said.

“I count the arts as culinary arts, too,” he continued. Speaking about the Brew Gentlemen Beer Company, he said: “You have guys there who are beer technicians. These guys are experts in what they do and they create some of the best beer that’s being made anywhere let alone just in Western Pennsylvania. That’s an incredible opportunity and they bring out a ton of people.”

Together with the plans for the new Kevin Sousa restaurant Superior Motors, Fetterman said, “Bringing in those types of individuals that can appreciate and see value in Braddock, that’s the reason why I’m such a staunch believer in how the arts are such an important and necessary part of any revitalization strategy.”

There has also been a recent surge in filmmaking efforts in town, though notably filmmaker and Braddock native Tony Buba’s “Lightning Over Braddock” came out in 1988. “The joke is Braddock is Hollywood on the Mon,” he said. The movie “Out of the Furnace” with Christian Bale and Woody Harrelson was filmed in Braddock and the recent “Me and Earl and The Dying Girl,” which won awards at Sundance was also filmed in town. “I would say that’s part of the arts as well” the mayor said, “bringing that level of awareness of a very unique and special place.”

“We’re an open, tolerant community that encourages people to come in and move their theater company here, move their small craft operation here, whether they want to be part of the production like Quantum or Bricolage,” the mayor concluded. “You can participate in Braddock at any level you’re comfortable with. That’s the thing that really drives us and Braddock.” 


Join the conversation:

Privilege, Access, and the Arts

Thursday, 02 July 2015 11:38 AM Written by

Photographic portrait of man laughing, with a short beard and glasses and dressed in a blue suit with a white shirt and bowtie.This past June, I had the opportunity to present at the first Cultural Equity Preconference at the 2015 American for the Arts (AFTA) gathering in Chicago, IL. Over 100 people spent three rigorous days thinking about art, diversity, and their own communities. Each presentation created space for me to consider, reflect, and question. From chats over lunch about gay zombie theater to bus rides investigating the urgent need to include dialogue about ability and accessibility in social justice movements, every interaction was steeped in expansive conversations.

During my time at the conference, I was dangerously close to feeling like I don’t get to engage in conversations like this in Pittsburgh. However, that simply isn’t true. Here in Steeltown, I am a theater artist and youth worker wearing many hats and constantly thinking about, and hopefully impacting, who engages in art. I facilitate youth programming at The Andy Warhol Museum, create original performance with queer and allied teens at Dreams of Hope, and generate socially engaged theater with Hatch Arts Collective. So really, it seems that I can’t talk about anything other than diversity and art.

That said, there was a lot happening in Chicago that made the dialogue feel unique. Being at the AFTA pre-conference afforded me the opportunity to be surrounded by dozens of folks constantly thinking about privilege, access, and the arts. And unlike much of my time in Pittsburgh, the conference provided me with 72 continuous hours when I wasn’t the only queer person of color in the room. I didn’t have people turning to me every time someone asked a question about diasporic arts or LGBTQ+ experience. Instead, there were many voices in the room that could respond. We weren’t in danger of “single stories” (as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's would say) curating the experience of entire communities.  

There is an immense pressure put on minority folks amidst overwhelmingly straight white groups to not only sum up the experience of minorities, but to validate or explain decisions made that directly impact minority and marginalized communities. Chicago provided me with time away from that pressure to have a chance to breathe and realize how revolutionary it is for multiple folks from minority communities (pluralism) to be at the table.

Reflecting on my time at AFTA has led me to be even more passionate about finding and facilitating spaces in Pittsburgh where multiple voices from minority experiences are empowered. The Transformative Arts Process (TAP) at the Heinz Endowments is thinking about cultural equity quite diligently.

TAP “is focused on building the field of those working in and through the arts in African American and distressed neighborhoods.” An advisory board has been assembled to bring this mission to life. The makeup of the advisory board alone sets this work apart from so many initiatives I’ve been a part of. Nearly everyone on the board works or lives in the communities TAP is hoping to impact, more than 80% of the board members are people of color, some identify as queer, and a third of the group is currently in high school. This works.

Individuals are not being asked to represent the entirety of marginalized experiences. This is key to developing culturally equitable communities and authentic arts programming. The communities at large must be at the table, and not as tokenized representatives from specific communities. No accident that during AFTA, TAP’s work in Pittsburgh caught the attention of leaders from across the country. I hope leaders in Pittsburgh also take notice.

Attending the American for the Arts Conference was an incredible opportunity. Being surrounded by national leaders was inspiring, motivating, and rejuvenating. It also fueled my commitment for the work happening here in Pittsburgh. I am grateful to have moment to reflect and celebrate, and now am ready to get back to work. 



Join the conversation:

Page 1 of 4