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 ( 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:, 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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Up late, up early: Studio AM

Tuesday, 16 December 2014 04:16 PM Written by

My name is Sean Beauford, I'm the curator for the creative agency, Studio AM. People often ask what we do, and the best answer I can give is: everything. Studio AM is a team of creatives who work to change Pittsburgh for the better. We work out of Homestead in a building that is part art studio, part office, and part showroom. We host parties, art shows, intimate concerts, and most recently, Sunday brunches. We work with other companies, providing a range of services from marketing to interior design to conceptualizing events and providing entertainment.

Studio AM is a team of young men, all in our twenties, and maybe the most important thing we do is mentor youth, and connect with them through art.

What I've discovered in this past year is that art is a tool more than anything else. It's a tool to speak without words; it's a tool to connect people of different backgrounds; and it's a tool to teach. Art has given me an opportunity to directly influence the lives of young children in a positive way. Art has made it possible for me to be a role model, which is something I take seriously.

greensburgsalem400 1

Greensburg Salem teachers, Dave Vuick and Jeremy Lenzi brought a few students to Studio AM for us to speak with them. Read Mr. Lenzi's recap here.

Working with children is something we're very passionate about at Studio AM, directly partnering with several Pittsburgh area schools as mentors and collaborators on short and long term projects. In the past few months, we've painted and spoken with a couple hundred kids. The nature of our interactions vary depending on the age of the student, but whether it's giving painting lessons, or giving them advice on how to make a living in art and business, each interaction is meaningful and is often more about life than art. I love collaborating with young artists because their passion and ambition is always pure. It's our job as adults, as working artists, to encourage children, and make them aware of possibilities. Children are the future, and it's up to adults to be patient and guide them in the right direction.

dream center400

Baron Batch and I at the Dream Center in Lubbock, TX, where Baron gave painting lessons.

In October, artist Baron Batch and I visited the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, where the art teacher, Alice Mentzer, has been educating students about Baron and his style of art (pop-x). As we were walking to the classroom, we saw in the hallway, artwork from each student, in the same style as Baron's. It turns out that upon being introduced to Baron's artwork, they discovered his painting of a Lion (also their school mascot) entitled "Silence Roars", and in that piece, they found inspiration. To learn that was moving to say the least. It's knowing that art can have that kind of impact on the lives of people that makes me want to never stop working.


Baron, Ms. Mentzer and I with the 8th grade art class at Western PA School for the Deaf.




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Spotlight: Bridgette Perdue

Monday, 10 November 2014 11:52 AM Written by



Up and coming singer/songwriter Bridgette Perdue is a new member of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. She is currently working on an album and a live show. As part of the Membership Spotlight Series, Eseosa Azenabor, GPAC Intern and 1st year Master of Entertainment Industry Management at Carnegie Mellon University, met with Bridgette.

GPAC: Tell us about yourself as an artist?
Bridgette: I am Bridgette Perdue and I am a singer songwriter. I play piano and write original pop, R&B music, do shows, create and all that fun stuff. My sound is upbeat, vibrant, positive, inspiring, and empowering with a little bit of wit. [laughs] I have been performing pretty much my whole life. My mom taught me how to play the piano from age 4 and so I stuck with it and trained throughout middle and high school and then went to Point Park for their conservatory program in musical theatre. I became serious about doing music full time starting in 2010.

GPAC: What are you working on now and what do you have coming next?
Bridgette: I am working on a new show called “Uncommon” because I wanted to do something outside the box. It will be taking place at the Hill House Kaufmann Center on November 20th at 7pm. In the show, I’m going to be playing different instruments, incorporating my dance background, spoken word, and visual art surrounding original work that will be in my upcoming album. The album is set to be released in early 2015.

GPAC: Are you a completely independent artist or are you signed to an independent label as well?
Bridgette: I’m a fully independent artist. I work with an awesome team of producers and musicians here in Pittsburgh and they don’t have a label so I’m not signed to any label.

GPAC: What are some challenges that you face as an independent artist?
Bridgette: Doing everything on your own can be difficult [laughs]. As an independent artist, a lot of it is grassroots effort and picking up the phone and making those calls, making personal connections and playing for however long it takes to build up that fan base where people will come out in larger numbers to see a show.

Bridgette 2
Bridgette performing at a local event

GPAC: What led you to become a member of GPAC and how long have you been a member?
Bridgette: I’ve known about GPAC and its services for a while. I’ve become affiliated with a lot of different organizations that are connected to GPAC so it seemed fitting for me to join.. I committed to become a member when they were promoting the Unleashed Artists Fund so my membership has been active for a few months.

GPAC: How has your membership been helpful for you?
Bridgette: It’s such a great resource to help young artists and help them figure out what their next step is or how to make the right connections. It’s an organization that serves the community of artists in Pittsburgh through resources, information, and they also provide great access to funding. They also have Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts and they were helpful when I needed legal advice.

GPAC: What GPAC resources are you expecting to use as a new member?
Bridgette: I expect to utilize the discounts offered and to take advantage of the different workshops being offered and also expect their support. They’ve always been a phone call away to discuss grants or project ideas or whatever else I have in mind.

GPAC: Do you have any parting thoughts?
Bridgette: I’m grateful for GPAC. It truly a gem and once artists take the time to see what GPAC has to offer, it really blows you away. I think it’s so special to have in our city. I think they really do fulfill their mission and that’s a good thing.

GPAC: How can people connect with you? (Web, Facebook, etc.)
Bridgette: My show calendar is available at, Facebook:, Twitter: @bridgetteperdue, Instagram: @bridgette_perdue


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Mapping Racism in the Arts

Friday, 24 October 2014 10:53 AM Written by


At the first event in a workshop series called Building Equity in the Arts, almost 20 people of mixed backgrounds spent three hours last Thursday night in open dialogue about how they experience racism in the arts. For those readers who instantly shudder at the thought, you are right—this was not a comfortable evening, because talking about race in America means acknowledging systematic inequality, injustice, violence, grief, and the guilt of white privilege.

By the end of the event, however, sharing the pain and discomfort we all feel (in our different ways) about racism had made us into a community. We may never again have exactly those people in that space meeting together, so it was a community for just a few hours, but it was real.  And we delved into some deep, important issues: recognizing structures of injustice, acknowledging our own responsibilities to combat racism, the effects of the “white savior complex,” and much more. The part of the evening that seemed to be most impactful for many of the attendees was the introduction of the “Poisoned Tree of Structural Racism,” an interactive visual art project to which the whole group contributed while educating each other about how racism pervades all of society, with the arts being no exception.

poisoned tree detail for blog

The downtown event, “Mapping Racism in the Arts” was a dynamic and hybrid production in so many ways.  Collaboratively imagined in consultation with Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council staff, the event was designed and facilitated by activist-artists etta cetera and Bekezela Mguni.  They were familiar with theory as well as action, used multimedia art to inspire discussion, varied the format in which people shared their thoughts and emotions, and included activities with different goals.  We were invited to think about racism as it affects us personally but also to think about how to take our learning back to our organizations.  The varied nature of the activities models a type of inclusion to which we can all aspire, in which we not only recognize that diversity (meaning differences) exist all around us, but also intentionally create expanded opportunities for all peoples to participate in our communities.

This is why the Coalition for Racial Equity in the Arts, facilitated by GPAC, wants to make regular and routine space for talking about structural inequities that affect all of our lives but make us uncomfortable to think about.  If we never address “the elephant in the room,” then we never stop being strangers and we all suffer.  Art is a reflection of “the real world” and we need to communicate, express, share, and together better understand what it means to be human.

poisoned tree of racism for blog

Poisoned Tree of Racism, from "Mapping Racism in the Arts" program on October 16


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Spotlight: Studio Capezzuti

Wednesday, 22 October 2014 03:14 PM Written by

Cheryl Capezzuti

On October 10th, artist Cheryl Capezzuti held her annual Art Car crafting event in her Brighton Heights backyard. Each year for First Night, people offer up their cars to be decorated for First Night’s Parade, and on this recent Saturday, artists and regular folks gathered in Cheryl’s home studio to create the structures for their mini-floats that will be in the parade. During the event, Eseosa Azenabor, GPAC Intern and 1st year Master of Entertainment Industry Management at Carnegie Mellon University, interviewed Cheryl.

GPAC: Tell us about yourself.
Cheryl: I’m primarily an independent artist, but I’m also the creative director for the First Night Pittsburgh Parade. So, here at my studio today, we’re making Art Cars, which are a parade feature, something we’ve been doing for at least 8 years. We take cars, slip cover them with muslin and turn them into blank canvases for creative use. When I’m not making art car, I am a puppet maker and a sculptor, producing community events that have giant puppets as a centerpiece.

GPAC: What are some of your creative influences?
Cheryl: When I was young, I met an artist named Sara Peattie who’s a puppet maker and her organization is The Puppeteers’ Co-operative. She’s a puppet maker and I learned a lot from her in a very short period of time. I was living in State College, PA and had no idea what I really wanted to do. I helped her with some workshops and then my community asked me to make some puppets. When I moved back to Pittsburgh, I told people “I’m a puppet-maker” and they believed me! And now 20 years, here I am, a puppet maker! Sometimes what your will to become, becomes. So my becoming what I am is because of Sara and her inspiration. And I think I find inspiration in everything, especially the things people thrown away. I see things that can be transformative.

GPAC: What is your creative process?
Cheryl: I use mostly recycled materials. I start with cardboard and things that other people throw away and do a lot of papier-mache and construction. I don’t really know where things come from, they just come!

GPAC: What are you working on now?
Cheryl: In addition to Art Cars I do workshops all over the community with kids and adults and families and I also produce theatrical works with a collaborator named Kellee Van Aken - we have a couple new puppet shows that are out right now. We’ve performed for the first time a couple weeks ago and we’re hoping to find more opportunities and venues over the next year.

Art Car Whale for webAn Art Car from First Night Parade.
Photo Courtesy of Don Orkosky

GPAC: What are some challenges that you face as an independent artist?
Cheryl: My studio is so mess! I trip over things! [laughs] You know, I’m one of those people who are not really inclined to look for challenges. I think that, for me, the reason I’ve been able to maintain a practice as an independent artist for 20 years is because I work like a dog. Maintaining constant work when you’re balancing a family and teaching is difficult. So I think that finding that balance between your professional life as an artist and your personal life is one of the hardest things to do and is one of the things, I think, a lot of people lose their creative energy over time because those sort of things end up taking over.

GPAC: What does GPAC membership mean to you?
Cheryl: For the first time, I was able to get insurance through GPAC. Not health insurance, but liability insurance for a gig I did in Edinboro teaching a workshop for college students and was required to have liability insurance as an independent contractor on their campus. Through GPAC I was able to get the liability insurance I needed which was great. It’s also nice to get monthly discounts I can use to support the arts community in Pittsburgh.

Art Cars 3Cheryl Capezzuti's backyard art paradise 

GPAC: What programs/events/projects do you have next? What should we be excited about?
Cheryl: An event I have coming up is a Puppet Making Happy Hour for grown-ups. It’s through the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust the second Thursday in December (12/11). It’s a 21 and over event where we make puppets. The Trust provides drinks, snacks, and a DJ - part hanging out and dancing, part making puppets for the First Night Parade. This year we’ll be building new pieces for the Pedi-Cabs to wear at the parade. And of course for the first night parade, we rely on between 300 and 400 volunteers to make it happen. Anyone who shows up by 7:30 on New Year’s Eve can put on a giant puppet and join the parade. I also have a giant puppet lending library where anyone in the world can go to the Braddock Library and check out a giant puppet for any reason. There’s also one in Bethel Park.

GPAC: What is an aspect of GPAC's programming that you really enjoy?
Cheryl: ArtDOG was so much fun! I got to dress my kid up as a little Dalmatian and I enjoyed the part, so that was a nice event. GPAC is a partner with the PA Partners in the Arts and I just a grant from them to continue working on my puppet library. Of course the happy hours are still so great even though I can’t attend them as much anymore.

GPAC: How can people connect with you?
Cheryl: I have a Facebook page called Puppets for Pittsburgh, my website,  or just This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


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