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.

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.




Published in The Arts Blog
Wednesday, 21 March 2018 14:21

The State of the Art(s)


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.”

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


Published in The Arts Blog

 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.


Published in The Arts Blog
Monday, 04 December 2017 11:02

Pittsburgh is Artsburgh!

Flex Pass SQUARE BlackDon’t you love when you have an idea, and after years of putting thought into it, but not much else, an answer falls into your lap? That’s what happened with the Artsburgh Flex Pass when I met Rusty Thelin from Real/Time Interventions at Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council's Annual Meeting. We started a dialogue about how to develop a program that would allow arts fans from all over the city to buy tickets from one place and use them at hundreds of events, offering more choice and flexibility. With the support of Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council (GPAC), our customizable event technology, and a steering committee that includes Rusty Thelin and Molly Rice from Real/Time, Dek Ingraham from GPAC, Rene Conrad from the New Hazlett Theater, we are proud to present Artsburgh Flex Passes.

Artsburgh Flex Passes invite arts fans to purchase tickets that can be used at any participating arts event. Partner organizations and available events are searchable on Artsburgh.org, and passes are available now. Flex Passes allow for unlimited flexibility: buy as many passes as you like and see one show at the New Hazlett, an innovative new performance at Real/Time, and a new play at Pittsburgh New Works, or grab the squad and head out together to see a Texture Contemporary Ballet performance! This innovative opportunity for ticket buyers and ticket sellers alike allows for the ultimate in flexibility.

Brian Arnone, President of ShowClix and CRO of Patron Technology, expressed excitement over the partnership saying, “ShowClix is thrilled to partner with Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and so many local arts organizations, and to have the opportunity to showcase our platform to such a broad audience.”

Mitch Swain, CEO of Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, agrees: “Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council is pleased to join ShowClix to offer the Artsburgh Flex Pass – this partnership will lift the visibility and viability of our high-quality arts scene while offering great deals to arts lovers. Artsburgh is the perfect vehicle to make this happen – our new event site that showcases to many art happenings. It’s easy to find everything you want in arts and culture in Artsburgh.”

Be sure to learn more about the Artsburgh Flex Pass and place your order today. We hope to see you at a performance soon!

Artsburgh is generously supported by UPMC Healthplan.


Published in The Arts Blog
Wednesday, 12 April 2017 12:00

Ripple Effects and Advocating for the Arts


Capitol building at nightThe Trump administration’s “skinny” budget calls for elimination of federal funding for the arts, humanities, and public broadcasting. What does this proposed blow mean for our region and what can we do about it?
In response, on March 20 - 21, 2017, twenty arts advocates from Southwestern Pennsylvania led by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council joined 700 peers from across the country in Washington, DC for Americans for the Arts’ 30th annual Arts Advocacy Day.  The gathering aimed to collectively advocate for strong public policies and continued public funding for the arts, humanities, and public broadcasting at the federal level.   
Our delegation met individual staff members in the offices of Senators Casey and Toomey and Representatives Barletta, Cartwright, Dent, Doyle, Kelly, Murphy, Rothfus, Shuster, and Thompson and asked for: 

  • A slight increase in National Endowment for the Arts annual funding to $155M
  • $30M for U.S. Department of Education K-12 arts education programs
  • Level funding of $445 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
  • Preservation/expansion of incentives for tax-deductible contributions to the arts
  • Training, mini-loans, and tax fairness for artists and creative entrepreneurs
  • Strengthening cultural exchanges through the U.S. State Department 

Yes, we supported our case with hard figures about how these funds and policies:

  • have received strong bipartisan support for decades
  • ensure access to the arts in all Congressional districts in PA and nationwide 
  • create capacities and needed by K-12 students for the jobs of the future
  • stimulate individual giving, and contribute to a 9 to 1 return on investment 
  • improve the health and well-being of military veterans and older Americans 

And we also shared stories of how Pittsburgh-area arts organizations and residents in the area benefitted from NEA funds, for example:

  • Society for Contemporary Craft’s “Mindful: Exploring Mental Health Through Art” exhibit featured works by artists living with mental illness, and helped the public learn about the role of the arts in healing via partnerships with health  providers
  • The Office of Public Art (OPA) is serving immigrant communities with 2-year artist residencies that increase the capacities of immigrant populations to participate in future community development initiatives
  • The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council’s Accessibility Initiative helps area arts and culture organizations welcome and accommodate people with disabilities as patrons, artists, employees, and volunteers 

What can Pittsburgh-area arts advocates do now?

Refining our messages will be key.  Whether shared with members of the public via social media and GPAC’s website, with elected officials in follow-up meetings, or with arts and culture leaders at Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council's May 2nd Annual Convening, Future Tense, our messages will be based, in part, on the approach of the national communications firm Topos Partnership as expressed in their recent “How to Talk About Saving the NEA” and the classic “The Arts Ripple Effect.”     

Their approach emphasizes one key organizing idea: A thriving arts sector creates ripple effects of benefits throughout our community, even for those who don’t attend.  Topos Partnership research shows that the following are broad-based benefits that people already believe are real—and that they value vibrant, thriving places where people want to live, visit, and work, and lively neighborhoods where diverse groups share common experiences, hear new perspectives, and understand each other better. The arts are a catalyst for these kinds of places.

In turn, the “ripple effects” idea can shape subsequent conversations in important ways.  It moves people away from thinking about private concerns and personal interests (me) and toward thinking about public concerns and communal benefits (we). Importantly, people who hear this message often shift from thinking of themselves as passive recipients of consumer goods, and begin to see their role as active citizens interested in addressing the public good.  The arts’ value to the public is a critical part of building support for the NEA, activating citizens as advocates, and offering decision-makers a rationale that resonates with their constituents.  

There is no shortage of federally-funded projects and initiatives in Greater Pittsburgh, including those cited above, that illustrate the many ripple effects of public benefits to our community. The arts benefit all citizens, including under-served groups and even those who do not directly participate in the arts - the NEA, for example, funds projects in each Congressional District. It's a measured fact that the arts increase vibrancy, interconnectedness, and vitality of communities across the United States. These critical public benefits don't just happen by accident, but require public investment - policy and funding that makes a difference, for all of us.

Thsi blog post is part of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council's Art Speaks Advocacy Campaign. To learn more, visit here.
David B. Pankratz is the Research and Policy Director at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and is an adjunct instructor in the Master of Arts Management Program in the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University.



Published in The Arts Blog

Photograph of artists in the lobby of a theater, talking, laughing and eating together.

I was at a national arts conference, surrounded by movers and shakers. You know who stood out? You know who brought the real questions, the truths grounded in a track record of building cultural community?

The artists and thinkers from Pittsburgh.

I said: time to go to Pittsburgh.

For the past two years, I have been coming here from Philadelphia, connecting with artists and sharing resources about how artists build sustainable lives.

I offer you: Three Observations From an Outsider With a Crush on Pittsburgh.

1) Damn, you have good people.

Pittsburgh has some unbelievable artists and arts leaders.

Marcel Walker is doing a series of comic books, Superheroes of the Holocaust. So crucial in this divisive time to remember those with the courage to stand up.

DS Kinsel creates and curates through BOOM Concepts, the smartest and most relevant placemaking I have seen anywhere in this country. Real artists building real community.

Do you know about “community based illustration?” Genevieve Barbee draws the everyday lived experiences of Pittsburgh.

Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council does more for working artists than any similar organization I have seen (including, ahem, Philly’s equivalent). Their Having our Say survey looked closely and candidly at working conditions for Pittsburgh artists. Lots of cities need to copy that.

Gil Teixeira makes music for prison musicalsstreet choirs for those who are suffering, and orchestras of cellphones.

Janera Solomon curates more than art; she curates civic honesty. There’s a beautiful future for Pittsburgh and America, and it passes through the transformative art and righteous conversations Solomon programs.

2) But you don’t always appreciate them.

Pittsburgh has brilliant artists and arts leaders, people poised to lead the national conversation about building an equitable arts and culture sector. But that doesn’t mean y’all always listen to them. Like in Philly, Pittsburghers can be unimpressed with their own, quick to look to an outside “expert” over a brilliant local. My Philadelphia dance company got a lot more love in Philly after our first big show in New York. “Wow, you guys must be good.” Um, we’ve been here, doing this, for years.

Raise up your homegrown geniuses. Listen to them, fund them, follow them. The national conversation needs the insights of Pittsburgh artists and arts professionals. If these people were in New York or Berlin or Paris, they would get rock star treatment. Why does so much of Gil Teixeira’s most exciting work happen overseas? Why isn’t DS Kinsel running everything? When will Janera Solomon be president?

3) Redevelopment is coming.

Pittsburgh is on the cusp of massive redevelopment and neighborhood change. Whatever you’re picturing, it’s bigger than that, by a lot. Those of us who have been through it in Philly recognize the signs.

Artists and arts organizations can do a lot at this moment to root yourselves in communities and neighborhoods. Buy. Don’t rent. Buy.

And think big. I know some born-and-raised Baltimore artists who are talking about buying a block—a whole block in Baltimore—to build art and community by and for the neighborhood.

And, yes, artists play a complicated role in redevelopment. But local Pittsburgh artists rooted in communities are crucial architects of a Future Pittsburgh that is brave, inclusive, and fun as hell to live in.

Plan or be planned for, as they say. Artists and arts leaders are crucial partners in equitable and thoughtful redevelopment, but too often we are not at the table. Every conversation about redevelopment should include an artist and an arts leader. Want to understand displacement? Talk to an artist who lives and works in the neighborhood she grew up in. Want to understand what turns residents into neighbors? Talk to a community arts leader who builds real dialogue and connection.

Artists are a core strength of the city and its neighborhoods, a key reason why people stay and, more and more, why people come to Pittsburgh.

And why I can’t wait to come back.

Andrew Simonet is an artist, writer, and founder of Artists U. Photo: from the 2016 Regional Artist Info Session at the New Hazlett Theater.


Published in The Arts Blog
Thursday, 23 February 2017 12:18

PechaKucha Coming Atcha


Black logo with white letters spelling out Pecha Kucha, with a Pittsburgh skyline in the background

PechaKucha 20x20 uses a simple yet compelling presentation formula. Each speaker submits 20 images and each image is displayed for exactly 20 seconds before —Click!— and the next image automatically take its place. It’s a terrifying, thrilling, and exacting form and not always easy for speakers to follow, but follow it they must.

PechaKucha speakers are disciplined, inspiring, funny, humane, and —brief.  Their topics are art, film, design, conservation, humanity, community and —beloved. The common thread that runs through each presentation is the speaker’s love and passion for their topic and their desire to share it with others.

AIA, AIGA, & GPAC organize and host three Pittsburgh PechaKucha Nights a year, with a goal to inspire creatives and others, alike. They will host the next PechaKucha on March 2, 2017 at 6pm at Alloy 26, 100 S Commons (Northside). For advance tickets, go here.  Tickets are $10 for AIA/AIGA/GPAC members and $15 for non-members, and include drinks, food, presentations, and networking.

Briefly here’s an overview of just 5 of the scheduled speakers:


Brick wall with an artistic clay relief, framed, mounted to the wall.
1. Photographer/lawyer Glenn
Olcerst will be sharing images of houses in the Mexican War Streets with a focus on the exterior decorative arts. Glenn believes public art enhances neighborhood communication through artistic and cultural expressions, is a tool for community design and neighborhood improvement, and that public art promotes safety, diversity, education, and development. Glenn is a stonecutter as well as a commercial and fine art photographer who believes that making something beautiful out of nothing brings happiness and healing to both the artist and to the community.


2. ROY, a metal artist, will present her humanitarian project, “Midnight Helpers,” an aid effort for Syrian refugees. In 1922, ROY’s grandfather survived the massacre and great fire of Smyrna and settled as a refugee on the island of Chios, Greece. This family history, plus a recent visit to Chios, inspired ROY to assemble a team of volunteers to help Syrian refugees who have landed in Chios. Since October, Midnight Helpers has gather and shipped 3 tons of materials— clothes, food, shampoo, toothpaste— to support the efforts of the people of Chios as they welcome the recent flood of the refugees on their shores.  All goods and man hours have been donated by individuals and business partners such as Stamoolis and Kahil’s Restaurant, the only cost is shipping.


Palms of a woman's hand holding bird specimens that are tagged, as in a taxidermy display

3. In 2016, artist and illustrator, Ashley Cecil, was an artist-in-residence at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Among the vast archives, Ashley found and fell in love with the many specimens of Pennsylvania birds. Bird strikes, the phenomena of birds, confused by large areas of reflective glass, flying into buildings and dying from the impact, both moved and inspired her. At PechaKucha, Ashley will share the projects she initiated to grow awareness of the bird strike problem. Her projects included a mural of PA birds designed to be colored in by the community, an art class for youths and the coordination of four local artists to create bird themed gift shop items whose proceeds will help fund the bird strike research project.


Smiling African American woman with glasses, white shirt and cardigan, seated at her desk and looking at the viewer4. In July, Kahmeelah Freidman, Office of Public Art, will lead the 48 Hour Film Project where local filmmakers will have just 48 hours to write, shoot, and edit a 7 minute film.  Kahmeelah’s presentation will illustrate how the decade-old event has become more than a competition; it has become a rite of passage for young filmmakers in the 150 cities where the event is held. The 48 Hour Film Project provides opportunities for new filmmakers to make important industry connection and many of the 7-minute films they create become the basis for future feature length projects. Here’s how it works, at the beginning of the weekend each filmmaking team draws out of a hat the genre they must work in, and they are also all given—



—a line of dialogue and a prop that must be incorporated into the final product, which guarantees that the films are ‘fresh’ made over the weekend. Ultimately, the winning entry in Pittsburgh will compete with filmmakers from around the world at Filmapalooza 2018 for a grand prize and an opportunity to screen their film at the Cannes Film Festival 2018.

5. From her unique position as an architect working with artists to create public art Sallyann Kluz, Office of Public Art, will share insights gleaned from both artists and architects about creating art and building communal spaces for the public realm. Plus, Sallyann will explore how working with artists can change mindsets and refresh ways of seeing the world. (image: people practicing yoga atop the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, in the presence of "For Pittsburgh", artist Jenny Holzer's LED artwork)

People practicing yoga atop a building at night, with a bluish light and skyscrapers in the background

March 2nd speakers also include Hayley Haldeman, Matthew Schlueb, Mark Dietrick, and Matthew Ketchum sharing their passions ranging from a love of creative people and their art to the Italian town of Volterra to creative tools and process in architectural practice.




Published in The Arts Blog


Group of about 12 people standing in the street, looking at a mural painted on the side of a brick building. The mural is a blue and purple shrouded head with multiple eyes.

When the Re:NEW Festival, a month-long celebration of creative reuse, sustainability, and transformation hits Pittsburgh on September 9, Neu Kirche Contemporary Arts Center will be ready.

That’s because one of the arts organization’s most striking—and highly visible—exhibits, the Fallow Grounds sculpture series, is already in place and accessible to the public. During the month-long Re:NEW Festival, Neu Kirche staff will provide guided tours of the sculptures, which invite artists to take vacant lots in Neu Kirche’s East Deutschtown neighborhood, on Pittsburgh’s North Side, and “activate” them—transforming these unused spaces into sites that encourage conversation and interaction.

How to activate a space is left up to each individual artist, and approaches have been wildly varied—from a community oven to calls for residents to bring unwanted items from their basements to public events inviting neighbors to stop and chat. But Neu Kirche encourages all artists to utilize recycled, found, and reusable materials in innovative ways, considering new and creative ways to make use of vacant spaces and discarded materials.

“We encourage Fallow Grounds artists to use what’s in the neighborhood as well as what they can find for a project,” said Aisha White, events and programs manager.

That fits perfectly with the spirit of the Re:NEW Festival, which seeks to recognize Pittsburgh’s emerging community of artists working with sustainability and re-use in mind. The festival, making its debut from September 9 through October 9, 2016, offers international art exhibits, live music and performances, artists working directly in local schools, a touring film festival, a regional juried art show held in a vacant building, markets selling work made from upcycled materials, and more.

“We started thinking how the many vacant lots in our community are perceived and decided to focus on the positive opportunities they presented,” said Lee Parker, Neu Kirche’s executive director. “Our artists took this further, addressing a variety of social, economic, and political issues surrounding our evolving urban landscapes.”

The Fallow Grounds sculpture series runs from June to October, with an artist invited to activate a new lot each month. Neu Kirche will lead guided tours of this summer’s activated spaces on Sunday, September 11, and Sunday, September 25 at 1p.m. beginning at Neu Kirche.

The September 11 tour will feature a public “barn raising” as part of "Matthias Neumann’s “Bench IV (Basics)” installation work, for which the Brooklyn-based artist created a functional bench from sustainably sourced wood. The public is invited to the barn-raising to help assemble the three-piece structure, too. Meet at noon in an adjacent lot called the “Tripoli Street Bake Yard,” a public art space by artist Michelle Illuminato, for a brief cookout, tour the immediate area of public art, and then put an actual public art piece together!

Tripoli Street Bake Yard invites community members to cook and share around an outdoor wood-fired oven, and tour goers can find out about this public art piece as well as Amy Masters’ “Roadside Attraction,” a large-scale interactive sandwich sculpture and “Northside Civil Encounters,” by New Zealand artists Monique Redmond and Layne Waerea, which invites locals and passersby to participate in “mobile encounters” ranging from conversation to the exchange of products and services and other events aimed at stimulating civil encounters between neighbors. Several Fallow Grounds works from 2015 remain installed throughout the neighborhood, as well as murals painted by local artists Tom Sarver and Nick Sardo.

Neu Kirche takes a holistic approach to art-making, embracing all forms of contemporary art and offering an array of diverse programming that includes public art programs, event space, gallery showcases, and an international residency. Parker founded the organization after a number of years living in New Zealand. Neu Kirche has a particular interest in supporting women in the arts while providing opportunities for all artists, regardless of gender, age, race, or religion.

The organization is itself a model of creative reuse, housed in the First Emmanuel Evangelical Church, a once-abandoned building in the East Deutschtown neighborhood of Pittsburgh’s North Side. The church was built in 1889 during an influx of German, Croatian, and Austrian immigration into the North Side. Looking out over the I-279 highway, the church serves as a reminder of Pittsburgh’s history and its constantly changing character.

Adam Reger is a writer, editor, and teacher.


Published in The Arts Blog

         Women sitting at a table with bric a brac, making collages and art

It’s hard to imagine a better fit than the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse and the upcoming Re:NEW Festival, making its debut September 9 and running through October 9, 2016, throughout Pittsburgh.

Re:NEW seeks to highlight the possibilities involved when artists and makers combine creativity and sustainability, recognizing Pittsburgh’s emerging community of artists and makers dedicated to creating with sustainability and re-use in mind.

The Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse has been promoting those same objectives since it was founded in 2007, said executive director Erika Johnson. The Center makes available used and discarded materials that cover an enormous range of artistic possibilities. The store, located at 214 North Lexington in Point Breeze (around the corner from Construction Junction), sells materials ranging from more traditional artistic fare—paper, fabrics, magazines and photographs for collage artists—to the utterly unexpected: VHS tapes, trophies, and puzzle pieces, among dozens and dozens of items.

“It’s an inspiring place to come and think about reuse and creativity,” Johnson said of the store. “When you see 100 of something together, it makes you think of it in a new way.”

Beyond offering craft materials and inspiration, the Center’s work taking in, sorting, and selling materials for reuse diverts thousands of pounds of waste from landfills each year. In 2015, 41 tons of waste were diverted, and in 2016, Johnson said, she expects to keep more than 50 tons of waste from hitting landfills.

Children standing around a table of various construction materials, making birdhouses

That makes it a perfect participant in the Re:NEW Festival, which brings to Pittsburgh an array of exhibits, music showcases, eco-tours, hands-on workshops, educational sessions, films, performances, environmental exhibits, and markets selling upcycled goods.

“We absolutely wanted to be a part of the Re:NEW Festival in order to help highlight all the great stuff happening in Pittsburgh around creative re-use,” said Johnson.

Festival-goers will have a number of chances to experience all the Center offers:

  • The Center will unofficially kick off the Festival with its 4th Bantam Night, a “pre-party” fundraiser at Wigle Whiskey (1055 Spring Garden Avenue) on Thursday, September 8, from 6 to 9 p.m. Attendees can make a fancy hat, screenprint the PCCR logo onto a shirt, and dance to the sounds of vocalist Anqwenique Wingfield. Tickets are available, right here.

  • The Creative Conundrum Lab will invite the community into the Center’s Point Breeze shop to create art out of this month’s “creative conundrum”: a surprise material that is full of creative potential. Creative Conundrum, a monthly event, will be held Friday, September 9, from 2 to 5 p.m.

  • The Center’s biannual Reclaim! event returns on Saturday, September 17, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., offering artists, makers, and educators a shopping bonanza: come into the Center’s warehouse and for just $5 (minimum suggested donation per person), take as much Center material as they would like. With the help of its volunteers, the Center has diverted over 6,000 pounds of materials destined for the landfill through its past two Reclaim! events. Their goal for this special Re:NEW edition of Reclaim! is to exceed 10,000 pounds!

  • Reclaim! is also a perfect opportunity for the public to check out the Center’s shop, open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

  • The Center will celebrate the fourth show in its in-store gallery space with an opening reception on Thursday, September 22, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Center’s Point Breeze shop. Join artists, volunteers, interns, and staff for a fun night of art and music - information, right here.

  • Artists of all ages are invited to a hands-on art-making activity on Saturday, October 1 from noon to 4 p.m. Center for Creative Reuse teaching artists will provide a curated array of materials and tools, as well as guidance to help young artists with their projects. Children and families are especially welcome. This art-making activity takes place at the PPG Wintergarden downtown, where the Re:NEW Festival will present the North American premier of Barcelona-based Drap-Art, an exhibition of international artists working extensively with reused materials. Participants are encouraged to explore the Drap-Art exhibit as they create their own works of art.

  • For grown-ups, the Center will offer Bar Crafts at the Allegheny Wine Mixer (www.alleghenywinemixer.com, 5236 Butler St., Lawrenceville) on Sunday, October 2, from 6 to 9 p.m. For a minimum $5 donation per person, thirsty artists can work on projects ranging from upholstery-fabric purses to dioramas made from cigar boxes, and more. Zero arts and crafts expertise required.

With all these events, Johnson laughed, the Center is going to have to transport many vanloads of materials.

“One of the things that makes our programming unique is rather than bringing a kit to make a project,” she said, “we bring an array of material that’s very open-ended and provides what we call ‘the inspiration of abundance.’”

Adam Reger is a writer, editor, and teacher.

Photos: courtesy Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse. Top: PCCR Open House; Bottom: People Making Birdhouses


Published in The Arts Blog


Portrait of a woman with short, dark hair with a grey streak in her hair at her forehead, smiling and looking at the viewer. She is wearing earrings, a necklace and glasses.
The Arts Blog talked with Betty Siegel, Director of VSA and Accessibility, the force behind the global
® conference (Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability) from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. This blog post is one of several leading up to the conference, hosted by The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust here in Pittsburgh, July 31 – August 6.

Why Pittsburgh?  Two words – Fried Pickles!  I am really looking forward to fried pickles next week – I had my first fried pickle in Pittsburgh. I can’t find them in D.C. and I only have them when I travel – I think I will be getting them from Meat and Potatoes….

REALLY we chose Pittsburgh for this year’s LEAD® Conference because the Pittsburgh cadre of arts administrators that have been attending LEAD® for the past five years or so have been so enthusiastic and excited about the work.  From the beginning, they’ve taken what they’ve learned at LEAD® and applied it in the community in a way that is meaningful, insightful, and impactful.

Our larger vision is that we believe we can change the world through our long standing commitment to inclusion and cultural access. This year, the Kennedy Center is celebrating the JFK Centennial, and focusing our efforts on programming that reflect 5 ideals particularly important to President John F. Kennedy: Courage, Freedom, Service, Justice, and Gratitude. LEAD very much embodies our 35th President’s ideal of justice by advancing his personal and political vision of equality and inclusion in the arts, for everyone.

Early on, I remember the Trust sending some folks to LEAD®. They were new to accessibility and still learning how to apply it, but were enthusiastic. At LEAD®, this group from Pittsburgh met with many fabulous people, went to the workshops, and went back to their offices at the Trust and said, “Hey, look: we have to include people with disabilities in our audiences, on our stages, and on our staff.”

The next year they came back with a young woman with a disability who was now on their staff – they took the employment aspect of it, too, not just how to get someone with a disability in a theater seat – the Trust really integrated the concepts LEAD® embodies into the way they do business.

Then they, of course, took a look at their theaters and took on some challenging situations - When you are dealing with older and historic buildings in particular, it’s much more challenging to make them accessible.

The next year, they came back to the LEAD® conference with even more people from more venues from across Pittsburgh.  This became a city wide initiative – the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre became one of the first dance companies in the country to offer sensory-friendly dance performances.

When we look for a place to take the LEAD® conference, we are looking for that level of enthusiasm and engagement. These are the types of partnerships and collaborations that are necessary for accessibility to be sustained in a community and Pittsburgh has that level of collectivism that’s necessary to really do this work.

Pittsburgh brings to the table the funders, the city, a variety of cultural venues – the Children’s Museum, the August Wilson Center, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, the Andy Warhol Museum – all of these amazing partners who have joined in.  That’s a really interesting, diverse group of folks with the will to do this work, which is really civil rights work.

I always look forward to the people who come to LEAD®. They are always an interesting, passionate and caring group of people. They are excited about this work – this revives me. It’s a challenging job and I leave LEAD® feeling refreshed in the area of advocating for the rights of people with disabilities, because that is what it boils down to – this is a social justice issue, it’s about honoring the rights of people with disabilities and supporting their civil rights.

I am very excited about our opening session. Jess Thom will be coming from the U.K. to give the keynote – she will talk about her own challenge in accessing the arts as a person with Tourettes Syndrome. This keynote will be live streamed through HowlRound TV– while the conference attendees can see her live in the closed session, others will be able to access this session through the live streaming url that will be posted hereI recommend tuning in to what promises to be a dynamic talk – she’s an amazing speaker, and she’ll bring it home for us by making a very personal, compelling (and funny) case for WHY do we do this work!.

There are many wonderful public performances too that the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council have organized along with wonderful capacity building workshops. We’re thrilled that they decided to host Innovation, Accommodating Artists with Disabilities, a special, one-day conversation. You go from international disability rights issues to hometown leadership – a perfect blend.

Photo by Yassine El Mansouri


Published in The Arts Blog
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