Although they're steps away from each other, I had always had the feeling that the Cultural District and Market Square were somehow very separate; it might have something to do with the triangular layout of Downtown's streets and avenues, which anyone not from around here probably thinks is pretty weird.
Apparently, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership also doesn't think the connection is obvious enough, because it commissioned a new piece of public art by Carin Mincemoyer to draw traffic between the two areas.
In Pittsburgh's early days, Market Square was called the Diamond, because on a north-oriented map the square did in fact look more like a diamond. Back then Forbes Avenue was even called Diamond Street.
With this in mind, Mincemoyer (pictured) picked the diamond shape as the motif of her new piece, titled "Diamonds, Diamonds." Mounted on two light posts on Market Street, between Fifth and the Square, each identical work has a superstructure of steel rods (Pittsburgh will never relinquish steel as its material of choice), which at first glance looks like it's there only to support the illuminated diamonds hanging from the intersections.
In fact, the rods represent the molecular structure of diamonds, a crystalline expression of carbon after intense heat and pressure. The diamonds hanging within the structure are laser-cut acrylic, each lit with an LED day and night.
Market Square seems pretty excited with these new sculptures. On Tuesday, in the short time I stopped over to ogle the art as it was being installed, I saw cameras and cell phones coming out from all directions to capture the occasion. Prantl's Bakery, which sits below one of the sculptures, went so far as to sell special diamond-shaped cookies; Tuesday morning, Mincemoyer was gifting a few of these cookies to the crew of burly city workers who brought out their cherry-picker to install the sculptures.
The Office of Public Art, which along with the City made the installation possible, will host an Artist Lecture and Reception on Thu., July 14, from 6 to 8 p.m. The event is public and free, but it is politely requested you make a reservation with ProArts Tickets.
Students from Westinghouse High School are key interviewers — not just interview subjects — in Why Us? Left Behind and Dying, the 2010 documentary by acclaimed director and producer Claudia Pryor Malis.
The 90-minute film airs at 8 p.m. tonight on WQED-TV.
Malis, a longtime and award-winning network-television producer, wanted to make a film about the impact of HIV/AIDS on African Americans. In January 2006, she came to Westinghouse, in Homewood, to ask the students to participate.
In press materials, she tells how, suspicious of being used, the African-American students shouted her down — until she said, "Yeah, I'm here because this is a black school. This is now a black disease. So where else would I be?"
Blacks make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but in 2006 accounted for 45 percent of all new HIV cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control, Malis points out.
Ultimately, 20 Westinghouse students participated in the film project. Nearly 90 students from Peabody High School were also involved in evaluating the film.
Why Us? explores how poverty, miseducation, history, culture and even imprisonment work together to make HIV/AIDS black. The filmmakers helped the students interview straights, homosexuals, intravenous drug users, public-health experts and scientists.
Other interview subjects in Why Us? include African AIDS experts and Magic Johnson, the former NBA star who two decades ago announced his retirement after learning he was HIV-positive.
The most-involved Westinghouse student was Tamira Noble, who as a senior was among the first to sign up to help; after Noble graduated, Malis hired her as a production associate. Noble, who narrated the finished film, is now a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg.
Other local talent on the crew includes cinematographer Chris Ivey, a noted documentarian in his own right (for his East of Liberty series).
Why Us? had a free screening at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in February 2010, but tonight's airing on WQED is its first local broadcast.
For more information, see the website of Malis' Connecticut-based production company, www.diversityfilms.org.
The "Box," as it turns out, is a set of white clapboard walls, a blue tarp serving as an awning, a small work table and a set of drawers. Last week, the Box sat on the corner of East Carson and 12th streets, and was occupied by artist Alberto Almarza.
Art Out of the Box is a Sprout Fund-supported project that gives a series of artists one week of studio time each outdoors, to work on a special project and engage the public in friendly chats.
Almarza has been in Pittsburgh for ten years. He arrrived from Chile meaning to return, until he found the woman of his dreams, and a town that supported his art. Now the Carnegie Mellon grad teaches at Pittsburgh's High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, and makes very small things.
Last week, Almarza was busy making itsy-bitsy paper boats, tiny dinettes and elven clotheslines. He made them all by hand and coated them with polyurethane so they'd last. Then he hid them around 12th and Carson: boats floating in puddles of epoxy, including one in a divot in one of the stones surrounding a planter in the intersection's pocket park; a table and chairs in a crevice of another such stone, complete with cave painting; tiny paintings of his tiny things drying on a tiny clothesline, on the southwest corner of the intersection. A chair and puddle-boat are pictured (photo courtesy of the artist's blog entry).
Most of the artworks would be invisible to passersby who weren't looking for them.
South Side pedestrians have welcomed Almarza with open arms. In the short time I sat with him last Friday, no fewer than four separate people came up to ask what it was all about. Almarza said a little girl brought each member of her family back to witness the installation each day that week. Above all, Almarza relishes telling people, "Nothing at all is for sale."
He says his mini-installations should last a year or two, if conditions are right. So even visitors who missed the creation process (which ended Sunday) can come down and contemplate the kind of dedication it takes to fold a 1-square-centimeter piece of paper into a boat.
Over the next three weeks, Art Out of the Box will hold additional outdoor residencies in Lawrenceville, Polish Hill and North Side.
From Tue., June 28, to Sun., July 3, from roughly 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, artist Will Schlough will have his studio in Lawrenceville, on the sidewalk in front of Wild Card boutique, 4209 Butler St.
Schlough, a 2007 Carnegie Mellon grad, is a sculptor who often repurposes everyday objects, for instance using old computer monitors and hard-drives painted green in lieu of the foliage on a fabricated tree.
For more information, and the artists' blogs, see www.artboxpittsburgh.com.
All arts groups struggle for funding, but today as in the past, African-American theater groups have to fight harder than most.
This Monday, Pittsburgh’s most venerable black theater group, Kuntu Repertory Theatre, joins 18 other companies around the country in a one-day national initiative to boost awareness of the issue. The vehicle, naturally, is theater.
1 Voice, 1 Play, 1 Day is an initiative of Project1Voice, a New York-based advocacy group for black playwrights and black theater companies. The idea is that all the companies will produce benefit staged readings of the same play on the same day.
The play, not incidentally, is an interesting one: Trouble in Mind, by Alice Childress.
The 1955 work, according to Project1Voice, is “a powerfully incendiary and satiric drama based on the conflict of not compromising one’s artistic integrity. This play within a play follows the journey of a mixed-raced cast in 1957 as they embark upon rehearsals for a racially charged play. Childress shows the actors’ complaints, directors’ frustration and even with the well-meaning efforts of theater professionals to overcome their racial feelings. As the play unfolds each character is revealed, along with their cavalier approach to the scripts they hold.”
Aside from the Kuntu performance, readings are scheduled in cities including New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Birmingham, Dallas, Houston and San Francisco.
And lest you doubt 1 Voice, 1 Play, 1 Day is a big deal, actors involved include: Andre DeShields, Leslie Uggams, LaChanze and Bill Irwin (in New York); Peter Coyote (San Francisco); and John Mahoney (Chicago). And Irma P. Hall leads the Dallas cast.
The Kuntu staging will feature local actors and be directed by Stevie Akers. It takes place at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, 980 Liberty Ave., Downtown, at 8 p.m. Mon., June 20. Tickets are $5 and proceeds benefit Kuntu.
For more information, call 412-624-8498 or email email@example.com
There are plenty of parties going on this week, and that’s just counting art parties. Heck, the Mattress Factory alone is hosting two events this weekend.
But you’re unlikely to get more fun for a few bucks than at AIR’s annual shindig (just a few blocks from the Mattress Factory, as it happens), from 5-10 p.m. tomorrow.
AIR is regionally unique: It’s a hub for local artists, especially those who do printmaking. It supports its own artists in residence as well as independent artists with work space; exhibits their work; and even provides open workshop space two nights a week, with access to printing screens.
Besides the screenprinting shop, this big facility includes an intaglio (etching) shop, a lithography shop and a digital-imaging lab. You can even do bookbinding, papermaking and letterpress there.
And the Sat., June 18, event is the perfect introduction. It’s a party, with printing activities (of course), live music, food and drink.
There’s also plenty of art, including installation works by Dick Esterle and Kimi Hanauer, and a display of portfolios by area artists organized by Gene Marsh and friends (the latter with a Flash Gordon theme). Local poster legend Mike Budai and the Power Up Girls will be doing some printing. And the bands include Low Man, Allies and Middle Children.
A $5 donation is requested.
AIR is located at 518 Foreland St. 412-321-8664 or www.artistsimageresource.org
"Kids need to play together. It breaks down a lot of barriers," says Enrico Nardini. Nardini is founder and editor of www.PlayUnplugged.com, a locally based website and blog that promotes board games, table-top games, role playing games, any game that doesn't need a plug or battery.
For Nardini, the movement away from traditional group play to sitting, slack-jawed, in front of a computer screen, severely reduces the socializing effects of play.
It's not that he doesn't respect video games, he is quick to point out, only that interacting face-to-face is still superior to the Internet's facsimile. For one, sitting around a table with a group makes it a bit harder to scream the obscenities and slurs that squawk from your headphones when all you're trying to do is play a nice round of capture-the-flag in Halo.
Nardini doesn't have any kids himself, but he does have a master's degree in elementary education. He founded Play Unplugged just this past January because games were the one constant in his life to that point, and something he wanted to devote himself to promoting.
To that end, Play Unplugged is hosting a contest to score a family four-pack of tickets -- an $80 value -- to the upcoming LEGO KidsFest, where all the entertainment is tangible and all the friends corporeal. LEGO KidsFest visits Pittsburgh for the first time June 17-19 as part of its national tour that shares many goals with Play Unplugged: hands-on fun that might teach you something.
Entering the contest is free: Simply snap a photo of you and your family enjoying the wonders of the little Danish bricks and send it off to Play Unplugged by Wed., June 15. If nothing else, it'll get you to play again.
TRAF jurors did a nice job choosing work for the return of the JVAE, a festival hallmark that went missing last year.
The jurors are Jason Busch, from the Carnegie Museum of Art; Kate Lydon, from the Society for Contemporary Craft; and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust curator Murray Horne, best known for his work at Wood Street Galleries.
And thanks to exhibit design by local art mavens moxie DaDA, the 85 works by 60 regional artists working in all media really fill up the expansive, half-raw fourth floor of 805 Liberty Ave.
One of the first pieces to catch my eye was "The Revealing Science of God," Thomas Bigatel's crazily sensual abstract oil-on-cavis diptych in midnight blue and luminous green. And it's hard to miss Zachary Brown's oil, copper and mixed-media works done in the style of traditional Orthodox icons (Sebastian and Casilda).
A full wall, meanwhile, is dedicated to Dennis Childers' "Window." The exhibit's Best of Show award recipient is an array of digital photos and video documenting several months in the life of the pair of windows across the alley from Childers' Downtown office. The implicit commitment required, as well as the graininess of the imagery, might have imparted a voyeuristic feel. But as one window's outdoor sill-top shrine of tchotchkes first slowly accumulates, and then more quickly vanishes, the effect is mostly poignant.
Elsewhere, Seth Clark continues to impress with another of his charcoal, ink, acrylic, pastel, graphite and found paper works depicting a literally collapsing building. Toby Fraley's "Robot #50" braces its Thermos legs and with its licence-plate hands smashes its little guitar while its vacuum-tube head blinks. Karen Ferrick's painted triptych "Conneaut Marsh" beautifully catches the light on a landscape, and Chris McGinnis's "Showroom" does something similar, to a much different effect, for an unused industrial space.
Other good stuff: Marla Roddy's "ReWrapped," a sculptural assemblage depicting an overswaddled infant, is unnervingly amusing; Timothy Burak's large color photo "Filing Cabinets" persuades water-damaged office furniture to evoke bureaucratic (and perhaps civilizational) entropy; and Christopher Galivas' "Art Importance (First Art)" is mixed media on wood that employs cartoony imagery (totem pole, playing card, skull, robot) to suggest not graffiti but a sort of post-modern cave painting.
The TRAF Juried Visual Art Exhibition is housed at the Trust Arts Education Center. The space is open for viewing 11 a.m.- 8 p.m. daily Monday through Saturday, and noon-6 p.m. Sunday.
If you're Downtown for the Three Rivers Arts Festival, leave some time to check out the several galleries located a few blocks up Penn or Liberty. Thought you'll temporarily be out of funnel-cake range, there’s plenty of good work up there, including the festival's own Juried Visual Art Exhibition, at 805 Liberty (and more on which tomorrow).
One exhibit that's sure to satisfy is "Corrugated Fountain," by Connecticut-based artist James Grashow. The whole of the storefront gallery at 709 Penn is taken up by this work, inspired by Rome's famous Trevi Fountain (which cinephiles know from La Dolce Vita) and made entirely out of cardboard.
While there's more to this work than the novelty of its medium, you can't help but appreciate the effects Grashow coaxes from material so familiar it's mundane.
On entering, you first see the two big, fierce fish guarding the entrance to the "fountain" (which contains no actual water). Then there's the wild-eyed stallions racing left, right and forward, ridden by female figures, and above it all a trident-bearing Neptune, surrounded by more fish and leaping dolphins.
Getting closer, you consider the cardboard, and Grashow's skill in shaping it for line and depth. Thankfully, visitors are permitted to (carefully) wind their ways through the sculpture, like a small maze. It's there you notice how the cardboard is not just cut and bent, but also molded here and three, wetted and otherwise distressed (suggesting stone). You also see how — maybe best of all — Grashow sometimes peels away the cardboard's top layer and used the exposed corrugations to suggest the ribbing of fish fins and other textures.
The cardboard, moreover, comes in subtly different shades of tan, the lighter-colored material used for accents in spots like certain locks of Neptune's beard and the horses' lips, and to suggest ocean foam.
"Corrugated Fountain" somehow has a charm you couldn't get out of grander material like marble, or even wood. And the whole thing can't weigh more than 50 pounds.
"Corrugated Fountain" remains at 709 Penn till July 2. During the fest, which ends Sun., June 12, the gallery is open special extended hours, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. daily Wednesday through Sunday.
Just saw my first yellow kayaks of the spring in the Allegheny. That's a sight that comes about five weeks later than usual.
Kayak Pittsburgh, a project of Venture Outdoors that rents the craft from beneath the Clemente Bridge (North Side bank), had been set to open April 28. But the freakishly rainy spring delayed that event: For those who haven't heard, 'round here, big rains wash raw sewage into the waterways instead of into ALCOSAN's treatment plant. That makes things in the water unpleasant and even slightly risky, especially for those with compromised immune systems.
But with several days of clear weather behind us, let the paddling commence.
Kayak Pittsburgh is open Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-dusk, and 10 a.m.-dusk on the weekends. Solo kayaks rent for $15 for the first hour and $8 for additional half-hours, while tandems are $20/10. Discounts are available for Venture Outdoors members. No reservations are necessary, and you're free to roam all three rivers.
You can also rent bikes at the location (right next to PNC Park) thanks to Golden Triangle Bike Rental.
Flat-water kayaking is pretty easy (about as strenuous as riding a bike). But for those who want to start slower, Kayak Pittsburgh has another post nearby on Lake Elizabeth, in Allegheny Commons park. That opens at 4 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, and at 10 a.m. on the weekends.
Kayak-rental season lasts through October.
Jodi Morrison, the project's founder and financial backer, told CP today that she'll probably lose about $13,000 on the venture, which temporarily revived the former Borders Eastside as a hub for independent writers, presses and bookstores. Morrison says she had gone in prepared to lose money, but hoped it would be less than $10,000.
As Dana Sklack first reported in late April, Fleeting Pages opened May 7. And when we checked in a week later, the store was generating good foot traffic, and even decent sales of independently published books and zines -- all in a store Borders had vacated a month earlier. Fleeting Pages even boosted community involvement with a couple dozen grassroots-organized events, ranging from literary readings and workshops to movie screenings.
Groups organizing events included locally based, nationally distributed journal Creative Nonfiction and such fixtures of the Pittsburgh scene as The New Yinzer, Cyberpunk Apocalypse and Six Gallery Press. On May 31, there was a poetry slam.
But Morrison says sales tapered off. And most of the publications were too low-cost to offset the rent, utilities insurance and other expenses to operate the two-story, 24,000-square-foot former Borders.
Morrison, who lives in Braddock and trades stocks for a living, loves books, but she's also interested in new approaches to both culture and commerce. One of her experiments at Fleeting Pages likely cost her some revenue: She says she let presses and writers determine their own commissions -- how much of a cut of the sales price they'd keep. While some participants actually gave her books, others offered the store less than 10 percent.
Morrison estimates she wound up keeping about 27 percent of the sales revenue, compared to about 40 percent for a typical indie bookstore. Given that she paid out $17,000 to $20,000 in commissions, the standard rate might well have kept her losses under $10,000.
Morrison led an all-volunteer staff, personally working 14- to 18-hour days seven days a week. Sometimes she slept overnight in the store (on occasion because she'd missed the last bus home). "I'm exhausted," she said on the third-to-last day of business.
Still, she's pleased with the response Fleeting Pages earned. "For me it was a success," sys Morrison, 33. "It was a [financial] risk I was willing to take because [the project] has greater meaning for me."
"We definitely reached goals of getting people talking about things," she adds. She means not only discussions about indie presses and vacant big boxes, but also writers and publishers meeting other writers and publishers, and the general public meeting indie books, zines and comics -- some for the first time.
"Everyone comes in, and they're very upset that we're closing," she says -- even though her plan all along had been a-month-and-out. (She had maintained the option of staying open an extra two weeks if the store had managed to break even).
Some people, in fact, wandered into Fleeting Pages thinking that Borders was still in business -- only to find a fraction of the chain's usual array of shelves, and those shelves lined with works by little-known poets, novelists and essayists. "They wanted me to tell them where to find a real bookstore," Morrison says.
Conversely, some patrons visited three or four times a week. Some even brought her food.
I asked Morrison if she thought a permanent indie bookstore might succeed in Pittsburgh, providing it had less overhead expense than Fleeting Pages. "It could work possibly, with more planning time and a small space," she says.
If there were such a store, someone else would have to run it: Morrison is burned out for now on selling books, and looking forward to just having time to read them again. But she says a similar, if smaller-scaled, venture is now easier to imagine because of Fleeting Pages' experience.
She notes, however, that if people value community-oriented, bricks-and-mortar outlets for books, they need to support them. Even long-time bookstores and comic shops are vulnerable. "If people don't buy books, [the stores] could go away."
There's still time to visit Fleeting Pages (5986 Penn Circle South, East Liberty). The store is open tonight until 9 p.m., and from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday.
At 3 p.m. Saturday., Morrison will host an "idea-generation" session titled "What's your Fleeting Pages?" to help people brainstorm similar projects (not necessarily book-related).
Saturday is the store's final night, but don't expect a party, Morrison says. "I decided I would end it the way it opened: just simply and quietly."