An Art Institute of Pittsburgh student wants to unite student photographers across the city.
There's no shortage of aspiring photographic artists and photojournalists in Pittsburgh, especially not on college campuses. But despite the abundance of student-run media clubs, opportunities for young photographers to network across schools remain scarce, says Richard Woodson, a senior graphic design major at the Art Institute.
"There are tons of schools down here," says Woodson (pictured). "Pittsburgh isn't large to the point where having all these people united is just unfathomable."
To remedy this lack of a citywide community, Woodson created a Flickr page and a Facebook page for his newly formed Student Photo Group of Pittsburgh, an organization open to photographers from any school.
With luck, he says, it will attract members from smaller on-campus groups, as well as others who, like him, don't enjoy brief, informal meetings.
"I was the person who wasn't interested in those small groups," he says. "I don't want to meet with people for 10 minutes and talk about our pictures and go."
Although Woodson hasn't yet established any meeting dates, he plans on using the club to organize activities as diverse as photo walks, gallery showings, print trades, picnics — even the publication of a blog and an online zine. And while his own passion is black-and-white film photography, Woodson is recruiting people from across all genres and practices.
"I spend about five hours each day scouring the Internet for these kids that I know are photographers and that are in college here in Pittsburgh," he says. "They have Tumblr accounts, they have blogs, they have Flickr accounts, they have Facebook pages. You don't make that if you're not trying to reach out to somebody."
Although Woodson will graduate next summer, he hopes the group — which currently boasts 13 members — will continue to grow in his absence.
"I'm just hoping this is something that lasts after I'm gone," he says. "I can definitely see it expanding beyond students."
The East Liberty art project that's a restaurant and a talk show bakes its last waffle tomorrow night.
Carnegie Mellon art professor Jon Rubin says it's simply time to shut down the venue he co-founded in 2008. "Creatively, the shop's kind of run its course. It's kind of less unexpected than it was," Rubin says.
The venue at 124 S. Highland Ave. will bow out with appropriate hoopla, however: Saturday night's "Cavalcade of Stars" is open to any of the 7,000 or so people who Rubin estimates have taken the Shop's stage.
That'll happen from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m., the shop's signature late-night hours. Or you can come earlier, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., for the popular brunch.
Waffle Shop began as one in a series of boundary-defying public-art projects Rubin undertook with students in the mid-'00s. Many were storefronts with conceptual premises (like a travel agency for imaginary journeys). The idea was to blur the line between commerce, art and social interaction, expanding the definitions of all three.
Waffle Shop is the one that stuck. The joint was a functioning diner, specializing in waffles and coffee. But its stage hosted talk shows that welcomed everyone from local performance artists to everyday people. (You can find video at www.waffleshop.org.)
It probably didn't hurt that Waffle Shop is in the heart of East Liberty's resurgent restaurant and nightlife area, and right around the corner from Shadow Lounge.
Still, says Rubin, Waffle Shop showed "how you could use food as a way of creating audience [and] how food created this great space for talking about politics" and other issues. "It created a site of comfort in public."
Anyone, after all, could wander in for waffles and end up watching an interview with a local artist, a discussion about unemployment or a cooking show, or participating in a Skype discussion with Iranian filmmakers.
Waffle Shop was originally open only on Friday and Saturday nights; the brunch came later. Rubin says that in addition to formal guests, in its four years Waffle Shop hosted between 20,000 and 30,000 people.
"I couldn't have foreseen that, that people would remain interested in participating in what we were doing," he says.
One performer active at Waffle Shop was Gab Bonesso. In February, the comic staged an "anti-talk show." She played a "childlike adult" living with her parents, whose program was co-hosted by her imaginary friends (as portrayed in the flesh by local actors). "It was everything I ever wanted to do onstage," says Bonesso.
She also hosted somewhat more conventional programs, including a show in which she interviewed children about being bullied.
Bonesso appreciated Waffle Shop as a venue.
"Because of Jon Rubin being so well versed in art, it lets you have zero boundaries," she says. "Literally anything can happen at the Waffle Shop."
"I don't think we have anything like it in Pittsburgh, and I'm sad to see it go," she adds.
Although Waffle Shop had the support of East Liberty Development Inc., building-owner Eve Picker and others, Rubin acknowledges that the project could be a financial strain. The space was rented. "It's a tough go running a restaurant, let alone running a restaurant and a talk show," he says.
To help defray the cost, Rubin says, Waffle Shop will be selling off its distinctive sign, tables and chairs — even the stage.
But Rubin says the main reason for closing the shop is that a sister venture in the same building, Conflict Kitchen, is taking more of his attention. Conflict Kitchen is a take-out window serving a rotating array of street food from countries the U.S. is at odds with, like Iran and Afghanistan. Plans to move Conflict Kitchen Downtown took precedence over continuing Waffle Shop, too.
However, Rubin says that a CMU-based art presence will remain onsite in the form of the billboard atop the Waffle Shop building, bearing provocative messages. So while the storefront will be silent come Sunday, for additional aesthetic stimulation, just look up.
Do the words "book discussion" conjure an image of readers sitting in a circle in some disused corner of a library, maybe nibbling on a cheese-cube-and-cracker?
This summer, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh seeks to enliven the literary scene with Book Buzz, "a book discussion with a twist." Book Buzz is not just picking quirkier books, but is holding the events out in the wild — at local dining and drinking establishments.
The inaugural event is Mon., July 16, at 7 p.m., with a discussion of Gabrielle Hamilton's Butter, Bones and Blood: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. In her memoir, Hamilton, who runs Prune restaurant, in New York City, unflinchingly recounts her personal and professional journey, through family dramas and miserable kitchen jobs.
And speaking of bones, how better to discuss a book about cooking than by gnawing on a few yourself? The dissection of Butter, Bones and Blood takes place at Union Pig and Chicken, Kevin Sousa's newish barbecue joint at 220 N. Highland Ave., in East Liberty. Big family-style tables, plates of smoked ribs and chicken, and reactions to Hamilton's work should make for a satisfying evening.
Future Book Buzz events are:
Mon., Aug. 20. Lili Coffee*Shop, in Polish Hill, shares space with Copacetic Comics, and thus will be the location for the discussion of Charles Burns' graphic novel Black Hole. The work depicts the alienating, confusing and traumatic experience of high school using the metaphor of a plague that affects some teens.
Mon., Sept. 17. It's a journey through post-apocalyptic America in World War Z, by Max Brooks. Such horrors may be best mitigated with a cold draft, many of which are on tap at the discussion location — Remedy, in Lawrenceville.
Notwithstanding that the availability of alcohol and caffeinated beverages may make for especially lively get-togethers, some things about Book Buzz remain the same: Read the book, bring your opinions and join the discussion.
For more information about the series, see the Book Buzz website.To register for Monday's event, visit here.
Opera Theater's SummerFest with Carmen and Night Caps
It's pretty rare — next to unheard-of — for a long-established performing-arts group to reinvent its season the way Opera Theater of Pittsburgh is doing this year.
As I detailed in a preview for CP, the 35-year-old OTP has gone from presenting four shows scattered throughout the year to staging its whole season in 17 days. And instead of peregrinating from rented venue to rented venue with each new show, the company is presenting the whole SummerFest in one multi-stage complex, the Hillman Center for Performing Arts.
Given Pittsburghers' famed queasiness about crossing rivers and venturing to unfamiliar venues, one might have wondered how it would go, asking audiences to wend their way up Fox Chapel Road to the leafy Shadyside Academy campus that the Hillman calls home.
But judging by Friday night's crowd for Carmen — The Gypsy, OTP is doing all right. After all, it's only a 20-minute drive from Downtown — and the 200-seat Kountz Black Box Theater was full for this entertaining, beautifully sung flamenco version of Bizet's Carmen, newly adapted by Robert Frankenberry and OTP head Jonathan Eaton. (Like the rest of the fest, the whole show's sung in English.)
Friday was also the world premiere of Night Caps, the series of six mini-operas commissioned especially for SummerFest, each to end the evening after a mainstage performance.
Each Night Cap is set in a different room at the same hotel, with hotel staff as recurring characters for mostly comic-opera shenanigans. The libretti are all by Carnegie Mellon's Rob Handel, but each is set to music by a different contemporary composer.
The opener, with music by Pittsburgh's Eric Moe, was suitbaly wacky. "Valkyrie Suite" was a Wagner parody recasting the Valkyries as the McDonald Township Women's Bowling Team. (Think pizza boxes and beer bottles littering the stage.) It was funny — but judging from laughter by some audience members, if you knew Wagner well it was hilarious.
Three more Night Caps will premiere this week, starting Thursday with "I Hope the Moonlight Suite is Okay, We Recommend It When the Honeymoon Suite Isn't Available." And the entire inaugural SummerFest concludes with a 5 p.m. Sun., July 15, performance of the entire Night Caps cycle, all six mini-operas (about 90 minutes).
There are also two more performances of Carmen (July 12 and 14), one more of The Magic Flute, two more of Candide and more. For the full schedule, see www.otsummerfest.org.
Those black boxes that offer copies of CP to unsuspecting passersby seem to get the job done. But even we have to admit they're pretty plain. (Maybe you need a better figure to pull off basic black.)
So we're holding a contest to dress 'em up.
CP seeks 10 local artists to adorn a streetbox with original artwork. Participants' boxes will displayed throughout the city, and each artist will have a shot at a $500 readers'-favorite prize.
The deadline for submitting your proposal is midnight this Friday, July 7.
The complete rules for entry are here.
But here's gist. You mock up your proposal and submit it to us by July 7. Submissions must incoporate the CP sticker in its usual place and, unlike CP itself, must avoid offensive content. Among other restrictions, no copyrighted images are allowed.
Selected artists will be announced July 18. If you're among the 10 artists chosen, you'll receive a blank box and $150 for materials. The deadline for decorating the boxes is Sept. 28.
The boxes will be unveiled Oct. 16, at CP's annual Best of Pittsburgh party and then placed on the streets.
They'll also be featured in the Oct. 24 issue of the paper, when readers can begin voting online for their favorite. The readers' favorite will get $500.
Questions? Contact email@example.com.