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If this winter seems gloomier than usual -- with all the talk of collapsing economies, layoffs, demented weather and the impending Pirates season -- that's all the more reason to get out and do something.

A little activity is sure to cheer you up, or at least distract your troubled mind for a few hours. Below we offer a selection of local happenings that should provide entertainment, edification, exercise and laughs.

So, sally forth. If Rome is indeed burning, then we say: At least let there be song, dance and obscenely huge pick-up trucks.

 

ART

click to enlarge Sarah Smith's "Eagle," at Sworn In
  • Sarah Smith's "Eagle," at Sworn In

Didn't get your engraved invitation to check out Obama's new digs? Fear not -- Lauri Mancuso is curating Sworn In, a collection of visual art inspired by the recent historic election. The gallery is staged to resemble a parlor at the White House, so it's just like being there except without the intrusive background checks. Through Sat., Feb. 14. Future Tenant, 819 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412-325-7037 or www.futuretenant.org

click to enlarge Signs of Change
  • Signs of Change

Numerous social movements start humbly -- with cheaply produced posters, flyers, stickers and other quick-grab ephemera. Signs of Change: Social Movement Cultures 1960s to Now rounds up such material, as well as related images and audio, to help contextualize the creativity of numerous peoples' campaigns across the globe. Starts Fri., Jan. 23, through Sun., March 8. Miller Gallery, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Ave., Oakland. 412-268-3618 or www.cmu.edu/millergallery

If it's about the Ramones, we're there. Jesse Hulcher presents Ramones Remixes, a "sculptural sound installation" highlighting Ramones material remixed by the artist. To which we add: Gabba hey gabba. Starts Fri., Jan. 23, through Fri., Feb. 27. 707 Penn Gallery, 707 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412-325-7017 or www.pgharts.org

Virtually every aspect of the natural world is about interaction, and this new exhibit, Sixteen Birds and Inflatable Architectural Body from Chico MacMurtrie and AmorphicRobotWorks, helps viewers understand this relationship through 16 large fabric shapes suspended in air. These structures, resembling birds, will grow and transform, in response to the presence of visitors. Starts Fri., Jan. 23, through Sat., April 4. Wood Street Galleries, Downtown. 412-471-5605 or www.woodstreetgalleries.org

Zippy the Pinhead loved Western Pennsylvania: The enigmatic comic-strip traveler -- a creation of cartoonist Bill Griffith -- was often spotted visiting local diners and roadside attractions. Zippy was unceremoniously dumped from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but you can catch up with the polka-dotted philosopher at the ToonSeum's new exhibit Zippy's Pittsburgh: The Art of Bill Griffith. Welcome back, dude -- we missed you. Sat., Feb. 7, through Sun., March 29. Pittsburgh Children's Museum, 10 Children's Way, North Side. 412-325-1060 or www.toonseum.com

Some artists use a pencil, but others write software. The new exhibit CODE and FORM explores the computational artistry of C.E.B. Reas and Marius Watz, two artists whose creative palettes include fabrication technologies such as computer-controlled machining systems and laser cutting. Sat., Feb. 7 through Sun., April 19. Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, 6300 Fifth Ave., Shadyside. 412-361-0873 or www.pittsburgharts.org

 

FILM

click to enlarge Grand Canyon Adventure
  • Grand Canyon Adventure

The Grand Canyon is jaw-droppingly huge, but that doesn't mean this natural wonder isn't in danger. Join Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in the Omnimax doc Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk, as he rafts down the Colorado River and explains its impending water and environmental crises. Ongoing. Rangos Omnimax, Carnegie Science Center, North Side. 412-237-3400 or www.carnegiesciencecenter.org

Live like an Academy member, as you peruse this year's selections of Oscar-nominated animated and live-action short films, screening at Pittsburgh Filmmaker's Regent Square Theater. Fri., Feb. 13 through Thurs., Feb. 19. 1035 S. Braddock Ave., Edgewood. 412-682-4111 or www.pghfilmmakers.org

click to enlarge The Watchmen
  • The Watchmen

"Who watches the Watchmen?" And who will watch The Watchmen? The seminal 1986 graphic novel from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, which drew raves for its dense meta-narratives, dark humor and subversion of the superhero genre, has long been considered unfilmable, but director Zack Snyder gives it a go. Starts Fri., March 6.

Kennywood's not open for a couple of months, but we'll get an early taste in Greg Mottola's comedy, which was shot at the local park last year. Adventureland recounts the miseries endured by a smart dude forced to take a low-paying job at an amusement park. How many of us have been there, done that? Starts Fri., March 27.

 

COMEDY

The last time we saw comedian Tommy Chong in Pittsburgh, he was at the Federal Courthouse taking a rap for a line of bongs. Fortunately, he doesn't seem to hold a grudge, and he and his longtime partner in funny, Cheech Marin, will bring their loveable Cheech & Chong stoner shtick to the Benedum Center. Fri., March 6. 719 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org

Margaret Cho on Sarah Palin: "The worst thing to happen to America since 9/11." Others equivocate, but the feisty comedienne (and newly deputized gay-marriage official in San Francisco) has no qualms talking about sex, race, gender, politics and the resulting frothy mix when such ingredients are combined. Sat., March 7. Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead, East 10th Ave., Munhall. 412-323-1919 or www.ticketmaster.com

 

OUTDOORS

It's where the chainsaws meet blocks of frozen water, and beautiful things happen: The Ligonier Ice Festival is back. Sat., Jan. 2 through Sun., Jan 25. The Diamond, Ligonier, Westmoreland County. 724-238-4200

Join the Audubon Society of Western PA in the nationwide Backyard Bird Count. It's as simple as recording the feathered types you see in your yard or neighborhood -- and your data helps the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Fri., Feb. 13 through Mon., Feb. 16. More information at BirdSource.org.

Get your skates on and hit the ice. City slickers can go ice skating at the PPG Rink Downtown, or the Schenley Park rink. It's a little more pastoral out in the county: Both North Park and South Park offer skating, too. And if the weather's been cold enough, skate right in the heart of nature on the frozen lake at Raccoon Creek State Park. PPG: 412-394-3641; Schenley: 412-422-6523 or www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us; county parks: 412-350-7275 or www.county.allegheny.pa.us/parks; and Raccoon Creek: 888-PA-PARKS or www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateParks/

Sure, it's cold out, but would you be more likely to go hiking if your walk included one of the following: soup, dogs, tea, stew, beer, wine & cheese, the whole family, pie, chocolate or opera? The hearty folks at Venture Outdoors offer all those treks and more throughout the winter. 412-255-0564 or www.wpfi.org

 

MUSEUMS

Marvel at how scraps of fabric can be transformed into quilts, items that span useful to artistic to folkloric. You can do more than look at the second annual Quilter's Weekend: There will be hands-on activities, vendors and a swap stop (where you might find a suitable UFO, or "unfinished object," to take home.) Sat., Jan. 24 through Sun., Jan. 25. Heinz History Center, 1212 Smallman St., Strip District. 412-454-6000 or www.heinzhistorycenter.org

click to enlarge Claude Monet's "Windmills Near Zaandam" (detail), from The Road to Impressionism © The Walters Art Museum
  • Claude Monet's "Windmills Near Zaandam" (detail), from The Road to Impressionism © The Walters Art Museum

The mid-19th-century school of painting named for the French town of Barbizon -- where the artists often gathered -- was noted for its emotional depiction of nature and simple, rural life. The works were popular among America's then-rising elite of industrialists-turned-art-collectors. Ponder the irony at The Road to Impressionism: Barbizon Landscapes from the Walters Art Museum. Starts Sat., Feb. 7. Frick Art & Historical Center, 7227 Reynolds St., Point Breeze. 412-371-0600 or www.frickart.org

The Westmoreland Museum of American Art celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and for the occasion is opening The Gift of Art, an exhibition of artwork donated over the past five decades. You can just bring yourself, but the extremely wealthy might consider showing up with a priceless painting or two. Starts Sat., Feb. 22, through Sun., May 24. 221 North Main St., Greensburg. 724-837-1500 or wmuseumaa.org

click to enlarge The Horse
  • The Horse

Even if you didn't get a pony for Christmas, this wide-ranging exhibition documenting man's enduring relationship to The Horse is sure to fascinate. They're a luxury now, but horses have been at the forefront of warfare, agriculture, transportation, motion photography and -- yes -- pre-casino wagering. Starts Sat., Feb. 28. Carnegie Museum of Natural History, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. 412-622-3131 or www.carnegiemnh.org

Young Mexican architect Fernando Romero of Laboratory of Architecture has imaginative visions for structures and civic space for his homeland, including areas as complex and troubled as Mexico City and the U.S. border. A new exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Art depicts 20 of his key projects. Starts Sat., Feb. 28. 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. 412-622-3131 or www.cmoa.org

 

OTHER

Food trumps football in WYEP's annual Alternative Souperbowl at Borders Eastside. Donation of canned goods will be matched with live music from Ben Hardt & His Symphony, Lohio and Paul Luc. It's noon-3 p.m. so you can still catch the game. Sun., Feb. 1. 5986 Penn Circle South, East Liberty. 412-441-1080 or wyep.org.

The plants are on the move at Phipps Conservatory, as the Tropical Forest: Thailand makes way for a new jungle experience, Headwaters of the Amazon. While much of real Amazon remains remote and inaccessible, this lush garden is just a short bus ride away. Starts Sat., Feb. 7. 1 Schenley Drive, Oakland. 412-622-6914 or www.phipps.conservatory.org

Showcase Noir is a free one-day event that presents the work of local African-American artists and designers -- from paintings and sculpture, to jewelry and pottery. Show your support with your checkbook: Many works will be for sale. Sat., Feb. 7. Benedum Center, 719 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org

It's a great time to look at new cars -- and the auto makers are bringing all the fresh styles to town for the annual International Auto Show. We're guessing this year those hybrids will be drawing bigger crowds than those once-beloved behemoth SUVs. Thu., Feb. 12 through Sun., 15. David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown. www.pittautoshow.com

Love huge trucks but can't afford to drive one anymore? Soothe your inner Gravedigger by rootin' for your favorite big-wheelers at the Monster Jam, where monster trucks will be tearin' up the dirt and puttin' a hurtin' on some leftover cars. Fri., Feb. 13 through Sun., Feb. 15. Mellon Arena, Uptown. 412-642-1800 or www.mellonarena.com

click to enlarge Flamingo Day
  • Flamingo Day

Sure, Valentine's Day is for the birds -- which makes the National Aviary the perfect place to celebrate. Take your sweetie -- or the whole family -- to Flamingo Day, where the fluffy, pink flamingo chicks will be the stars. Visitors who don their own pink glad-rags receive half-price admission. Sat., Feb. 14. 700 Arch St., North Side. 412-323-7235 or www.aviary.org

Attention knitters and purlers: It's the fifth Pittsburgh Knit and Crochet Festival -- and newbies, crocheters, weavers, spinner, felters and all manner of fabric crafters are welcome. Classes, demos and lots of wooly materials will be on display. Sat., Feb. 14 through Sun., Feb. 15. Four Points Sheraton, Mars. 412-963-7030 or www.pghknitandcrochet.com.

In tough times, you can always count on man's best friend. See the area's top dogs at the annual Western Pennsylvania Kennel Association Show. Some pooches are just adorable posers, but other canines compete in agility and obedience trials. Sat. March 28 through Sun., March 29. David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown. www.wpka-inc.org.

 

LITERARY

Support your local scribes as The New Yinzer celebrates its own Nicole Sebula and the publication of her collection of short stories, My Crazy Life. Sebula and others including Lori Jakiela, Scott Silsbe and Kristofer Collins will read. Fri., Jan. 30. ModernFormations, 4919 Penn Ave., Garfield. 412-362-0274 or www.newyinzer.com

click to enlarge Janet Browne
  • Janet Browne

A century-and-a-half ago, naturalist Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, and man is still fiercely debating its conclusions. (Still no reaction from the ape world.) Harvard professor Janet Browne spent 17 years researching Darwin, ultimately publishing an extensive two-volume biography. She speaks tonight -- on Darwin's 200th birthday -- as part of the Drue Heinz Lecture Series. Mon., Feb., 9. Carnegie Music Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. 412-622-8866 or www.pittsburghlectures.org

William Henry Lewis' short story collection I Got Somebody in Staunton was one of four finalists for the 2006 PEN/Faulkner Prize for Fiction. Hear the noted African-American author speak at the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series. Thu., Feb. 26. Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh, Oakland. 412-624-6506 or www.english.pitt.edu

Marjane Satrapi was a rock-music-lovin' teen-ager when 1979's Islamic revolution upended her family's life in Tehran. Satrapi later crafted a series of graphic novels based on her youth, rife with nostalgia, guilt, humor and anger. One of them, Persepolis, was produced as a feature film in 2007. Satrapi speaks at the Drue Heinz Lecture Series. Mon., March 30. Carnegie Music Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. 412-622-8866 or www.pittsburghlectures.org

 

KIDS

It's never too early to get the kids talking non-stop about impending foul weather -- like the rest of us -- and what better time to get hip to wintry mixes and thunder-bumpers than StormFest? Activities include making homemade thermometers, cloud-spotting and "tornado in a jar." Umbrellas not included. Sat., Jan. 31. Carnegie Science Center, North Side. 412-237-3400 or www.carnegiesciencecenter.org

Kids love trees, and at this interactive exhibit Exploring Trees: Inside and Out, they can learn what makes those tall, leafy wonders so special. How often do you get to sit inside a giant leaf surrounded by the sights and sounds of photosynthesis; go "barking" at a "sensation station"; or crawl through a log like a bug? Starts Sat., Jan., 31. Pittsburgh Children's Museum, 10 Children's Way, North Side. 412-322-5058 or www.pittsburghkids.org

click to enlarge The Gruffalo
  • The Gruffalo

If you're a tiny mouse on a dangerous journey, one way to stay safe is to distract predators by spinning tales of an enormous creature known as The Gruffalo. The English theater company Tall Stories presents this musical adaptation of the popular children's book. Thu., Feb. 26 through Wed., March 4. Byham Theater (101 Sixth St., Downtown) and various high school locations. 412-456-6666 or pgharts.org

 

STAGE

click to enlarge Batsheva Dance Company
  • Batsheva Dance Company

It's not all endless turmoil in the Middle East. Israel's Batsheva Dance Company, founded in 1964, is world-renowned for its inspirational performances. Three is a full-length work choreographed by Ohad Naharin that examines beauty, nature and existence -- and contains nudity. What could be more disarming? Fri., Feb. 5. Benedum Center, 719 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org

Civil-rights pioneer Martin Delaney's accomplishments include being the only African American awarded the rank of major in the Civil War, extensive writings (including a novel) and the formation of a back-to-Africa movement in 1859. Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater presents Wali Jamal in the one-man show Martin R. Delany: The Pittsburgh Years, which covers Delany's abolitionist efforts and the founding of the city's first black newspaper. Fri., Feb. 5 through Sat., Feb. 28. 542 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412-983-7174 or www.pghplaywrights.com

Much-lauded actress Jane Alexander -- she has an Oscar, Tony and Emmy on her mantle -- stars in The REP's East Coast premiere of A Moon to Dance By, written and directed by former Pittsburgher Thom Thomas. The drama, set in Taos, N.M. in 1939, catches up Frieda, the paramour of the late D.H. Lawrence, and her grown son. Fri., Feb. 6 through Sun., Feb. 22. Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. 412-621-4445 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com

In Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Roméo et Juliette, the classic tale of star-crossed love is given a contemporary interpretation by choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot. But good news for traditionalists: A live orchestra will perform Prokofiev's score. Thu., Feb. 12 through Sun., Feb. 15. Benedum Center, 719 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org

click to enlarge DRUMLine Live
  • DRUMLine Live

Combining complex percussion, precision stepping, flamboyant costumes and all your favorite R&B classics, DRUMLine Live showcases performers drawn from the marching bands of historically black colleges. Now you don't have to sit through a football game to see these electrifying, crowd-pleasing performances. Wed., Feb. 18. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. 412-456-6666 or pgharts.org

click to enlarge 03_winter_stage_kalota_sioux.jpg

Celebrate this country's rich heritage with the Lakota Sioux Dance Theatre, founded in the late 1970s in South Dakota. These performances of dance, music and storytelling -- augmented with traditional costumes -- are more than just an entertaining stage act; they keep Native American traditions alive. Fri., March 8. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. 412-456-6666 or pgharts.org

 

MUSIC

click to enlarge 03_winter_music_frightened_rabbit.jpg

If you're a fan of elegiac Glaswegians The Twilight Sad, or their peppier major-label counterparts Glasvegas, don't miss this rare show by another of Glasgow's standouts, Frightened Rabbit. The band's sophomore release, Midnight Organ Flight, sports experimental textures, thick Scottish accents and titles like "The Modern Leper." Thumbs up, aye. Mon., Jan. 26. Rangos Hall, Carnegie Mellon University, Oakland. 412-268-2107or www.activitiesboard.org

click to enlarge Yo!Majesty
  • Yo!Majesty

If you like your hip-hop clichés served upside down, catch Yo!Majesty, a lesbian rap trio from Tampa, Fla., who have gained notoriety for outrageous freak-nasty live shows, with a twist of electro and a dash of gospel. Following up their Yo Kryptonite Pussy EP, they recently released their full-length debut, entitled Futuristically Speaking: Never Be Afraid. Fri., Jan. 30. Belvedere's, 4016 Butler St., Lawrenceville. 412-687-2555

It's not every girl-with-guitar who warbles about hockey skates, but this alt-country chanteuse is from ice-happy Canada. Kathleen Edwards brings her melancholy voice, band and maybe some lace-up blades to the Rex Theatre. Sat., Jan. 31. 1602 E. Carson St., South Side. 412-323-1919 or www.ticketmaster.com

Come hear the iconic Carmina Burana, a collection of ancient poems set to music in the 1930s by German composer Carl Orff. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performs this work, plus others, with the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh and soloists. Fri., Feb. 20 through Sun., Feb. 22. Heinz Hall, 600 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412-392-4900 or www.pittsburghsymphony.org

Whether you're too young to remember indie-rock ancestors like Pavement and The Pixies -- or old enough to harrumph at anything but -- Tapes 'n Tapes is guaranteed to satisfy your need for twitchy guitars and catchy melodies. As if to seal the deal, the Minneapolis trio's most recent album, Walk It Off, was a collaboration with indie ur-producer Dave Fridmann. Sun., Feb. 22. Brillobox, 4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. 412-621-4900 or www.brillobox.net

Tokyo Police Club -- now with its debut album Elephant Shell out -- returns to bring Smiths-y wistfulness and wit alongside arty grooves, propelled by David Monk's arch vocals and proggy basslines. As with frequent tourmates Ra Ra Riot, the Canadian quartet seems destined to be one of the more fun yet substantial pop bands of recent years. Sat., Feb. 28. Mr. Small's Theatre, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. 412-821-4447 or www.mrsmalls.com

click to enlarge Joan Baez
  • Joan Baez

Her live-performance career spans an astonishing 50 years -- and the folksinger-songwriter-activist would likely note, too many U.S.-led armed conflicts as well. But Joan Baez remains hale and hearty, recently playing Glastonbury, picking up a Lifetime Achievement Grammy and recording a new album with acolyte Steve Earle. Fri., March 6. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. 412-456-6666 or pgharts.org

Oh, Morrissey -- will you or won't you? The last time the erstwhile Smiths frontman -- the darling of mopey teen-agers who suffered the 1980s -- was booked to play Pittsburgh, he blew us off. As if our post-industrial backwater isn't good enough for a lad from Manchester (see also: post-industrial backwater). Tue., March 17. Carnegie Music Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. 412-323-1919 or www.ticketmaster.com

click to enlarge 03_winter_music_alarm_color.jpg

Newsday lauded the New Music ensemble Alarm Will Sound thusly: "If concert music has a future among the young, this is what it looks like." Hear for yourself as these pioneers of the future revisit the past -- specifically 1969 -- with a music-theater event which tells the stories of artists as diverse as Stravinsky, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Reich and Aaron Copland. Groovy. Fri., March 20. New Hazlett Theater, Allegheny Square East, North Side. 412-394-3353 or www.proartstickets.org

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