Sidelining the Arts 

In the grand tradition of sports stat-geeks, Ellen James of the Carnegie Museums can tell you exactly how many folks attended the museums of art and natural history on each of the past 10 Super Bowl Sundays.

The two museums average 785 visitors on Sundays and -- surprise -- averaged nearly the same over the course of those 10 Super Bowls. Like a quarterback's average passing yards, that number masks a lot of variation. Last year's Super Bowl saw a whopping 1,383 visitors -- whether because of the new dinosaur show, or, as James calls it, "Patriots fatigue." The low point in Super Bowl Sunday attendance, though, comes as no surprise: Barely 400 people visited the Carnegie when the Steelers faced the Seahawks in 2006.

Still, the Carnegies will be open this Feb. 1. So will many other venues, including Downtown theaters hosting Sunday matinees of Pittsburgh CLO's I Love You, You're Perfect ... Now Change and Disney's touring High School Musical. At the Benedum Center, Broadway musical Jersey Boys plans a matinee and a 6:30 p.m. show, the latter going head-to-head with the game.

Other, usually smaller, groups are more circumspect. The Pittsburgh Jazz Society canceled its weekly Sunday-night show at Bridgeville's Rhythm House Café, for instance, while Quantum Theatre pulled an opening-weekend evening performance of its Mouth to Mouth.

City Theatre, meanwhile, canceled matinees for both its current shows: Audiences would, after all, spill onto South Side sidewalks during prime pre-game party hours. Indeed, company spokeperson Sean Kelly -- himself a South Sider --notes that after the Steelers' Jan. 18 playoff victory, impromptu street celebrations drew police helicopters to the neighborhood. But Kelly says the shows were canceled primarily to avoid Super Bowl-diminished houses -- a half-empty theater, he says, can lessen the experience for the playgoers who do attend.

Downtown, Pittsburgh Public Theater will split the difference. It's axed its night show of Metamorphoses -- as spokesperson Lou Castelli quips, "We're the home of The Chief," the perennial favorite one-man show about legendary Steelers founder Art Rooney. But the Public is keeping the matinee performance, a time slot popular among subscribers.

Not all groups call audibles near game time. Most arts calendars are written months in advance, and some outfits simply black out the Bowl, and even regular Steelers games. "You never plan a major event that's going to go up against a Steelers game -- any game, but especially the playoffs," says Susan Sparks, a longtime arts administrator who's now managing director of Dance Alloy Theatre.

Indeed, Pittsburgh Filmmakers always honors the Super Bowl -- whether the Steelers are playing or not -- by suspending its Sunday-night classic-movie series at the Regent Square Theater (a bow it also makes to the Oscars). Perhaps that's wise, considering that only about 35 people, less than half the usual crowd, caught Hitchcock's The Birds on Jan. 18, the night the Steelers plucked the Ravens.

And don't forget that, stereotypes notwithstanding, many arts professionals like the Steelers, too. "Pittsburgh's got this wonderful mix, where arts people are also sports enthusiasts," says Sparks, a Pittsburgh native. "From personal experience, I want to watch the game."


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