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What the Flux? Future of traveling art event unclear 

News that the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh sacked two key figures in the Three Rivers Arts Festival -- executive director Elizabeth Reiss and associate director Chris Taylor -- made headlines Sept. 8.

But there's been less attention paid to what it all means for FLUX, a successful if occasional arts-and-music series.

Flux was a traveling art event, founded in 2000 to introduce participants to up-and-coming artists in economically fluctuating communities. Founded by Traci Jackson, the event was absorbed in 2004 by the Arts Festival, which itself has long been a ward of the Carnegie. The next FLUX event was slated to take place Sept. 27, at UnSmoke Systems, a Braddock middle school converted into a gallery and artists' co-op. But as part of the Arts Festival shake-up, the event was canceled with neither a warning nor any promises that it would return.

Jeb Feldman, an Unsmoke part-owner, says that a previous Braddock FLUX event was "catalytic. We were ready for another excellent event, and then something happened with Carnegie Museum. Who knows what's going on over there? We were told that the pause button was hit."

According to media accounts, the Carnegie was concerned about debt being racked up by the arts festival; David Hillenbrand, president of Carnegie Museums, said that Reiss and Ross' dismissals will provide "an opportunity to ... better assess the organization's finances." But the museum has not made a public statement about FLUX's future.

Colleen Russell Criste, whom the Carnegie installed as acting director of TRAF, says that "at the moment, we're trying to figure out what's going on. I don't have full information at this point, unfortunately. Everyone's got different sides to this story. There are big question marks."

Two years ago, TRAF received a $100,000 grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation to produce three FLUX events. The Sept. 27 event was to be the last of the series, but Criste says, "at the moment it's unclear" whether the event will happen, and what will happen with the foundation money if it doesn't.

Administrators may well decide FLUX's moment has passed. While Reiss declined to speak about her dismissal, she did say, "FLUX, as a model, has been replicated in many different ways. I think it needs to grow into something else not necessarily event-based -- whether that's into a publication, or artist-specific projects, or something completely off the map."

But Curt Gettman, an artist coordinator for FLUX, hopes TRAF will continue supporting atypical events in Reiss' absence. "Elizabeth had been a big supporter of edgier local art," he says. "I hope that whoever takes her place recognizes the quality of artists in their own backyard and the need for institutions to support them."

In the meantime, though, there is the fallout from the cancelled Sept. 27 event to deal with. Many arrangements for the event were made via handshake agreements rather than contracts, and Lauren Bracey, manager of communications and external affairs at TRAF, says that vendors will be settled with, and hard feelings smoothed over.

"There will be a loss on the project," Criste said. Despite the event's cancellation, "Money was still spent [on Flux]."

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