The Three Rivers Arts Festival returns, with Guster and art about fish.  | Community Profile | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Three Rivers Arts Festival returns, with Guster and art about fish. 

There will be art. There will be water. There will be art in water. This year, the Three Rivers Arts Festival is taking its name literally.

Joining with World Environment Day, an international celebration held each year on June 5, the 10-day fest combines public art with eco-education starting June 4.

Pittsburgh, once "hell with the lid off," is increasingly recognized for its environmental efforts. Home to rejuvenated freshwater resources, among other improvements, the city was chosen by the United Nations as the North American host city for World Environment Day 2010.

The WED Pittsburgh theme, "Water Matters!," quickly wetted the imaginations of arts-festival planners at The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

"Everybody was at the table to figure out what programming could be introduced to complement and extend this incredible honor," festival coordinator Marguerite Jarrett Marks says.

Two answers take the form of a tank and a dock. Two large-scale public art installations will occupy Creativity Zone, a portion of Point State Park beyond the bridge, where hands-on children's activities are typically located. Both works educate attendees about water-quality issues and threats to local biodiversity.

"Catch of the Day," an interactive installation by local artist Ashley Hodder, allows children on a homemade dock to use magnetic poles to catch "fish" made of recycled materials.

Sharing the space on weekends will be "Life Below the Waterline." This more realistic installation is by ORSANCO, a regional commission that works to reduce pollution in the Ohio River Valley. The display features a 2,000-gallon mobile aquarium filled with water and fish taken straight from the Ohio.

Behind the scenes eco-efforts are also expanded. Last year, the second to boast aggressive recycling efforts and a compost program, the festival diverted 83 percent of its garbage from landfills. This year, additional hand-sorting stations strengthen the zero-waste initiative. All cooking oil will be turned into biodiesel fuel, and all compostable materials distributed to working farms across Allegheny County.

Last year's newly shortened event (from 17 to 10 days) earned high approval, with 90 percent of attendees surveyed saying they planned to return, Marks says. "A shortened schedule allows us to create efficiencies and to invest more in programming," she says.

The 51st annual festival, laid out much the same as last year's, brings back arts-fest staples. The Artists Market, for instance, will feature 300 hundred artists, 200 of whom are new to the festival, selling handmade crafts and original artwork in Gateway Center Plaza and Point State Park. Meanwhile, Downtown galleries and theaters will feature work including wood and metal sculpture, Alice in Wonderland-themed photography, pulsing sound-wave demonstrations, and a sneak preview of graffiti artist Banksy's first-ever feature film.

In Point State Park, the line-up of local and national musicians includes Guster. The band known for its eco-friendliness -- guitarist Adam Gardner co-founded Reverb, a nonprofit promoting green touring -- headlines on World Environment Day. And festival-goers who demonstrate environmentally-friendly behavior are eligible for random selection by festival workers to meet the band.

The fest also brings back the popular Juried Visual Arts Exhibition. The exhibit, which showcases local talent, received more than 700 entries, 110 of which will be on display at the Trust Arts Education Center, at 805 Liberty Ave.

"It's a really positive affirmation of the number of working artists in this region and really underscores the importance of Pittsburgh ... as an ideal place for artists to live and work," Marks says. "The festival has a duty to help artists with their livelihood. Where artists go, other businesses follow -- so we want to be as supportive as possible."


Three Rivers Arts Festival Starts 11 a.m. daily, Fri., June 4-June 13. Downtown. Most events are free.

The Three Rivers Arts Festival returns, with Guster and art about fish. 
To scale: Ashley Hodder works on her Three Rivers Arts Festival installation, "Catch of the Day."