From the window of the offices of Ascender, a nonprofit coworking space next to Bakery Square, the disparity created by the technology boom in Pittsburgh is clear. On the left are apartment buildings with monthly rent prices in the thousands. To the right are communities with affordable housing.
Dan Law, business director at Ascender and creator of Thrival, acknowledges that significant growth in Pittsburgh’s technology sphere has been good for a lot of people in the city, but not for everyone.
“There’s a responsibly for our community, this tech and innovation community, to try to be more proactive about solving these problems,” says Law.
That's the aim behind Thrival Festival: bring to light this gap between worlds and bring together the people of Pittsburgh and the world.
“[We want to] elevate the ecosystem [of the city] to a level we think Pittsburgh can achieve. But the point isn’t to get Pittsburgh excited, the point is to connect Pittsburgh to a region, country, an entire globe of people and leaders and thinkers,” says Law. “As the city continues to experience such significant change and evolution, there needs to be some sort of platform there that is very intentional about sharing that story … and Thrival can be a vehicle. Not [the vehicle], because it should be a collective effort, but it can help push us forward.”
By connecting the people of Pittsburgh with thought leaders from around the world, Pittsburgh can grow and improve. In turn, the city can establish a blueprint for other areas not as far along in advancement.
“The world needs a strong Pittsburgh story to help identify the path for other Midwest cities that are all seeing the same things coming up for them, but there’re just a few years further out,” explains Kenny Chen, Innovation Director at Ascender.
“As Pittsburgh continues to amass talent and influence and retain more of the students and young professionals, you need the complementary growth in the arts and music," says Chen. "A lot of people don’t understand why these two parts of Thrival go together, but when you look at it through that economic development lens of what it takes for a really thriving ecosystem, there’s so much potential for each of them.”
Since the Chainsmokers played at Thrival in 2016, Ascender has seen its reach improve significantly. But the music component was designed to draw attention to the event. It was never meant to be the focus of the entire festival.
“What it is, is a complement to the efforts we put forth in our Human X Tech program,” says Law. “Music X Arts is a unique live experience, [with an] emphasis on 'live experience.' We want people to share with one another, instead of living behind screens or doing things in isolation.”
With Human X Tech, Thrival aims to cover the relationship between humans and technology, and its impact on business, culture, and society. With Music X Arts, it celebrates art, music, and communal human gathering. The events are carefully curated to provide the audience with a holistic experience.
“If you show up at 9 p.m. to [Music X Art], you’re missing the point,” says Law. “And that doesn’t even account the two full days we contribute to advanced technology, robotics, art and life sciences, all the things [Chen] helps design. It’s all together. It’s like going to a 10-course meal and just showing up for dessert.”
A plan is being formed for Thrival to respectfully honor the late Mac Miller. Law was in discussion with a team at Live Nation. “When you think of your community and this music ecosystem, and our innovation ecosystem, Mac was an innovator and entrepreneur, just as much as any tech guru,” Law says.
Read about what not to miss at Thrival Festival
Thrival Festival, Sept. 19-21. Multiple times. $15–$275. Multiple venues. thrivalfestival.comFollow staff writer, Jordan Snowden, on Twitter @snowden_jordan.