20 Reasons to keep smiling | Pittsburgh City Paper

20 Reasons to keep smiling

A list of Pittsburgh people, events, and businesses that are bringing us joy despite the pandemic

CP artwork of hand-sculpted paper flowers: Abbie Adams
The first day of spring came and passed without much fanfare on March 19, just as the coronavirus pandemic really began making itself known in our city, bringing with it months of canceled events and general uncertainty. Here at Pittsburgh City Paper, we were left with little choice but to cancel our annual Spring Guide last month, as stories of COVID-19 replaced our planned features on concerts, gallery openings, theater performances, and so many more offerings by Pittsburgh’s amazing arts and culture organizations.

In the past month, our city has seen incredible losses and challenges as we’ve tried to adjust to our new normal. After weeks in quarantine during the state’s stay-at-home order, or traveling to and from essential jobs, Pittsburghers have faced immeasurable amounts of stress and fears of the unknown. But even during the pandemic, there are still reasons to keep smiling: flowers are starting to bloom, sunlight is sticking around a little longer, and there are a huge number of people doing amazing things to help their communities get through these hard times. Yes, times are tough and we still have a long way to go, but to help readers find reasons to keep going, we’ve compiled a list of some of the things that have brought us joy in recent weeks. We’d love to hear yours.

click to enlarge Jena-Anne Sabon, an organizer of #LoveFromPGH, stands atop Mt. Washington with a lighted heart and a decorated jacket during “Illumination-Ovation” on Tue., April 7. - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Jena-Anne Sabon, an organizer of #LoveFromPGH, stands atop Mt. Washington with a lighted heart and a decorated jacket during “Illumination-Ovation” on Tue., April 7.


People in cities around the world have been gathering on balconies and porches for nightly salutes to health care workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. (Search “NYC cheers essential workers” on YouTube for some major feel-good vibes.) Over the past few weeks in Pittsburgh, a local group joined in on the trend with an “illumination ovation,” using the hashtag #LoveFromPGH. While it didn’t gather the crowds in larger cities like New York City, the Downtown skyline was lit up in support of local essential workers, including a beautiful can’t-miss, heart-shaped array of lights made from windows on the Reed Smith building. facebook.com/lovefrompittsburgh

Tour Art Galleries Online

For the first time ever, the August Wilson African American Cultural Center (aacc-awc.org) has opened an online art gallery, taking visitors on a virtual tour of exhibits Vanishing Black Bars & Lounges by New Orleans photographer L. Kasimu Harris and I came by Boat so Meet me at the Beach by Ayana M. Evans and Tsedaye Makonnen. The museum joins other local galleries offering online services, including The Carnegie Museum of Art (cmoa.org), The Andy Warhol Museum (warhol.org), and The Mattress Factory (mattress.org/virtual).


Tired of listening to nonsensical briefings from our country’s belligerent leader? Tune in instead to Pennsylvania's daily COVID-19 virtual press conferences, featuring intelligent and informative updates from Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine. Listening to her tell us to “stay home, stay calm, and stay safe” is like having our BFF tell us horrible news in a really kind way that makes us feel like everything just might end up being OK. And, as a trans woman, Levine is a pretty great role model for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians and has inspired the #Respect4Rachel hashtag on Twitter, full of encouraging words from others appreciating her wisdom. Live streaming weekdays. governor.pa.gov/live or facebook.com/pennsylvaniadepartmentofhealth

click to enlarge A stuffed animal looks out from the window on the North Side, part of a pandemic Bear Hunt. - CP PHOTO: LISA CUNNINGHAM
CP photo: Lisa Cunningham
A stuffed animal looks out from the window on the North Side, part of a pandemic Bear Hunt.

Bear Hunts

In between juggling the new challenge of working from home and home-schooling their children, taking a walk through the neighborhood is often the only time of the day some parents are able to get their kids outside of the house. To make those walks more enjoyable, city residents across the globe have started placing teddy bears in street-facing windows so that parents can take kids for a “bear hunt,” turning daily walks into a fun game of hide-and-go-seek. Plus, in addition to stuffed animals, some households have also started hanging up artwork of handmade rainbows in their windows to share additional joy to passersby.

click to enlarge CT Hedden performs during Digital Drag Brunch.
CT Hedden performs during Digital Drag Brunch.

Digital Drag Brunch

Local performers are bringing some flair to a now-homebound meal with Digital Drag Brunches. Hosted by Pittsburgh drag queen Lola LeCroix, the weekly streaming events feature a variety of local drag acts dancing and lip-syncing as viewers eat and drink in the comfort of their own homes. Watch them live on LeCroix's Instagram page, and be sure to tip! 12:30 p.m. on Sundays at Instagram.com/lola_lecroix

A Restaurant Expands

When Carmi Soul Food announced it was moving to the South Side in 2017, North Siders mourned their popular Western Avenue location. But three years later — during a global pandemic, no less — the family- and Black-owned restaurant is returning to its roots, opening a second satellite location back on the North Side. In a time when the food and drink industry is facing difficult times, seeing a business not only stay open for delivery and pickup but expanding to a second location is something worth celebrating … especially if you’ve tried the restaurant’s delicious shrimp and grits. South Side, carmisoulfood.com and North Side, carmiexpress.com

click to enlarge Highlights from Ashley Olinger's #DrawAtHomeClub project on Instagram
Highlights from Ashley Olinger's #DrawAtHomeClub project on Instagram


Pittsburgh artist Ashley Olinger is inspiring others to create fun art from home during the pandemic with a #DrawAtHomeClub challenge. Every day this month, artists are invited to share a drawing on Instagram from Olinger's list of 30 prompts including "fancy hat," "last thing you bought," and "book you're reading." Lucky for all of us, Olinger has joined in on the fun too, with an Instagram feed full of upbeat colors and adorable illustrations to brighten up any day. instagram.com/yeahyelhsa

Virtual Campfires

Whether you miss hanging out with your homies over a roaring backyard fire or, like so many of us, you’re stuck in quarantine without any outdoor space of your own at all, the 3 Rivers Outdoor Company is here to bring you the sweet sizzling sounds of a community bonfire. On Friday nights, those with access to backyard fires are invited to broadcast live over Zoom to share the love with those without. Live musicians join in on the fun too, but unlike real life, the host has the ability to mute others from talking so you can actually hear the music. 8 p.m. on Fridays at 3riversoutdoor.com/events/virtual-campire

click to enlarge Dormont CoronaChoir member Kim Rullo models the group’s T-shirt. - PHOTO: DAVE RULLO
Photo: Dave Rullo
Dormont CoronaChoir member Kim Rullo models the group’s T-shirt.

Porch Singalongs

After videos of Italian citizens singing from windows and balconies during quarantine went viral, the community-bonding trend has gained momentum across the world. Here in Pittsburgh, the most popular Porch Singalong title belongs to the Dormont CoronaChoir whose members have been singing together from their porches, and over Zoom, every Sunday evening for the past five weeks. How serious are these singers? The group has had custom T-shirts made, and songs are selected by vote on their Facebook page. But they still have a sense of humor. This week’s songs were by no other than Weird Al. Search "Dormont CoronaChoir" on Facebook

Singing for Service Workers

At the onset of pandemic and stay-at-home orders, instead of raising money for themselves, the members of Pittsburgh band Chalk Dinosaur released Service, an album dedicated to service industry workers who lost their income due to COVID-19 closures. All proceeds go to those workers in Pittsburgh, and as of April 10, the band raised almost $900. Plus, Chalk Dinosaur released another charity album, With You, two weeks later with 100% of the sales going to an employee relief fund for South Side music venue The Rex Theater. facebook.com/chalkdinosaur

click to enlarge Curbside pick-up at Page Dairy Mart - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Curbside pick-up at Page Dairy Mart

Page Dairy Mart is Open

For Pittsburghers with a sweet tooth, the yearly opening of Page Dairy Mart is often the unofficial kickoff of Spring. While you can't place an order at the service window during the pandemic, you can place orders online, pay with a credit card, and get your beloved treats delivered to your vehicle. Don't have a car? You can also order through DoorDash and get arctic swirls delivered to your home. 12-8 p.m. pagedairymart.net

Comedy for Kids

Are your kids having a hard time being away from their friends and grandparents? They might need a good laugh! Arcade Comedy Theater is taking its popular Penny Arcade kids’ show online. Have your kids help inspire the show by helping them make a video question to send to the "Question Monster" or by filling out a fun online questionnaire before the show. 1 p.m. Sat., April 25 at arcadecomedytheater.com/pennyarcade

Online Poetry Readings

April is celebrated nationally as Poetry Month, and while physical bookstores are closed, many local shops are offering online sales which means you can get poetry delivered to your doorstep! But what’s really sure to bring a smile to local poetry fans are the daily live Poem of the Day readings by City Books. One poem a day is posted on Twitter and read by owner Arlan Hess and special guests, including Pittsburgh City Paper's own Jordan Snowden who recently recorded a video of herself reading "To a Dark Girl" by Gwendolyn Bennett. twitter.com/citybookspgh

click to enlarge Caricatures by Howard Bender
Caricatures by Howard Bender

$5 Caricatures

Who doesn’t smile when getting a caricature from a talented artist who’s able to turn anyone into a superhero with a twirl of his pen? Mt. Lebanon cartoonist Howard Bender, who has been drawing caricatures for over 30 years and who has lost a lot of recent business because of canceled events, is offering drawings of folks for only $5 during the pandemic. You can schedule an appointment with the artist over Skype, or send him a photograph to reference if you’re purchasing a gift. It’s a hell of a deal for a memento from an artist who once drew Superman for Action Comics. howardbenderart.com

Feeding the Frontline

Even though restaurants are struggling with lost business during the pandemic, it’s been inspiring to see local spots offering their services to help other essential workers. Frontline Foods Pittsburgh, part of a national all-volunteer network, has been teaming up with local restaurants to feed frontline healthcare workers while also supporting the food and drink industry. So far, the organization has helped serve over 412 meals, thanks to volunteers and donations. frontlinefoods.org/pittsburgh

Home Dance Parties

Clubs may be closed because of the governor’s stay-at-home order, but Pittsburgh DJs are producing amazing digital sets from their homes, and you know what that means: pajama dance parties! Selecta, a longtime local DJ who hosts Grand Groove Radio show on 91.3FM WYEP, has been known to spin records for up to nine hours on his Facebook page (facebook.com/jscoglietti). Another worth a look: Orlando “Buscrates” Marshall (twitch.tv/buscrates) excels at curating the sweet sounds of old-school funk.

CSAs are Coming

Community Supported Agriculture is one of our favorite ways to support local farmers and eat well during the summer and fall months. Start planning your meals now by subscribing to one of the many local options. We recommend checking out Ugly CSA, with produce from local farms and vendors that just looks a little rough around the edges, benefiting 412 Food Rescue’s mission of “keeping perfectly good food out of the waste stream.” 412foodrescue.org/programs/ugly-csa

click to enlarge YMCA online workouts
YMCA online workouts

Family Workouts

The YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh is continuing its mission to help families in Pittsburgh by moving many of its great services online during the pandemic. The YMCA’s new “YWithYou” series includes live group exercise activities, at-home instructional workout videos, live chats, and healthy recipes. Make a big bowl of bean dip as a reward for shaking your booties during a family barre class. pittsburghymca.org/ywithyou

Taking the Long Way Home

Pittsburghers have the great privilege of still being able to take leisurely walks during quarantine, which means plenty of opportunities for fresh air (or as much fresh air as you can get while breathing through a mask). This is a great opportunity to venture off the beaten path and discover new trails close to home. City parks are still open as well, but seeing as how park usage has increased by 83% in Allegheny County, according to the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, it’s a good reminder to continue to practice social distancing if you do come across others also out searching for new adventures. pittsburghparks.org

Free eBooks and Movies

Did you know you can still apply for a library card during the pandemic? Physical locations might be closed, but kids and adults alike can still choose from a huge collection of online materials from the Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh, including eBooks, audiobooks, and streaming movies. Plus, if you borrowed a book before the pandemic and are worried about late fees, here's something sure to make you smile: All late fees are currently suspended. carnegielibrary.org