CP illustration: Abbie Adams // CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Members of Art All Night’s planning committee meet online.
The 23rd annual Art All Night will happen more or less the same way it's happened for the past 22 years. At 4 p.m. on Sat., May 16, the arts festival will open and provide the public with free access to tons of original artwork for 22 consecutive hours until it concludes at 2 p.m. the following day. There will still be activities for children and adults, performances by local bands and performers, and live painting. And people can still place bid on their favorite pieces.
But unlike previous shows, which usually took place in donated former industrial spaces throughout Lawrenceville, it's all happening online.
The Art All Night planning committee opted for a digital experience when it looked as though the COVID-19 shutdown would extend to the event date.
“We were in full-throttle planning mode before all of this happened,” says planning committee member Marisa Golden. The online event is a first for Art All Night, which started in 1998 partly as a way to help revitalize a pre-gentrified Lawrenceville. Since then, the show, which has remained in Lawrenceville save for a brief 2018 stint in the South Side, has become a beloved Pittsburgh tradition with its stripped-down, unpretentious approach. Each year, art lovers and night owls come in droves to enjoy the scene and, hopefully, mark off tongue-in-cheek Pittsburgh City Paper
Art All Night BINGO cards that urge players to look out for neon fanny packs, “Gritty fan art,” and “alt cross stitch” projects.
Golden and her fellow committee members wanted to avoid canceling what has been one of the most popular, well-attended events in Pittsburgh, and a major showcase for artists, many of whom have never shown before. Golden says that past shows have attracted crowds of 15,000 or more, which far exceeds limits originally set by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf in March before the virus became more widespread.
The committee is still planning to hold a physical show in the fall if shutdown restrictions are lifted by then and if they can find a property owner willing to give them a 50,000-square-foot space. “This is an interim solution that we are hoping benefits artists and gives attendees something to do,” says Golden. “Artists are hurting right now because they're not getting the income they typically get from physical shows. This is an opportunity for Art All Night to provide them a way to showcase their work and receive compensation.”
To participate in the show, artists must log in to artallnight.org and complete the registration form between May 1-11 (for video and audio submissions) or until May 13 (for image submissions). All artwork must arrive during this registration window to be displayed.
Over the course of Art All Night, the website enables visitors to place bids on pieces. The bidder's contact information is then shared with the artist, who takes over the transaction from there. Golden stresses that 100% of art sales go to the artists. But much like the physical event, once 2 p.m. hits, the website will be taken down or, as Golden puts it, the “digital doors” will close.
While the website requires less legwork compared to past shows — which often required modifying buildings for public use by adding railings, ramps, and steps, as well as buying insurance, renting port-a-johns, and hiring security — there are still limitations. The musical performances, live paintings, and demonstrations that have would have otherwise happened in person are now being presented in prerecorded videos.
Activities for children and families — which will be held from 4-8 p.m. May 16 and again from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. on May 17 — include a collaborative art project and a scavenger hunt, as well as a free coloring book available to download now.
Golden says this is why they avoid using the term “virtual” to describe the first-ever online Art All Night, as that term implies a recreation of the “atmosphere” that comes with an event. But she says they're “doing the best we can” to create a great experience for everyone involved.
“The purpose of the show is still the same,” she says. “Those of us who are interested in putting this version of it on are still motivated and excited.”