The Pittsburgh diaspora is powerful. It’s why the airport is crowded on certain Sundays in the fall; Pittsburghers come back home to watch the Steelers.
But a beloved football team isn’t the only national draw anymore. Pittsburgh has been attracting more conventions in recent years and has been featured as a visit-worthy destination in many travel publications.
Pittsburgh is having a bit of a travel moment.
Taking advantage of and contributing to that moment is the Three Rivers Arts Festival. Sarah Aziz of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which is running the festival, says 15 percent of last year’s attendees came from outside of the region. She also says that percentage has been growing for the last several years.
“It has become part of the culture and part of the summer here in Pittsburgh,” says Aziz. “It is a combination of tradition and programming that is leading to our growth.”
Aziz says more than 500,000 people attended last year’s Three Rivers Arts Festival, and she expects more this year both from in and outside Pittsburgh. She notes that Pittsburgh’s focus on revitalizing downtown and its riverfront has helped. Aziz also says the national headliners, such as Mavis Staples (performing this year), has been integral to attracting festival-goers from places like Columbus, Buffalo and Washington, D.C.
“Mavis Staples playing for free in Pittsburgh, people will drive at least a couple hours to see that,” says Aziz.
She believes a diverse set of entertainers has also contributed to Arts Festival’s growth. The festival attracts country acts, rock ‘n’ roll, as well as a breakdance troupe.
“We have definitely seen growth, especially since we started focusing on curating the music scene a bit more,” says Aziz. “National acts and diversifying the genres played.”
One longtime artist/vendor agrees Arts Festival has excelled at growing not just its regional fanbase, but groups of fans from all over.
“It is a good enough show to make the drive from Texas,” says photographer Dan Westfall, who lives in the Lone Star State.
Westfall specializes in photographs of art and architecture in Europe and he says of the 25 shows he does every year, Pittsburgh’s Arts Festival is consistently his best seller.
Aziz is happy to see more non-regional attendees at Arts Festival. But she also points out it’s still about the Pittsburgh region first and foremost. Though 75,000 people attended last year from outside the region, a vast majority still visited from within the Pittsburgh area.
“The name is the Three Rivers Arts Festival, everyone in the region identifies with the rivers,” says Aziz.