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Space exploration

About 50 representatives of the local arts community gathered Dec. 11 to discuss a perennial problem: The lack of performance and rehearsal space in Pittsburgh for small and medium-sized arts groups ["Stage Fright," Nov. 19, 2003] . One irony was that the meeting, convened by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Alliance, took place in one of the city's more distinctive newer art spaces: the Pittsburgh Glass Center, in Friendship. Another was that many participants came not simply to discuss the issue, but to offer some fairly concrete solutions.


Tom Sarver, of the South Side's Brew House Association, touted that building's "rough theater space." The 300-seat space has been used for everything from stage plays to rock shows, but "Right now it's very underutilized," said Sarver.


"When I hear dancers need studio space, I wonder what the issue is," said Beth Corning, the new artistic director of Dance Alloy. Corning said she has found and set up seating risers at the Alloy's Neighborhood Dance Center (just a block from the Glass Center). With a lighting grid and a sound system, she said, the space could host music or theater groups as well as dance.


Meanwhile, Carolyn Tuminella, vice principal of the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, handed out color brochures touting CAPA's new Downtown building, which has two theaters and several rehearsal spaces available for rental. And Rebecca White of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust said the Trust is busy renovating two adjoining Liberty Avenue buildings for gallery and possible performance space.


So -- problem solved? Unfortunately, no. Available spaces aren't necessarily affordable or even right for a particular group. "We have a Carnegie Hall, and it's fabulous," said Kate Granneman, of the Carnegie Library of Homestead. "The acoustics are so good they've made recordings in there ... And it's underutilized. It's available a lot. I'd like you to rent it." But the hall's $700-a-night price tag, not to mention its 1,000 seats, are beyond what many small groups can handle


"Right now in Pittsburgh we have a 10-year supply of empty space on the market," said Kyra Straussman, of the nonprofit Cool Space Locator. "We could start looking for you today and we would find it for you in six months." Groups simply must decide what they want and be willing to sign contracts to make rentals and renovations happen, Straussman said. "You are going to have to spend money," she said. "It's not going to be free."


Space can be cheaper than you think, though, noted Kelly-Strayhorn Theater Interim Director Robert Neu: Renting his theater on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, for instance, costs practically half what it would on peak days. "You can make out like a bandit," Neu says.


Attendees also discussed Web-based sharing of information and the status of a plan to reopen the city-owned Hazlett Theater, but the constant theme was the song of the pocketbook. Noted Three Rivers Arts Festival Executive Director Elizabeth Reiss, funders are reluctant to cover increasing costs of doing business, like higher rents and insurance rates: "It's not availability, it's money."



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