Veronica Corpuz, director of festival management for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, in Point State Park, where many activities of the arts festival will be held. It opens Friday and runs through June 14.
By Mary Thomas / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Paintings and ceramic mugs, funnel cakes and tabbouleh, blues and bluegrass, hip-hop and symphony, indoor exhibitions and outdoor sculptures — it’s all part of the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, which returns Friday and continues through June 14 at Point State Park, Gateway Center and throughout the Cultural District, Downtown.
The traditional attractions — Artist Market, music stages, food booths and juried visual art show — will be here, as well as a few surprises planned by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. Like a 25-foot-tall Black Rock Negative Energy Absorber that expunges negative energy from viewers and even the site it’s built upon. Or a Lost + Found Factory where artists re-create an item or place that remains only in a visitor’s memory and then return it to the participant as a tangible object.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the festival remains free while continuing to develop an expansive vision that combines challenging idea-driven contemporary artwork with a fun summer event that draws 400,000 visitors.
A new presence will be the CREATE Festival, a program of the Pittsburgh Technology Council and Carnegie Mellon University presented for the first time in partnership with the festival. It will be held at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh, Downtown, June 11 and 12, and include more than 40 panel sessions, parties, art exhibitions, maker and entrepreneur workshops, performances and an Innovation Salon. Many of the events are public and free but require advance registration because of limited space.
For the first time in years, this 56th annual festival has an overall theme, “Unseen/Unheard,” which addresses “those artists or stories or narratives we don’t usually talk about,” said Veronica Corpuz, director of festival management for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
That may include the invisibility of women of color, the silence of spaces like a hospice, or artists who have never previously exhibited at the festival because they are emerging, or young, or established and new to this platform, Ms. Corpuz explained.
The Juried Visual Art Exhibition encouraged a new pool of artists to apply and considered artworks that explored unheard narratives or brought individuals, cultures and social issues into greater visibility. Members of the Pittsburgh Society of Artists responded to the theme when creating submissions for their juried exhibition.
The theme underlies the festival’s public artworks — visitors’ repressed feelings or unfortunate historic events in Rudy Shepherd’s Energy Absorber; muted memories in M. Michelle Illuminato’s Factory; the complicated fallout of colonization and inter-cultural encounters in Fernando Orellana’s “Confluence” and Michael Arcega’s “Baby, Corps of Rediscovery,” inspired by encounters with Native Americans and the Lewis and Clark expedition. respectively.
Independent curator Nadine Wasserman selected the public work artists with the hope that they “will help visitors to see the location in a new light and that the art will inspire new discoveries that are waiting to be uncovered and explored,” she wrote in a curatorial statement.
Ms. Wasserman’s appointment was made as phase 2 of a three-year strategic plan mapped out for the festival by the Pittsburgh Office of Public Art in consultation with the festival. Phase 1 called for bringing in large public artworks in 2014, and next year the festival will work with a not-yet-announced larger institution and its curatorial staff.
“The public art plan has been a way to grow the visual art component of the festival in an intentional and strategic way. As the trust further develops the festival, we seek to acknowledge the deep history and curatorial tradition of commissioning large-scale works while at the same time opening up to current practices of socially engaged art-making and interactive, performative works,” Ms. Corpuz said.
A theme like “Unseen/Unheard” may also address the unique challenges experienced by people with visual or hearing impairments. “How do we view ableism in art and society?” Ms. Corpuz posited.
This is the 25th anniversary year of the enactment of the Americans With Disabilities Act and a bus with an informational presentation will be at the festival. In the Giant Eagle Creativity Zone, the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf will hold activities to educate the public about deafness and sign language, and Canine Companions for Independence graduates and volunteer puppy raisers will be on hand to demonstrate what assistance dogs can do for people with disabilities. ASL interpreters will be at some music headliner performances during the festival’s second weekend.
The festival theme grew out of the civic unrest that has risen across the country in the past year. Ms. Corpuz cited an April public art exhibition in Chicago, “Unforgotten,” memorializing innocent victims of gun violence, and a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. recently revisited in news accounts, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
“There is this moment to see [these absences] in the language of the artists,” she said, while acknowledging that “in 10 days the totality of experience cannot be captured.” Some of the visited realities may be harsh, but there is balance.
“The festival that visitors know and love is still here. In our shared human experience there is suffering but also joy and celebration,” she said.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
firstname.lastname@example.org and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.