Whether you're paddling to a floating platform for a mind-elevating experience or scratching your head over the meaning of a painted white Mustang with corn rows in place of racing stripes, you're doing just what the organizers of the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival hope you'll do.
The 54th annual festival begins at noon Friday and continues through June 16 Downtown. Admission is free to the 100 visual and performing events and activities that will bring in more than 500 artists to 20 venues including four stages.
New this year will be a half dozen artworks with the primary purpose to engage, perhaps puzzle, and inspire discussion. Generally referred to as "public art," these outdoor, often large and ambitious projects will extend from the middle of the Allegheny River by Point State Park to the walls of Tito Way in the Cultural District, near the "Cell Phone Disco."
There are two ways of thinking about art, said Veronica Corpuz, who became this year's festival director as a part of her earlier appointment to Pittsburgh Cultural Trust director of festival management and special projects.
"There's the sit-back-and-present-me culture, and there's the do-it-yourself culture and do-it-yourself art. It comes out of the whole indie craft phenomenon."
The festival wants to offer something for everyone and knows the approximately 400,000 visitors it attracts annually are a diverse group.
"We can have fine art and craft, vocational artists and hobbyist artists, people interested in taking pictures and sharing them. We can all talk about art. We can all try to create it, without judgment as to whether it's good, bad, high, low. It's a broad spectrum, what we present and what we hope our visitors experience.
"[The festival is] not simply a music festival. Not a fine art and craft show. Not a visual arts show. Not a public art show. It's all of the above. It's a unique position to be in nationally," Ms. Corpuz said. That it remains free is also unique in the country.
Asked how many festivals comparable to Pittsburgh's there are in the U.S., she replied, "Interdisciplinary like TRAF and of a similar caliber? I'm still trying to find one."
Ms. Corpuz would like to see a more participatory audience this year.
"We welcome communication, social media. We've added a people's choice award to the Juried Visual Art Exhibition." The festival will also continue to solicit feedback through in-person and online surveys.
The festival also continues to collaborate with other local organizations, reaching a peak this year with the dedication of the fountain in Point State Park, presented with Riverlife and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (Friday); the Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival, in cooperation with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust (Friday through Sunday); the dedication of the Western Terminus of the Great Allegheny Passage, by the Allegheny Trail Alliance (June 15); and a weekend of events including PrideFest sponsored by the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh (June 15-16).
The Laurel Foundation, which last summer installed the realistic figural sculpture of Seward Johnson throughout Gateway Center, is sponsoring a Miniature Marina in the fountain at One Gateway Center. It was inspired by New York's Central Park Conservatory Water and Le Jardin de Luxembourg, Paris. Children may take turns sailing model wooden boats. "It's very analog," Ms. Corpuz said. "You take a stick and poke it."
The festival prides itself on its green footprint and this year enlarges that by substituting 100 percent compostable cups, lids and straws for plastic soft drink bottles. BikePGH will offer free valet bike parking service at the entrance to Point State Park.
Biking and water are themes that run through festival presentations and activities, as at the Giant Eagle Creativity Zone, in the park, which offers activities for artists of all ages.
Details at www.3riversartsfest.org.
Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1925. First Published June 6, 2013 4:00 AM