The Magazine staff presents a flurry of wishes for 2014


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In the Pittsburgh snow globe of our fantasies, we'd have much more than White Christmases and ballerinas on demand. We'd have a big Downtown food hall or public market; arthouse complexes with multiple movie titles and alcoholic beverages; bigger concert venues within city limits; less traffic and more theater.

Some of these ideas may just be wishful thinking. Others may become reality sooner than we think. But just in case, the Post-Gazette's magazine staff has concocted a wish list for 2014 that would really push Pittsburgh's cultural, food, entertainment and art scene into the big leagues.

What's on your wish list?

FOOD

The Pittsburgh food and drinks scene has improved so dramatically in recent years that I don't find myself wishing for much that's new. I still often wish for something old -- for a Downtown public market like the long-gone Diamond Market.

I wish Downtown at least had a vibrant food hall, like the North Market in Columbus, Ohio. There you could pick up a nice loaf of bread to take home after work and, privatization willing, a nice bottle of wine. Meanwhile, I'd even settle for a more robust food court.

Yes, we have the Strip District and its Pittsburgh Public Market, but it's just far enough away from Downtown to make it a stretch for a quick lunch, especially in the winter.

How about this: I wish there were a free lunch trolley that regularly and quickly ran between Downtown and the Strip District.

-- Bob Batz Jr., Post-Gazette food editor

MOVIES

Six years ago when we played, "If I ruled Pittsburgh" in a similar wish list, I proposed a modern megaplex for the North Hills, reopening the Denis Theater in Mt. Lebanon, turning the Garden Theater into a North Side movie jewel and giving Pittsburgh Filmmakers a snazzier home Downtown than the Harris Theater.

In May, Cinemark will open a new theater in McCandless, a fundraising campaign to renovate the Denis is well underway, the Garden is being reborn although not as a theater, but the Harris remains as it was. In recent years, Downtown has come alive with full-time residents, and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust should expand, renovate and modernize the Harris, which now seats 194.

Imagine a two- or even three-screen arthouse complex with the amenities moviegoers demand -- a choice of titles, stadium seating, better sight lines, pristine picture and sound, a small bar, parking or discounted parking, and the sense that the Harris is a neighborhood theater for Downtown workers and dwellers, with visitors welcome, too.

The Trust purchased the Art Cinema, a landmark that had degenerated into a porn theater, with a $560,000 grant from the Howard Heinz Endowment and the $750,000 renovation was funded by the Buhl Foundation. The renamed Harris opened to the public in November 1995 as the temporary Downtown location of Filmmakers, but it became permanent.

Wouldn't it be great to mark 2015 with another cinematic celebration of a bigger, better theater? If you build it, I bet they will come.

-- Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette movie editor

MUSIC

When we did this sort of thing six years ago, I declared that "If I ruled Pittsburgh," I would wave a wand and there would be a 1,000- to 1,500-capacity club venue to handle shows we weren't getting, such as the Dropkick Murphys or MGMT.

Three years later, we got something even better: the North Shore's Stage AE, which holds 2,500 as a showcase club and converts to 5,000 outside. People kept saying a venue that size wouldn't work here. They could not have been more wrong.

Meanwhile, the First Niagara Pavilion in Burgettstown is fine while you're there, but it seems like the place is getting farther and farther away. Two decades later, there is still construction EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. Multiple times this summer we were all hopelessly bogged down in 21/2-hour traffic jams. Even the back ways didn't help. I was so fed up with missing opening acts and so concerned about missing the headliner, I actually left town at 4:30 for the 7 p.m. Mumford & Sons show. I'm pretty sure I could have driven to Cleveland to see them in that time (and I don't even like Mumford & Sons!).

I'm not saying to leave that place to the cows, but my wish would be to move more shows into the city. Or avoid booking the big Mumford-types on weeknights. Or find some way on God's green Earth to get the traffic flowing better on the Parkway West and then Routes 22/30.

Finally, and it's like saying you want world peace: Support local music!

-- Scott Mervis, Post-Gazette music editor

THEATER

My wish is for a dynamic visionary with arts and business smarts to emerge as a leader for the financially strapped August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

A suggestion: Expand on the museum's permanent exhibit "Pittsburgh: Reclaim, Renew, Remix," which is a head-scratcher of a title. Follow the path of Kansas City, Mo., which houses the Negro League Baseball Museum and American Jazz Museum under one compact roof. Permanent, interactive exhibitions celebrating themes that were a big part of Wilson's writing -- sports, music, the Hill -- could become a tourist attraction. And by all means have a strategy that includes the local colleges with music, dance and drama programs.

And while he or she is at it, how about an annual festival of plays and lectures that celebrates the guy whose name is on the building and lets people know what makes the Pittsburgh native the great American playwright of the latter part of the 20th century?

-- Sharon Eberson, Post-Gazette theater editor

FASHION

In the past five years, Pittsburgh has become home to its own fashion week, a style week, fashion design and merchandising programs at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh and a handful of mobile boutiques. Almost every weekend there's a trunk show or fashion show to take in. Despite the still rocky economy, several fashion-minded entrepreneurs have started their own Pittsburgh-based e-boutiques or brick-and-mortar shops in neighborhoods across the city.

Too often, however, these talents, events and shops remain unknown not only to the mainstream public but also to other members of the local style scene. Fashion meccas like New York City benefit from corridors of fashion, such as Fifth Avenue and much of the Upper East Side, that are packed with shopping options. Pittsburgh's fashion scene is more pocketed, requiring people to do some research to find the hot spots.

Pittsburgh is in need of some unifying body to help spotlight these hidden gems. The arts, for instance, have the Cultural Trust to aggregate and promote the Downtown theater and art scene. Last summer, steps were taken to revive a local chapter of Fashion Group International, a nonprofit that helps unite and promote fashion insiders from around the world. It remains to be seen if the undertaking will pan out.

The city needs something like this to come to fruition. It could help the fashion community work more efficiently and effectively as a team. Plus, the global reputation of an organization like Fashion Group International could prompt those beyond Pittsburgh to take notice.

--Sara Bauknecht, Post-Gazette fashion writer

CLASSICAL MUSIC

"Radical" is not the first word that comes to mind when one thinks about classical music, but maybe it should be. Since starting as classical music writer this summer, I have been wowed by the breadth and depth of Pittsburgh's musical scene, but I wish it would shake things up more. Other art forms, from literature to painting, have adapted to modern tastes without sacrificing quality, but art music is trapped in tradition.

Across the country, classical music is facing what observers call a "crisis" -- lagging ticket sales, dwindling audiences and shuttering ensembles -- largely because it has failed to move on from its Shakespeare and Michelangelo equivalents (say Beethoven and Mozart, performed in a fancy hall by people wearing fancy clothes). It is viewed as unappealing to young, diverse audiences and shackled by its own outdated decorum. Some local classical music organizations aim to shift the paradigm, at least on occasion. The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble incorporates visual effects into all of its concerts. Last April, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and composer Mason Bates fused classical music with electronica at an event in a Strip District nightclub. And groups from Chatham Baroque to Pittsburgh Opera put on performances in unusual spaces.

But those are the exception rather than the rule. I wish that local organizations would push the boundaries of the art, that they would commission ambitious works, that they would experiment with concert etiquette, that they would stir debate -- in other words, that they would be radical. Change won't be easy (or cheap), but local musicians can and should make Pittsburgh a place as known for realizing the future of classical music as it is for honoring its past.

-- Elizabeth Bloom, Post-Gazette classical music critic

DANCE

I've lived in small towns and big cities. During my four-plus years in Pittsburgh, I've been impressed by the city's blend of small-town feel with lots of big-city culture.

The local dance scene has something to offer for a variety of tastes. There's Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre for the classical dance connoisseur, a melange of modern, more experimental selections at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, and a bunch of up-and-coming troupes, including Reed Dance, Texture Contemporary Ballet, Continuum Dance Theater and the Murphy/Smith Dance Collective.

It would be nice, however, to see a stronger tap presence. It is dated thinking that tap dance is an underground, forgotten art, limited to old-time Gene Kelly films or musical theater. Some of the more current hoofers such as Andrew Nemr, Mike Minery, Michelle Dorrance and Savion Glover prove that tap today is alive and well. Their work preserves the genre's past but with some grit and innovation mixed in.

It could do the city good for a local presenter to bring a sampling of these national and international tap artists to Pittsburgh. Maybe it would stir up a Steel City tap scene.

--Sara Bauknecht, Post-Gazette dance writer

TRAVEL

Tasso Katselas couldn't have predicted the major financial upheaval that would wallop the airline industry in the wake of 9/11 when he designed Pittsburgh International Airport in the 1980s and early '90s. Who knew most of us would be dragging all of our luggage around the airport to avoid the hefty bag-checking fees?

My wish for 2014 would be for airport officials to take a look at the way-too-small bathroom stalls made even tighter by stall doors that swing in rather than out. Try squeezing a rollaway bag and backpack -- plus yourself -- in one of these spaces at Pitt International. Dayton and Minneapolis-St. Paul international airports both recently launched major renovations that expanded their stalls, added hooks and most important, switched the doors to swing out, providing plenty of space for passengers to maneuver.

"It's not just about people needing to use a restroom," explained Alan Howell, senior architect at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in the November-December edition of Airport Improvement magazine. "It's their first or last look at Minneapolis-St. Paul. It's one of the few amenities that the airport gets to provide for guests."

Isn't Pittsburgh International due for an update?

-- Virginia Linn, Post-Gazette travel editor

RESTAURANTS

Dozens of restaurants have opened in the city this past year. And while their opening bodes well for the economy, it concerns me that the numbers of immigrants moving into the city remain a trickle and that those who are moving here aren't working in restaurants.

Although businesses and community groups are working toward attracting more immigrants to Pittsburgh, census data show the city's foreign-born population between 2007 and 2011 is 7 percent, behind comparable-sized cities such as Charlotte (14 percent) and Columbus (10 percent).

In an industry for which turnover is high and reliable employees are hard to find, the city's lack of immigrants exacerbates those problems. Much of restaurant labor in cities around the country -- and the world, notes Jamie Oliver -- is made up of immigrants striving to make a mark and build stability to new communities.

Without an influx of immigrants, Pittsburgh can get stuck in a rut of preferences. While a handful of Indian, Thai and Chinese restaurants have opened in the past couple of years, Italian and Eastern European foods from Pittsburgh's immigrants a century ago remain the most popular and prolific.

In addition, talented chefs from elsewhere may be reluctant to set up shop here. I hear already from chefs at the city's top restaurants how much they struggle to find prep help, line cooks and servers.

It's not just youth that reinvigorates a city. Without a growing immigrant population, the richness of Pittsburgh and its dining scene will be compromised, along with a fertile environment for ideas in food.

-- Melissa McCart, Post-Gazette dining critic

STREAMING ENTERTAINMENT

It's encouraging more Pittsburgh-area theaters are participating in Fathom Events' streaming of sublime British stage plays, opera from The Met, 3-D sporting events such as Wimbledon and World Cup soccer finals, Broadway shows, and special digital tours featuring great works of art.

All we need now are more local venues. Cinemark Center Township in Beaver County, the new Monroeville Mall complex, Cinemark Robinson Township and Cinemark 17 Pittsburgh Mills in Tarentum have the technology to stream these events. Most are on a delay but some, such as sports, are viewed live.

National Theatre Live recently streamed several performances of "Macbeth," which attracted a healthy crowd at the SouthSide Works Cinemas. Kenneth Branagh not only co-directed with former Pittsburgher Rob Ashford but also starred in the production with Alex Kingston.

Our wish for the New Year would be even more theater, please. Although "Memphis," 2010 Tony winner for best musical, has been streamed as well as a limited-run version of "Company," very little of Broadway has made it to the screen.

Streaming shows such as "Pippin" or the magnificent "Glass Menagerie," currently starring Pittsburgh native Zachary Quinto, would help promote, not hurt, the Broadway box office.

-- Maria Sciullo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette media writer

RADIO/NEW MEDIA

In the Post-Gazette's 2008 wish list, I wrote: "We need to stop thinking of radio as what happens between the frequencies of 87 and 108."

That one came true. Internet radio stations and satellite radio have become part of many people's daily routine, thanks in part to wider availability in cars and on mobile devices. The programming variety has never been as rich or as varied. And mainstream radio has started to look at ways to capitalize on its unique strengths through local news coverage and connection to communities and to stake its own territory in the online universe.

-- Adrian McCoy, Post-Gazette digital and new media reporter

VISUAL ARTS

The community-immersive underlie of the 2013 Carnegie International, which continues until March 16 at Carnegie Museum of Art, exemplifies the role and future of contemporary art and art institutions. The selected artists and artworks have the expected international draw while exhibition curators, museum director and educational staff have laudably expanded the show's footprint for the local audience. That includes a diversity of programming, some of it incorporating area residents, and, more so, curators mingling with Pittsburghers informally or at scheduled events away from the museum. Turnout has been good for these, supporting the observation that Pittsburgh is becoming increasingly sophisticated regarding the arts. Continuing good attendance, combined with likes or dislikes feedback to the sponsoring institutions, will help to raise the bar even higher.

The most public face of visual arts in the city, with the largest and most general audience, is the Three Rivers Arts Festival. This year the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which rescued the festival by absorbing it in 2009, expanded its public art component. This is a good move and, handled properly, will have broad popular success. The featured works have to strike a delicate balance: be accessible to viewers with a broad range of art background but not diluted to sheer entertainment. In the recent past, Trust president and CEO Kevin McMahon said he'd like to see the festival become the site of a regional celebration of arts and culture akin to the large annual event in Edinburgh, Scotland. A good start on that goal would be to have a substantial component of idea-generated sculpture that develops a reputation as worth traveling to see, and perhaps having a stay that exceeds the festival by a few weeks.

-- Mary Thomas, Post-Gazette art critic

LOCAL TV

Live! Breaking! This just in!

My, so many exclamation points. Wouldn't it be nice to tune into the local TV news and get straight to the news instead of sitting through the "top story" about another cold front [perhaps] storming into Pittsburgh?

Dream on. Reporting on bad weather -- or even the hint of a dusting -- is a staple in a tried-and-true broadcast tradition. The threat of foul weather is an attention-grabber, but the real frustration comes when viewers are told to "stay tuned" or "I'll be back in a few minutes" with the specifics.

This is not to denigrate weather reporting. Indeed, the real news of a storm system has a far-reaching effect, addressing public safety issues, the economy and viewers' individual planning needs among them.

Why, however, must we wait through reports of what happened today, as if knowing it rained a quarter-inch in Meadville or that temperatures have been unseasonably warmer in April means anything by the time you're watching at 11?

-- Maria Sciullo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette media writer

Local stations may finally be heeding the call for a return to more local programming. WQED was first on the case in 2000 with "On Q," although that nightly program disappeared in 2010, replaced by a myriad of 7:30 p.m. locally produced weeknight shows that don't offer the continuity of a single program airing five nights a week. But commercial broadcasters have offered some non-newscast, local shows, too. KDKA-TV has the occasional "Your Pittsburgh" and "Pittsburgh's Hidden Treasures" and now Channel 4 has the Sally Wiggin-hosted "WTAE Chronicle." We'd like to see more, but this is a pretty good start.

-- Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV writer

JAZZ

The flap over the sale of WDUQ 21/2 years ago that eliminated most of the jazz from the radio airwaves demonstrated something I've suspected all along: Despite its rich history, the jazz scene here is quite small and has remained conservative.

What would I envision for the Pittsburgh jazz scene in 2014? Well, perhaps the music needs to continue to innovate, with the audience broadening its horizons and supporting the people who are creating it. The fusion movement that started in the 1970s and became prevalent in the 1980s weaned me off pop music, although virtually all of the musicians who were popular then came out of the jazz tradition. I'm not about to predict what might catch the ear of younger audiences, but they have to have something to call their own and yet still have it accepted as jazz.

Another, although perhaps not practical idea that I have is a rekindled interest in big bands. After all, most of our veteran musicians have played in at least one, and most high schools and colleges offer a jazz ensemble. I'm aware of at least six such bands in the Pittsburgh area. (Full disclosure: I play regularly with and write for one such band and have gigged or rehearsed with many of the rest.)

-- Rick Nowlin, Post-Gazette jazz critic


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