People to meet 2016: Ten people who are making their mark in Pittsburgh
January 3, 2016 12:00 AM
Melanie Harrington, president and CEO of Vibrant Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh is considered one of the least diverse mid-sized cities in the United States.
But if Melanie Harrington, the president and CEO of Vibrant Pittsburgh, has her way, a much more diverse Pittsburgh is just around the corner.
Founded in 2010, Vibrant Pittsburgh began as a way to attract diverse talent to the city as well as to create a more inclusive community.
Ms. Harrington, 51, spent her early childhood in Los Angeles before moving to Atlanta as a teenager. Then she headed to the University of Pennsylvania for her B.A. She received her law degree from Emory University before life took a turn.
“I met Dr. Roosevelt Thomas, who wrote the book “Beyond Race & Gender.” I took a meeting with him, and we spent the next six months talking about issues of diversity. I became the president of the American Institute for Managing Diversity Inc., a national nonprofit diversity think tank based in Atlanta.” And then, in 2010, Pittsburgh called.
“I was ready for a new challenge. I was ready to apply the theories of diversity management to real life,” said Ms. Harrington, who lives Downtown. Vibrant Pittsburgh was “viewing diversity as a necessity to economic development, which I found fascinating.”
And how does she see that happening? “Get out of your comfort zone,” she said when it comes to networking. “While it may be uncomfortable at first, we don’t have the luxury of sitting back. This region is good at taking risks here and succeeding.”
Darrell (D.S.) Kinsel hasn’t had to venture far from his hometown to make a mark in the art world.
The 31-year-old artist grew up in the Hill District and now lives in South Oakland.
He started painting in his 20s, and in that short time his paintings and installations have been shown in numerous galleries, including Image Box, Most Wanted Fine Art, Wood Street Gallery and the annual Art All Night exhibit.
Mr. Kinsel calls his art “agitational.” In his artist’s statement, he writes that he wants to inspire, transport, engage and challenge audiences, and to “create beauty, push boundaries and cause friction.”
In 2013, he established BOOM Concepts Art Gallery, a creative hub and gallery space for artists, musicians and entrepreneurs in Garfield.
He’s been influenced and inspired by the work of contemporary painter David Hammons and Pittsburgh artists such as the late playwright August Wilson and the late photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris, along with the young artists he works with at BOOM and through residencies he’s done. “The biggest inspiration are the young people I work with.”
Through his own exhibits and the activity at BOOM, Mr. Kinsel has become a force in the thriving and adventurous grassroots community art scene. “There’s a lot of energy,” he says. “We just need to ensure that in Pittsburgh all voices are heard. It’s not just about murals and youth programs but supporting artists and recognizing these artists as entrepreneurs. If we want the arts industry to survive, those things have to be a priority.”
— Adrian McCoy / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Bethany Zozula is the best Pittsburgh chef you’ve never heard of.
The 32-year-old Fayette County native scored the head chef position to one of the most anticipated restaurant openings of the year, at Whitfield restaurant in the Ace Hotel Pittsburgh, which opened in December in East Liberty.
The team at the Portland-based company, including culinary director Brent Young of the Meat Hook in Brooklyn, had conducted an exhaustive national search before they found the perfect candidate for the position, right in the kitchen of one of Pittsburgh's most esteemed restaurants.
Although many diners hadn't heard her name before, the Greensburg resident has been earning the respect of her bosses and peers for years as she worked her way up the line at Eleven in the Strip District, where she's been the executive sous chef for the past four years.
Overseeing a huge kitchen at Whitfield, where her staff serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, daily brunch and late-night menus, it’s a lot of responsibility that she’s equipped to handle, as shown by a broad menu of straightforward dishes assembled with fine ingredients and interesting accoutrements.
Her cooking is elegant without being fussy.
“I like to keep things simple,” she said.
— Melissa McCart / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
For those who frequent Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre performances, Yoshiaki Nakano is a familiar face.
Now in his sixth year with the company, Mr. Nakano, a native of Japan, has leaped through the ranks to principal dancer and regularly is cast in top roles for PBT’s productions. This year, he’ll make PBT history as the first principal dancer to premiere an original work at a mainstage performance.
Audiences at PBT’s “Ballet Under the Stars” engagement at Hartwood Acres in August got a sneak peek of Mr. Nakano’s piece “A Fellow Feeling,” which he describes as a neoclassical ballet set to three movements of Mozart’s Concerto no. 20 in D Minor.
“I was really happy and shocked,” he says when artistic director Terrence Orr invited him to make the piece for the company’s mixed repertory program in March at the Benedum Center. “I feel like I’m so lucky doing this.”
He got his first taste of choreographing back in Japan when his mom, who runs her own dance studio, had him create a piece for a competition he was entering so they could curb the cost of hiring a choreographer. He enjoyed the process, he says, so she gave him the opportunity to make dances for her studio, too.
In 2016, he’s looking forward to “more dancing and more choreographing for sure, and to be healthy and work hard,” he says.
— Sara Bauknecht / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There are many new breweries and brewers coming onto the regional scene in 2016. But lots of enthusiasts are looking forward to one person’s project: Chris Brunetti’s Helicon Brewing Co.
This well-known and well-liked homebrewer — an active member of the Three Rivers Association of Serious Homebrewers and Three Rivers Underground Brewers — this fall has been working on building his new pro brewery and 15-barrel brewhouse in the western suburb of Oakdale, of all places.
Hoping his building permits were approved before the end of 2015, he said last week that he expects to be brewing by February and opening in February or March.
Located in the shell of the old Joy dog food building at 102 Union Ave. (or State Route 978, across from the post office and near the Panhandle Trail), it’s a relatively large brewery — on the order of Spoonwood in Bethel Park — but without a restaurant component, although it will have a small tasting room where up to 40 customers can sip on site.
Most of the beer will be kegged to be sold at other places, but he’ll be putting some in growlers and large “bombers” or 22-ounce bottles.
To start, he expects to make what he calls “transitional beers” — beers such as cream ale, kolsch and helles that drinkers of regular American lagers might well like. A computer programmer who works in Moon, he’s spent his lunch hours for years getting to know people at restaurants in the west suburbs that might sell his beers. “Lots of people have said they’re excited to a have a keg when they’re available.”
In addition to the awards and reputation he earned as a homebrewer, he also used several years worth of vacation time to graduate from the Seibold Institute of Technology’s international diploma program, which gave him class time in Chicago and hands-on brewing time near Munich.
The Canonsburg native, who turns 40 next month, grew up and raised his own family in Peters, but he wanted to move closer to the brewery, so he’s now living in the former coal patch of Morgan, about 5 miles away from the business. He says other developments are in the works for the site, including a possible restaurant.
He’s going to be joined in this brewery venture by another highly regarded area homebrewer, Andy Weigel, one of the few to win a national gold medal and Helicon’s “employee No. 1.”
The brewery’s name, Mr. Brunetti explains, comes from the first paragraph of the first page of the history of Oakdale, the original name of which was Mount Helicon, after the mountain in Greece. The place’s logo is a Greek harp with barley.
The completion of a two-year $20 million renovation and expansion of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in the fall was a milestone for Judith Hansen O’Toole, who became director and CEO of the venerable Greensburg institution in 1993.
The entire 30,000-square-foot building was renovated, and a 13,287-square-foot addition made room for new galleries, community and educational spaces.
Building upon the solid foundation established by her predecessor, Paul Chew, Ms. O’Toole has worked to increase diversity programming and outreach to all ages. Education programs, which range from creative activities for children to social studio arts events for adults, have evolved to achieve those goals. Museum attendance increased by 40 percent between 1993 and 2013, and visitation is up since the building re-opened.
In the same period, public awareness of the museum has increased significantly. A 2000 PBS “Visionaries” television documentary raised the museum’s national profile, and the traveling exhibition "Born of Fire: The Valley of Work" did the same internationally when highlights from the museum’s industrial artworks toured Europe between 2007 and 2010.
Ms. O’Toole, 62, of Greensburg is recognized for her own achievements as an American art historian and speaks regularly at venues as varied as The National Gallery in Washington, D.C., Sotheby’s auction house in New York, and national annual meetings of the College Art Association.
Research and the collection remain high priorities. Since 1993, 50 percent more exhibitions have been brought in from other museums and organizations, and programming has been scheduled to complement them. Also, scholarly publications by staff, including exhibition catalogs, are up 50 percent, and almost 1,000 works of art have been added to the collection, including most recently gifts from Diana and Peter Janetta, Michael Neiland, and the estate of publisher Richard M. Scaife.
Fundraising is also on the rise. The museum has raised more than $28 million of a $38 million capital and endowment campaign initiated to fund the renovation project. The remaining $8 million raised is earmarked for an endowment fund and operating costs incurred from the museum’s temporary location during the construction.
— M. Thomas / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As the new Richard Armstrong Curator of Contemporary and Modern Art, Eric Crosby is exploring the Carnegie Museum of Art’s holdings from 1945 to the present, including a total of 1,000 films, videos, digital media and sound.
Articulate and engaging, Mr. Crosby is developing a May exhibition for the museum’s Forum Gallery on Alison Knowles, best known for turning daily rituals into performance art. Ms. Knowles, who made a giant salad on New York City’s High Line in 2012, belongs to an international network of artists, composers and designers called Fluxus. The movement began in the 1960s and has expanded the definition of what constitutes art.
“What we identify today as performance art is very much indebted to Alison’s work on the street and in concerts halls in the 1960s,” Mr. Crosby said.
Mr. Crosby, 35, grew up in Portsmouth, R.I., and joined the Carnegie Museum of Art staff last October.
A graduate of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., he earned a master's degree in art history from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied the history of avant-garde film and video.
From 2009 to 2015, Mr. Crosby worked at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minn. where he was associate curator of visual arts. He organized special exhibitions and installations of the permanent collection, most recently ”Art Expanded 1958–1978,“ a reinterpretation of the Walker’s Fluxus collection.
At the Carnegie, he will work closely with Ingrid Schaffner, who will curate the 57th Carnegie International, North America’s oldest exhibition of contemporary art.
Mr. Crosby lives in Lawrenceville with his husband, Thomas Nelson. They enjoy the area’s restaurants and are looking for a fixer-upper because they are interested in home renovation.
— Marylynne Pitz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Reginald Douglas and Clare Drobot
City Theatre, Pittsburgh’s new-play theater company, introduced a behind-the-scenes trio this season, starting with managing director James McNeel, who arrived from the Contemporary American Theatre Festival in Shepherdstown, W.Va. Following on his heels were two energetic newcomers who are a big part of the South Side theater’s outreach to the community and beyond: Reginald Douglas, City’s artistic producer, and Clare Drobot, the director of new play development.
Mr. Douglas, 28, of the South Side, arrived as the 2011 Van Lier Directing Fellow at the Lark Play Development Center, N.Y. He has worked at Manhattan Theatre Club, Second Stage Theatre, Arena Stage, Shakespeare Theatre Company and McCarter Theatre, among others.
Welcome to Pittsburgh: “Everyone on staff has such deep respect and love for their work and one another, so I feel like I got adopted into a wonderful little family. That same spirit resonates throughout the Pittsburgh arts community, which I am grateful to have been welcomed into so quickly and wholeheartedly. I am eager to get even more involved in the local theater scene in the year ahead.”
Favorite part of his job: “Producing and directing dynamic new plays, developmental play readings and special events aside, my favorite part is forging partnerships and collaborations with community organizations. Since we started our 41st season, we’ve worked with 1 Hood Media, Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures, Carnegie Science Center, the Dramatist Guild, Opus One Productions, Kente Arts Alliance, New Pittsburgh Collaborative, Pittsburgh Filmmakers and Thrill Mill to name just a few. These new relationships and initiatives have enriched the great art that we make on our stages.”
If you were among the 400 people who attended City’s Backstage Block Party Sept. 12, you may have met City’s new trio. If you took the tour up to the steps to the rehearsal room, you would have encountered Ms. Drobot, who conducted a circle exercise that helped guests get in touch with their storytelling and character skills.
Ms. Drobot, 33, of Lawrenceville, is a Carnegie Mellon University graduate who came to City after working as producing associate/resident dramaturg for Premiere Stages, Kean University, Union, N.J.
Welcome to Pittsburgh: “This is really a return to Pittsburgh for me, and settling in has been relearning the ’Burgh and intersecting with all of the ways in which the city is evolving.”
Favorite part of her job: “The community-building aspect of dramaturgy is actually one of my favorite facets of being the director of new play development. ... Some of my favorite nights here so far have been informal conversations in our lobby after a show and hearing from an audience about what they connected to and how the production challenged or inspired them.”
— Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Federico Garcia-De Castro
When it launched eight years ago, Alia Musica Pittsburgh was motivated by an impulse to perform music by young Pittsburgh composers. The new-music ensemble still does plenty of that, but its reach has extended beyond Pittsburgh, thanks to artistic director Federico Garcia-De Castro.
Mr. Garcia-De Castro, 37, and Alia Musica have collaborated with tastemakers from across the contemporary classical music realm, such as composer and vocalist Ken Ueno, who is the group’s composer-in-residence, and Frederic Rzewski. Alia Musica members have toured in recent years to various locations in the U.S. and to Panama.
The organization received its first grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to stage the second Pittsburgh Festival of New Music this spring. Among its varied offerings will be a world and local premieres by Mr. Ueno and Augusta Read Thomas, a flash mob performance of Stravinsky’s “Firebird,”;and an appearance by soprano Tony Arnold.
Alia Musica has maintained its DIY approach even as it creates productions of a broad scope and connects with new-music activity happening elsewhere, he said. “We have a good mix of grassroots and professional connections, so we still bring world touring artists like Ken Ueno to play with us.”
Mr. Garcia-De Castro moved to Pittsburgh in 2001 from Bogota, Colombia, to study composition at the University of Pittsburgh. He is a recipient of an Investing in Professional Artists grant from the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments. The flexible duo concept Duplexity has commissioned him to write a violin duo that will be premiered by former Pittsburgh Symphony concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley and Elissa Cassini.
A composer primarily of chamber music, Mr. Garcia-De Castro describes his own music as “not facile but not off-putting.”
“I don’t think music should condescend to the audience,” he said. “It should challenge them.”
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