Pittsburgh's creative forces: 12 people to meet in 2017
January 5, 2017 1:13 PM
Christian Diboko, creator of fashion brand ProBantuStyle, helps his fiance, Binay Geathers, put on one of his jackets at his home studio in Whitehall in December. Geathers regularly models his designs and helps to get his brand up and running.
Soprano Danielle Pastin fixes a dryer at one of her properties in Brighton Heights in December. Pastin is an opera singer and Pittsburgh resident who has also started to do property development, calling herself the "Do-It-Yourself Diva."
Some are new to Pittsburgh. Others were born in the Steel City and are now just hitting their stride. They’re innovators, they’re visionaries, they’re creative forces, and they’re working to make Pittsburgh — and in some cases, the world — a better place to live.
Jose Carlos Diaz
Jose Carlos Diaz (Nate Guidry/Post-Gazette)
“Pittsburgh has a wonderful future, and I want us to be a part of that at The Warhol,” says the Miami-born curator for the museum.
Jose Carlos Diaz was impressed with Pittsburgh’s vibrant cultural life when he came here in 2014 to attend The Andy Warhol Museum’s 20th anniversary gala. Now he’s a part of it.
Mr. Diaz, 38, became the museum’s Milton Fine Curator of Art in May. He lives in Downtown and walks to work.
“I live Downtown, and I love it,” he said. “There’s a new population moving into Downtown and with that comes a desire for good food, good shopping. I really feel a part of that transformation. It’s becoming a city for the next generation of young people,”
Mr. Diaz was born in Miami and grew up in Stockton, Calif., east of San Francisco. He holds a bachelor’s degree in art history from San Francisco State University and a master’s degree in cultural history from the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom.
He came to The Warhol from the Bass Museum of Art in Miami, where he was curator of exhibitions. Mr. Diaz maintains a tie with that city through his husband, Shane Elipot, a Miami-based oceanographer.
He said he always has been interested in Warhol, an enthusiasm intertwined with his status as an American art historian. “Andy Warhol is our Picasso. Andy Warhol is our Frieda Kahlo.” He also has been interested in contemporary art. “Pop Art is about popular culture. For me that means contemporary culture.”
With degrees in art and cultural history, he hopes to mix up elements of each in future exhibitions to explore new perspectives.
“Andy Warhol’s not defined by medium,” Mr. Diaz said, citing the artist’s paintings, prints, drawings and film, and interests as wide-ranging as the band Velvet Underground. “As we look at the legacy of Warhol, we’re asking ‘Who are the heirs of Warhol? What is happening today?’ ”
To that end, he and museum colleague Jessica Beck are developing exhibitions that take in-depth looks at aspects of Warhol’s career and life. Mr. Diaz is currently researching Warhol’s spirituality and sexuality. He also contributes to the program of traveling exhibitions that the museum offers to national and international venues.
The first exhibition for The Warhol that he is singularly curating is a mid-career survey of artist Farhad Moshiri, which will debut in October. The Iranian-born artist is an alumnus of the California Institute of the Arts who lives in Tehran. His at times controversial works, which sell for up to seven figures, fuse imagery from American and Iranian culture.
Mr. Diaz said the exhibition is important for him because it is an opportunity to highlight Warhol’s legacy while simultaneously championing a contemporary artist with his first museum solo show.
On a local level, Mr. Diaz visits regional artists’ studios and is involved with the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force and the forthcoming Three Rivers Arts Festival.
He plans more outreach through museum “collaborations with organizations and institutions we haven’t worked with in the past.”
“Pittsburgh has a wonderful future, and I want us to be a part of that at The Warhol.”
— M. Thomas, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Christian Diboko (Haley Nelson/Post-Gazette)
Mr. Diboko, 32, of Whitehall, repurposes apparel with designs inspired by art and symbols from Africa, where his family is from.
For Christian Diboko, fashion isn’t just something to wear. It’s a way to make a difference.
His clothing line, ProBantuStyle, repurposes pieces, including shoes, backpacks and denim and leather jackets, with designs inspired by art and symbols from Africa, where his parents are from. He was born in Brussels, Belgium, but his family moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo when he was about 5 years old.
He launched the line last year with his fiancee, Binay Geathers, the brand’s CEO and a freelance model who regularly appears in ProBantuStyle shows and shoots. The idea for it came to mind after watching a documentary about the hazardous working conditions of some garment factories overseas in places like Bangladesh.
“You may buy jeans that you’re never going to wear. What’s the point? There’s someone out there who’s being paid $2 and suffering for you,” says Mr. Diboko, 32, of Whitehall. “Why can’t I do something with things that other people don’t want?”
The desire to do something in fashion and the arts has stirred within him since he was a kid. After winning an immigrant visa in a lottery, he moved to the United States in 2009 and attended Baltimore City Community College on a basketball scholarship. He studied fashion design but had to put his degree on hold so he could help support his young family when his first child was born.
In Maryland, he sharpened his English (French is his first language) and learned about day-to-day life in America. But he never quite felt like he fit in there, he says. A quick trip to Pittsburgh for a friend’s birthday introduced him to the city he now calls his “promise land.”
“Pittsburgh gave me the feeling of a fresh start,” he says.
After settling here in 2015, his fiancee encouraged him to turn his love for fashion into a full-time career. She picked up extra work to help make ends meet so he could focus on creating the business. His mom back in Africa pushed him to take the leap, too.
So far, the risk is paying off. ProBantuStyle has been featured at Style Week Pittsburgh events and the inaugural Fashion Week Downtown in September. For 2017, he’s working on adding to his website, probantustyle.wixsite.com, designing more pieces and hopefully going back to school to finish his fashion degree at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
“The fashion community [in Pittsburgh] has been great to me,” he says. “They encourage you and give you a shoutout and then make sure other people know who you are.”
— Sara Bauknecht, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Jean Yang (Lake Fong/Post-Gazette)
Her research in computer programming could make the internet a more secure place.
In August, computer scientist and programmer Jean Yang was named among the MIT Technology Review’s Innovators Under 35 in the Visionaries category, which recognizes people who advance technology by looking at things differently. She’s in good company: past innovators who made the list include Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.
She earned her Ph.D. in computer science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2015 and did postdoctoral research in modeling protein signaling in human cells at Harvard Medical School. She specializes in programming languages and developing tools that preserve online privacy and security.
Ms. Yang, who has been programming since she was in elementary school, developed an open source programming language called Jeeves — named for the butler in the P.G. Wodehouse books — that’s designed to automatically enforce security and privacy policies associated with personal information, preventing programmer mistakes from turning into unintended leaks on the internet or vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit.
“An important part of securing our software involves creating tools that make it easier to make secure software,” Ms. Yang said. “Just like Jeeves the butler, the language is smart, worrying about the details of security and privacy so the programmer does not need to.”
Ms. Yang joined the faculty of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science as an assistant professor in September, and also has an affiliate appointment in Carnegie Mellon’s Computational Biology Department.
It’s a homecoming for Ms. Yang, who grew up in Pittsburgh and attended The Ellis School. Ms. Yang, 30, now lives in Shadyside. She’s happy to be back and launching her career here.
“One thing I’m really excited about is not only how much Pittsburgh is changing, but how much we can have an impact on how it’s changing, and think about how technology interacts with the rest of the community.”
— Adrian McCoy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Liana Maneese (Haley Nelson/Post-Gazette)
She has channeled some difficult childhood experiences into founding the Good Peoples Group to help stomp out racism and sexism.
How do we go joyfully into the process of healing racial divides? This question weighed heavily on Liana Maneese, who as a native of Goiania, Brazil, was adopted as an infant by a white Pittsburgh family. As an Afro-Brazilian growing up in Wilkinsburg, she often encountered unkind people and said if it were not for the support of her parents she would have “amounted to nothing.”
Now at 32, she has channeled many of those experiences into co-founding the new Good Peoples Group, which focuses on creative and cultural problem-solving through identity navigation and works to build resilience and dynamic team building.
“Disrupting oppression is what I am all about,” said Ms. Maneese, who serves as CEO of the group. She also founded a sister project, Adopting Identity, a budding film narrative aimed at documenting her story of transracial adoption while presenting programming around multiracial relationships in Pittsburgh.
Her parents moved to Wilkinsburg in search of a diverse community, she said. “We lived in a beautiful home, but we saw a lot of sadness,” she said, referring to a community that was deteriorating around her. Her mother, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Brazil, taught her Portuguese as a child.
At her private elementary school she said she had a hard time fitting in. “I was bullied out of speaking Portuguese, I was called the N-word, I had bricks thrown at me,” she recalled.
Switching schools helped, but her world turned dark again in high school. Attending an all-girls school “was rough” and in 10th grade she said she was sexually assaulted after being drugged. She became deeply depressed but her life opened up when she attended the former Boyce Campus Middle College, an alternative high school that provided extra support for students.
“I started working for MTV’s Rock the Vote and my friends and I were so good at organizing. We wondered how can we engage our peers and have fun, too?” Eventually, she parlayed her creative energy into a marketing and merchandising degrees at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, where she lived for eight years.
She moved back to Pittsburgh and attended Chatham University, studying race and gender. But even there, she said, she couldn’t get support from a white department head, even though other professors told her she was “brilliant.” That feeling stuck with her, this need for validation from the white community. “I didn’t realize how obvious it was to other people what I was doing to myself. How could I do something that people would grow and learn from?”
That’s what the Good Peoples Group hopes to accomplish. Families, companies and individuals can join the group for a monthly membership fee and take group or individual classes to help heal themselves and each other on issues of racism, sexism, classism and how these issues impact our daily lives.
“My hopes for this are that people of color use it as a place for healing and that white people see that this is an opportunity not to make excuses. This is a place where you can have safe constructive conversations and in a place where you aren’t going to be judged.” To learn more: http://www.thegoodpeoplesgroup.com/
— Natalie Bencivenga, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Jake Seltman (Lake Fong/Post-Gazette)
As the new executive director of Grow Pittsburgh, this Schenley High School grad is working the life he lives to encourage urban gardening.
In his new role as executive director of Grow Pittsburgh, Jake Seltman knows he’s going to have more days when he needs to wear a tie.
But he wants to keep getting his work clothes and his hands dirty with the urban agriculture nonprofit, the mission of which is to teach people how to grow food and reap other benefits of neighborhood gardens and greenhouses.
The 35-year-old has worked for the organization since 2012, serving as director of educational programming. Over those five years, the notion of teaching students and others to grow gardens has become more mainstream, and he says he couldn’t be happier. “That’s one of our roles — to connect the dots with all these great programs” who are digging into the same ground.
Just as he did when he started at Grow Pittsburgh, he feels like he’s right where he should be, but the Pittsburgh native and Schenley High School graduate had to go away first, teaching and leading in adventure programs and camps in the Northeast and beyond. Then he came home and got his master’s at the University of Pittsburgh before teaching French to city high schoolers. He plans to keep teaching in his new job, which he often tells people isn’t like a job at all.
“This is my whole life,” he says. After all, he loves gardening and raising five chickens with his own two children and wife, Cortney, at home in Park Place, which is only a 10-minute bike commute from Grow Pittsburgh’s office in Larimer and some of its sites such as the greenhouse at the Frick Pittsburgh in Point Breeze.
The job opening came about because of a upcoming move this spring to Portland, Maine, by his predecessor, Julie Butcher Pezzino (to be closer to family). The board did a nationwide search, but agreed with her and other staffers that this humble yet passionate person is perfect for, well, growing Grow Pittsburgh. “He has that charisma, that way about him,” she says. “You can just see ... he’s a natural leader.”
— Bob Batz Jr., Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Danielle Pastin (Andrew Rush/Post-Gazette)
Since graduating from Pittsburgh Opera’s resident artist program in 2010, she has been busy singing and managing real estate.
Danielle Pastin checked her phone during the intermission of Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” at the Benedum Center.
She had a lot of missed calls.
It turned out there was a major plumbing problem in a building she owns. But the soprano, who was playing one of the lead roles in Pittsburgh Opera’s 2015 production of “Cosi,” had to prioritize.
“I was completely freaking out,” she said, “but I couldn’t leave the theater.”
Ms. Pastin finished the performance, took her bows and headed to the building. By the time she arrived, the first-floor kitchen ceiling had collapsed under the weight of the water. So she got to work, fixing up the kitchen as the opera continued its run at the Benedum.
“I was like contractor by day, opera singer by night,” she said.
Ms. Pastin, 37, should be a familiar name to local opera fans. A former Pittsburgh Opera resident artist, she remained here after graduating from the program in 2010 and has kept close ties with the company, regularly taking on large roles in its mainstage productions. But few opera lovers probably are aware that the soprano also invests in real estate and manages her own properties.
She calls herself the Do-It-Yourself Diva.
Being an opera singer is contracted work, and the Brighton Heights resident, who lives in a late-19th century Craftsman duplex she purchased in August, travels several months out of the year for performances.
“It’s a way for me to have some sort of stability that my career as an opera singer wouldn’t necessarily offer me,” Ms. Pastin said of her real estate activities.
The soprano does most of the home improvements herself, turning to her real estate mentor, her father or YouTube to learn any skills she doesn’t already know. (The kitchen issues warranted an eight-hour FaceTime session with her dad.) She currently owns two properties in Brighton Heights and Bellevue, but she’s constantly on the hunt for more.
Ms. Pastin sees parallels between opera and real estate. The sense of accomplishment she feels after completing a home improvement is not unlike the one she gets from a curtain call at the theater, and she can listen to study recordings (or quietly sing) as she does home improvements. Making decisions about paint or troubleshooting problems that arise with the properties feeds her artistic instincts, too.
“It ends up being quite creative,” she said.
— Elizabeth Bloom, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Juan Jose Fernandez
Juan Jose Fernandez (Submitted photo)
A self-proclaimed “comics community organizer,” this Venezuelan-born artist is redrawing the comics landscape in Pittsburgh.
At 26, Juan Jose Fernandez has a resume that’s a graphic novel long and a community wide, all because he draws well with others. Since becoming a full-fledged Pittsburgher in 2014, the Friendship resident is reshaping the concept of comics and community as an artist, educator, activist and organizer.
The Venezuela-born Fernandez arrived here by way of Spain, then Cleveland and then Carnegie Mellon University, where he studied linguistics. After graduation, he headed to Vermont’s Center for Cartoon Studies for two years, before returning to make Pittsburgh his home.
His route to creating the Pittsburgh Comics Salon started with joining the team of the Pittsburgh Zine Fair and the nurturing of his mentor, Bill Boichel of Copacetic Comics and organizer of the Pittsburgh Indy Comix Expo (PIX). The mission of the salon is to be a safe and positive haven for comics makers of all stripes. It meets three times a month — at the Lili Cafe in Polish Hill, the ToonSeum Downtown and Biddle’s Escape in Wilkinsburg — and the only requirement is that you come to draw.
More recently, with Frank Santoro, Mr. Fernandez cofounded the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency in Swissvale, where creators can work on projects and work within the local comics community. As an educator for what he calls visual literacy, Mr. Fernandez conducts workshops at libraries, schools and organizations here and elsewhere, such as indie comics expos in Columbus, Ohio, and Toronto.
Back home, his work with PIX includes helping with the move in this year from the South Side to the August Wilson Center, with the ToonSeum providing programming. Mr. Fernandez also helps with projects and programming at Cafe Con Leche, the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and the ToonSeum, all aimed at creating and participating in a network for education and outreach.
In creating his own comics, Mr. Fernandez has been inspired by everything from video games to the poetry of Mary Oliver, and he has been known to start with drawings done on Post-it notes.
“I want to become a life drawer the way that someone like Matisse or Picasso was, where the line is just a distillation of what you’re observing,” he said. “I’m not interested in rendering so much as this cartoon-y realism, where you can do a portrait of someone in 30 seconds and capture the essence of that person.”
Mr. Fernandez acknowledges that even he struggles to describe the niche he has created for himself. After trying for some time, he finds a three-word title to go with the word imagery he has just painted. “Fundamentally,” he says, “I’m a comics community organizer.”
— Sharon Eberson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Mukwae Wabei Siyolwe
Mukwae Wabei Siyolwe (Global Posse)
A native of Zambia, this Point Breeze artist said Pittsburgh provides an “environment that allows you to express yourself.”
Mukwae Wabei Siyolwe is bringing the city a global perspective through the production of her multimedia artwork that she calls “experiential and immersive.”
The 52-year-old native of Zambia says her ancestral roots in South Africa’s Barotseland is what led to her latest production, “Wade in the Water,” and will be showcased next fall in the hall of sculpture at the Carnegie Museum of Art.
“It’s experiential and immersive, and it’s about me finding the uses of art and giving art back to the people it originated from,” Ms. Siyolwe said. “It’s an integration of me being myself in the ever-present past. This is a movie and live action all in one. It’s like being part of an animation story told in real time. I’m breaking the barriers of the walls of theater, opera and hip-hop — and the audience becomes a character with me.”
“Wade in the Water” is a hybrid epic that tells an inter-generational story through a digital landscape of the photographs and a musical score that's ancient and modern, the history of Kuomboka, the ritual in Barotseland, in which the people annually move to the safety of higher ground, Ms. Siyolwe said.
“I’m using old photographs of my ancestors, because I come from a dynasty in Southern Africa where we have lived since about 1200 and where we had a camera brought by Francois Coillard of the Paris Missionary Society,” she said. “So I have animated the archive of photos of my great-great grandfather King Lewanika of Barotseland in the 1880s into a multimedia participatory exhibit.”
She received a $15,000 grant last fall from the Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grants program, a partnership between the Pittsburgh Foundation and Heinz Endowments, to help develop this exhibit.
Ms. Siyolwe, who lives in Point Breeze, praises Pittsburgh for its established art scene.
“I come from many different worlds, not just Africa and Pittsburgh,” she said. “I have a worldwide perspective that I am a part of. Pittsburgh has definitely played a big role in allowing me to have a safe space to think, grow and raise a family. It’s always taught me to focus on the essentials and it has a beautiful artist community and there is much solidarity. It’s an environment that allows you to express yourself.”
Ms. Siyolwe received a bachelor of arts from The Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, a master of arts degree in film production in 1999 from American University in Washington, D.C., and a master of arts in performance studies from New York University in 2005. She received a master of fine arts from Chatham University in film and digital technology in 2009.
— Lacretia Wimbley, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Taylor Maglin (Nate Guidry/Post-Gazette)
The music manager/marketer co-founded The Daily Loud and works for Jimmy Wopo, No Sleep and Le’Veon Bell.
Trying to make it in the music business in this century is a bit like trying to crack some digital code.
Taylor Maglin seems to have landed on the formula.
The 26-year-old Central Catholic grad from Squirrel Hill, who was busing tables in 2014, is now working full time in music management/marketing and running The Daily Loud, a website he co-founded in January 2012 with friend Jake Stotz that breaks new hip-hop songs — daily.
The site has acquired 315,000 Twitter followers, 138,000 Facebook Likes and 54,000 Soundcloud followers, adding up to the kind of numbers that can make an impact for an up-and-coming artist.
Through contacts with Wiz Khalifa manager Will Dzombak (another Central grad), he also has worked digital marketing campaigns for Wiz and fellow Taylor Gang rapper Chevy Woods.
He manages house/EDM artist No Sleep, who has accumulated 26 million streams on Soundcloud and more than 100 million views on YouTube. A recent ground-floor success is propelling 20-year-old Hill District rapper Jimmy Wopo to 2 million-plus YouTube views for the videos that make up his debut “Woponese.”
“I developed an understanding on how to run effective/efficient social media marketing campaigns,” Mr. Maglin says. “It took a lot of trial and error, but once I figured it out, the growth rate increased dramatically, eventually to the point where I no longer had to run paid campaigns and organic growth took effect. I still from time to time run paid social media campaigns for my website, but not nearly as often as before.”
Among his current clients are Atlanta rapper YFN Lucci, New York City’s Smoke DZA, Brooklyn’s Troy Ave and Miami’s Zoey Dollaz.
“With the audience we have, we’re able to put artists in front of hundreds of thousands and get a track really moving across the board.”
He’s also working with Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, who is take a side step into hip-hop.
“Working with Le’Veon has been great. He already has a strong online presence. The main objective now is to transfer his athletic fans into music fans. We are currently running multiple social media campaigns for that.”
— Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Steve Lanzilotti (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)
After a career behind the scenes, this Pennsylvania Culinary Institute graduate gets his shot to run a new Downtown restaurant.
He’d made the calls, gotten the brochures and examined applications.
After working for a series of failed local establishments, Steve Lanzilotti was burned out, already, at age 26 — hardly a first in the restaurant industry, which, no pun intended, is notorious for eating its young. He was ready for steadier hours, better pay and more stability and nearly traded in his chef’s knives and apron for a carpenter’s hammer and tool belt.
But almost like a movie protagonist that hangs in for one last caper or case that proves fortuitous, he gave it one last go after learning that Valozzi’s, a longtime Greensburg favorite, was opening a Downtown location.
“I thought, ‘I’ve gone through the schooling, I’ve done my time and done the grunt work and been through some crappy situations,’ ” he said. “So I refocused on cooking and learning and thought if I work hard at this, something good will come of it.”
He quickly separated himself as a leader in their kitchen and rose up the ranks. And now, five years later, the Valozzi family will metaphorically give Mr. Lanzilotti the keys to their new Italian sports car of a restaurant, Talia. Ernie and Julian Valozzi tapped Mr. Lanzilotti, a Pennsylvania Culinary Institute graduate, to be the executive chef at Talia, which will open in the ground floor of the old Alcoa building late next month.
“It was nice to get that final validation of what I’d said all those years ago. Hard work pays off when you work for a good family and company.”
As opposed to the white tablecloth formality at Valozzi’s, Talia is to be more casual and the kitchen’s centerpiece is a giant rotisserie, custom built in France that will roast lamb, beef, pork, chicken and seafood.
“It’s a meat centric restaurant. It’ll be rustic. We aren’t Massimo Bottura dissecting Italian food, but it’s not just spaghetti and meatballs either,” Mr. Lanzilotti said, laughing in describing his menu, which he said is the culmination of his life’s work to date.
“It’s exciting. I can showcase my take on things and build a name for myself. It’s been a long time coming. But now it’s on me to produce something great.”
— Dan Gigler, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Victoria Snyder (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)
With a history of serving others, this Aliquippa resident aims to highlight diversity from media to schools.
From a young age, Victoria Snyder remembers sometimes having fewer presents during Christmas because of the expense of giving to others. The act of serving others, she says, is rooted so deeply in her family that she sees it as a way of life.
“Being a servant leader is important. We gave to others during the holidays, served at soup kitchens, served at our church and worked with community partnerships. I've been blessed that people let me come in and help.”
Ms. Snyder, 30, of Aliquippa, has maintained her walk of servitude as current executive vice president of Ya Momz House on the Northside, an award-winning multimedia company founded by Emmy-award winner Emmai Alaquiva in 2001.
“At Ya Momz House, we tell stories that need to be heard — that’s what much of our work consists of,” she said. “So we have clients like Wiz Khalifa, The Roots, Heritage Community Initiatives, and we are part of the Northside Narratives project. All of these amazing groups and entities have stories that need to be told, and we are given the distinct pleasure of being able to assist them with that storytelling. We have clients that are community based and we kind of are in different kinds of markets and we are connecting people together to support not only the Pittsburgh community, but the greater Pittsburgh community.”
She also is the Director of Programming of Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K. here in the city, an arts education program based in 11 school districts in the Greater Pittsburgh area.
“We use the tenets of hip-hop to teach the entrepreneurial spirit, creativity, and foster cultural and arts appreciation,” Ms. Snyder said.
Ms. Snyder attended the University of Mount Union in Northeast Ohio and obtained a B.A. in History and Adolescent Education in 2008. She gained a Master’s in Higher Education Administration from the University of Akron in 2010 and a Master’s in Leadership Professional Administration and at Duquesne University in 2013.
After recently deciding to leave a position as Director of Multicultural Student Services at Robert Morris University, Ms. Snyder said she found her mark of highlighting diversity more within the city, working directly with people and young students.
“I love to consider myself as a dot connector. I get to hear people’s stories and connect them to the right people that they need to succeed,” she said. “Pittsburgh has been good to me and my family for multiple generations and I purposely wanted to come back from living abroad to assist in the community. I felt if I could do the same work with diversity here at home that I was doing abroad, I could do the same thing in my own backyard.”
OpticVoices, an interactive photography exhibit at the August Wilson Center, Downtown, is another piece of Ms. Snyder's diversity stamp that she says has been “amazing to witness.”
“This exhibit opened Sept. 23 and was supposed to close Dec. 2, but we got an extension until Jan. 1 because people were really enjoying it,” she said. “We invited school districts to come in and view the exhibits and do an artist walk with curator Emmai Alaquiva. So people have gone through the exhibit and we talk to students about processing their feelings around hard topics like BlackLivesMatter, oppression, gun violence and police brutality. Like, let’s talk about the Black Lives Matter movement, let’s talk about white silence, let’s talk about gun violence and how your voice matters. We’re empowering students to recognize it at 13, 14 and 15 years old that we hear you, and you have the capability to make a change in the world.”
— Lacretia Wimbley, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Scott Shiller (Nate Guidry/Post-Gazette)
The producer, programmer and entertainment exec takes on a newly created position for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
Scott Shiller’s love for the performing arts started when he was growing up outside of St. Louis. His parents would pack up the family and go to the Fox Theatre, where the last two rows of seats were free as part of a give-back program.
“On two teachers’ salaries, I fell in love from the back row of the theater, free of charge,” he said in mid-December, during his first week as the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s vice president for artistic planning.
At 42, his journey through jobs in producing, programming and as an entertainment executive has taken him from Boston to Chicago to Los Angeles and Denver, before taking on what is a new title for the Trust.
Not to be confused with the job title of artistic director, he described his position as a sort of air-traffic controller, working with Trust CEO and president Kevin McMahon and the Trust’s 10 programmers to coordinate and create “synergistic opportunities” for the wide-reaching organization’s artistic partners in the Pittsburgh Cultural District.
In a little more than a year in Denver, one of his achievements was to establish the Fund for Innovation, which provides resources to ensure programming was “relevant and reflective of new audiences.”
As vice president of TheatreDreams, he was responsible for overseeing programming for the landmark Chicago Theatre in Chicago and Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre (formerly the Kodak Theatre), home of “American Idol” and recent Academy Awards ceremonies, in Hollywood. As a producer, he has worked on some of the biggest tours of the decade, including “Jersey Boys.” “I always have to remind myself it’s not always like that. I worked on ‘Good Vibrations’ too,” he said.
Mr. Shiller has been staying on the South Side while he and his wife look for a more permanent home in Pittsburgh.
His mission with the Trust is to “make sure that arts and culture are part of the civic DNA here in Pittsburgh, by making it easily accessible and hard to resist.”
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