Top 50: Arts organizations going all out for city's 250th

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It's a party in Pittsburgh, and everyone's invited -- including artists, musicians, dancers and dinosaur junkies.

Pittsburgh's 250th birthday has provided an opportunity for the city's arts and nonprofit community to join the party with new exhibitions, new performances and new publications, many of them linked directly or tangentially to the region's ongoing anniversary.

The plan all along was for "Pittsburgh 250" to "build around the arts and culture community," said Bill Flanagan, head of Pittsburgh 250. The culmination of that collaboration will be October's "Festival of Lights and Music," the promotional umbrella for all sorts of new works and artistic installations, he said.

Outside of the festival, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's "Dinosaurs In Their Time" exhibit opened in 2007, but only part of the display -- the tyrannosaurs, triceratops skull and other cretaceous creatures will be on view when the full exhibit opens this spring. It will be a "first-day" attraction for tourists coming through town this year, says Dr. David Hillenbrand, chief executive officer of the Carnegie Museums.

Also in conjunction with Pittsburgh's 250th, the Heinz History Center is exhibiting "Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation," a permanent 12,000-square-foot display that chronicles innovators and inventors. That opens in November.

Before that, the history center will be publishing "Pittsburgh Born, Pittsburgh Bred," a book featuring more than 500 profiles of native and adopted Pittsburghers, from playwright August Wilson (native) to George Washington (adopted). An April 4 release is planned.

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra already is in full celebration mode. The PSO's "Pittsburgh 250 Ambassador Tour" of Europe ran through January and February, in halls big and small, cementing Pittsburgh's image, at least abroad, of a premier American exporter of European classics.

The Pittsburgh Public Theater hosted the traveling Second City comedy troupe, which performed "Three Rivers Run Through It," part improv, part sketch comedy, about the city.

The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh is offering free admission to all visitors on Thursday, part of the region's "Won't You Be My Neighbor Days," celebrating Mister Rogers. It's one of the many events being supported by Pittsburgh 250's community connections fund, as well as the 7-year-old Sprout Fund.

The Sprout Fund, meanwhile, administered over a program that issued grants for the construction of roadside attractions in southwestern Pennsylvania. The "Roadside Giants" public art project is in conjunction with the city's 250th, and will pay for vo-tech students from Bedford, Somerset and Westmoreland counties to design eye-catching attractions along Route 30, sometimes called the Lincoln Highway.

And expect representatives from arts organizations big and small to be at the celebration's official kick-off event, the "250th Anniversary History Makers Gala," a black-tie affair scheduled for April 4 at The Westin Convention Center hotel.

Some of the groups, by the way, are celebrating anniversaries of their own -- the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is now in its 75th year of operation (turning 76), the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh is 25, and the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, known for its jazz evangelism, is celebrating its 40th.

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Bill Toland can be reached at or 412-263-2625.


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