Three Rivers Arts Festival 2017

By: Missy Sorg

Nothing says Summer in Pittsburgh like the Three Rivers Arts Festival.  Seriously.  Summer doesn't start in Pittsburgh until we have our local artisans and musicians set up from Point State Park to Gateway Center to various points throughout the Cultural District for over a week's worth of exhibits and performances.  

We had the pleasure of attending the press preview event, and are already marking our calendars for all of the installations we plan to check out.

For those who may be new to the City, are looking to be in the area between June 2 and June 11 for business, or otherwise don't get out much in the City, the Three Rivers Arts Festival is THE iconic celebration of arts.  Organized and hosted by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and presented by Dollar Bank, the festival provides a stage - no pun intended - for performing and visual artists.  The event features both local artists, as well as globally renowned artists.  I've got to say, they know what they're doing as the festival has been around since 1960 - and gets bigger and better each year.

Now that you know what the Arts Festival is, it's time to start talking about some of the acts we can expect this year!  I can tell you that the press conference gave us a peek at up-and-comer singer/pianist and student finalist in the Williams sing-off competition from Pittsburgh's First Night festivities, Grace Rusnica, who performed original pieces to open and close the press event.  We also had an opportunity to see a dance performance from the STAYCEE PEARL dance project.  Grace debuted as an emerging artist in the last year, and will be performing at the Acoustic Stage in Gateway Center.  STAYCEE PEARL's dance troupe is part of the regional performing arts project, Tracks, highlighting dancers from Pittsburgh to Boston.  They are slated to showcase their performance on the Dollar Bank Main Stage in Point Park.  I've already scoped out the schedule from the Three Rivers Arts Festival website to make sure I have both performances marked in my calendar.

After brief statements from Cultural Trust President & CEO, Kevin McMahon and Dollar Bank Senior VP, Joseph Smith, Sarah Aziz took the podium to tell us all about what we can expect for this year's Three Rivers Arts Festival.  Ms. Aziz is the Director and Festival Manager for the Three Rivers Arts Festival.  As anticipated, she sounded as excited as we were when she started with the roll call for this year's activities and events.  

Opening the event listings was Tidal, the installation by Shilo Shiv Sulemon, featuring a geo-feedback installation of LED lights that move in the pattern if Pittsburgh's flowing rivers.  The installation will be at the Overlook in Point State Park.

Another big feature making its debut in Pittsburgh is The Umbrella Sky Project at the Acoustic Stage at Gateway Center.  The piece, inspired by Mary Poppins, is from Portugal.  Developed by the creative agency Sextafeira Produções, it is making its debut in our beautiful City during the Arts Festival.

Drap-Art returns to Pittsburgh with a variety of zero-waste pieces throughout the festival.  Originating in Barcelona, Spain, the installation made its debut in Pittsburgh last year as part of the Re:NEW Festival.  This year Spanish artist, Francisco de Pájaro, is joined by a group of eight American artists who will be utilizing garbage and junk from Downtown for the Arts Festival.

The Arts Festival isn't just about world-renowned artists.  It is also a focus on local artists.  The Juried Visual Art Exhibition will showcase exceptional artists within 150 miles of Downtown Pittsburgh.  Artists have an opportunity for their pieces to not only get showcased, but also judged (for monetary prizes) by a panel of esteemed artists.  This year's panel includes Lee Parker, John Peña, and Lenore Thomas.

Nathan Doverspike returns this year as an Emerging Artist - Level II with his installation featuring works from Age 8 through present.  Of note, his work will be featured in conjunction with the International Children's Theater Festival sponsored by EQT.

Riverlife is presenting "Take a Seat.”  And, they mean it literally.  This installation involves a series of lawn chairs tagged with GPS.  It serves to act as an interactive installation while collecting data to determine where the Arts Festival organizers can focus some attention in future events - taking a look at exhibits people visited (with their chairs) as well as which installations could use some attention and foot traffic in the future.  Additional interaction includes use of a hashtag (#TakeASeat) for social media inclusion.

Maranie Staab returns this year with a photo exhibit titled "Displaced: Photos by Maranie Staab."  The installation utilizes the space along the Allegheny River andincludes a photo project focusing on populations displaced by conflict, persecution and environmental factors.  

One of the installations I am most looking forward to is the Blue Lapis Light performance .  To put it into perspective, during the press event, we were informed that the artists involved will be performing ON the front of Fifth Avenue Place.  (Read that sentence again.  That's ON the front of Fifth Avenue Place.  Not IN front of Fifth Avenue Place.)  Aerial dancers will glide and fly gracefully along the front of the Fifth Avenue Place building.

A series of films will also be presented at the Harris Theater throughout the Arts Festival.  Of note, The Freedom to Marry is one of the featured films to be shown.  It follows the civil rights movement spearheaded by Evan Wolfson, Mary Bonauto, and their colleagues through a decades-long battle right up to the United States Supreme Court argument.

Making its debut this year, the Jumping Jack Theater is presenting The Light Princess.  It is the first multi-sensory adventure created for those on the autism spectrum.

With everything going on, there will be some places to stop and take a breath, or check out some handcrafted artistry.  The Giant Eagle Creativity Zone is expanding to a second location this year - as is The Anthropology of Motherhood.  Food trucks will be on site during the weekend, offering convenient and artistic foods of their own.

Although not "technically" included as part of the Arts Festival as it is before the festival formally kicks off, we will include the CREATE Festival.  The Pittsburgh Technology Council is combining art with technology.  The exhibit will be from June 1 - 5 at the August Wilson Center, and is a great pre-game event for the Three Rivers Arts Festival!

For the full schedule of events and information, check out the Three Rivers Arts Festival page on the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s website.