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Pittsburgh’s Cultural Resurgence: A Survey of the City

[uds-billboard name=”treading”]Pittsburgh has been noted as one of the most livable cities in the country according to several publications like Places Rated Almanac, the Economic Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Global Livability Survey, and coming in at number one as rated by Forbes Magazine. This is a great contrast to many of the coveted cities in the United States such as Los Angeles and New York as they cannot claim a high livability factor. With the growth of certain industries within Pittsburgh such as film, medical technologies and energy Pittsburgh is growing at a fast rate.

From a governmental standpoint the city is committed to entrepreneurs and small businesses in addition to their support of the arts. Project Pop Up Pittsburgh is doing just that: transforming 15 vacant spaces in the downtown area stimulating a once less-than-desirable area. This project has given local business owners a unique opportunity to test the waters with little risk and create jobs. With several colleges in Western Pennsylvania, many would say Pittsburgh is a young city. But what exactly does a “young city” mean for both the arts and aforementioned industries: innovation. The city hopes to retain this innovation and has created several initiatives to focus on keeping college graduates in the region. Two great examples are the websites, Imagine Pittsburgh Jobs and Pittsburgh City Living, designed to help grads find jobs in the 10-county region and then discover their ideal neighborhood.

The city stands behind its cultural revival, which bodes well for working artists and the art enthusiasts who live here. This innovation is drawing more people to visit Pittsburgh, creating a thriving environment for the collectors and academics who will be visiting the city in October 2013 for the Carnegie International. This exhibition, which is the oldest international contemporary art exhibition in North America and was last held in 2008, will draw the who’s who from the art world. In response, an interesting dialog will be created between Pittsburgh and the international art community. We are curious to see how the local community will be involved.

Pittsburgh has many museums such as the Mattress Factory, the four Carnegie’s, including The Andy Warhol Museum, and The Frick Art and Historical Center. Despite the number of these nationally recognized institutions and their fascinating exhibitions, there is a lack of engagement beyond the communities where they reside. There is also an absence of outreach to small, independent projects and interaction between the institutions themselves, which has resulted in a disconnect between the artistic centers of Pittsburgh. With the future of this city continuing to evolve we hope to see these vacuums of creativity disappear.

More positively, what is readily apparent about Pittsburgh is the emphasis placed on community and the prideful attitudes shown by its residents. A leading example of this spirit is the transition that is occurring in the Garfield and Friendship area spearheaded by the Penn Avenue Arts Initiative. This area, which is close to the now hip and bustling Lawrenceville, is being transformed from a run-down part of town to a community whose goal is to engage the public while showing the talents of local working artists. While the neighborhood still has its gritty appearance, it is more so in a way that entices this newly interested crowd to be part of something cool and transitional.

Since the initiative this area, now referred to as the Penn Avenue Arts District, has seen an influx of studio and commercial art spaces, musical endeavors, a very awesome indeed bookstore, and of course foodie delights. The popular addition of UnBlurred, an art walk on the first Friday of every month, converts Penn Avenue into a bustling corridor filled with characters from all over the city.

The livability of Pittsburgh contributes to a high number of working artists. Examples of this are the numerous co-ops found throughout the city like Just Seeds, Monalloh Foundry and Cyberpunk Apocalypse. Many of them, like the owners of Tugboat Printshop, have created studios and shops in their homes. All of these community driven artists are yet another testament to Pittsburgh’s commitment to the arts as they have created a unique culture of support amongst one another.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, a non-profit organization run on a unique model of public and private partnerships, is also an example of this culture of support but in a much larger fashion. They are responsible for revitalizing a 14-block stretch of downtown turning it into an art and entertainment attraction: seven theaters, eight public parks and a dozen galleries. It is because of this philanthropic culture that artists are able to pursue a career in the arts and draw a supportive audience. But even with all of this philanthropy, the market is still missing its mobility. Artworks aren’t moving very far. Many of the community organized happenings begin small and are hard to come by unless you are a personal friend or follower of the artist and “in the know”. A lack of marketing makes it difficult for collectors to know of and attend events. This is a major problem because there isn’t already a developed culture of collecting in Pittsburgh. Unlike larger cities, the market isn’t driven by the purchases of wealthy collectors, which allows artistic movements to be uninfluenced by money driven taste-makers. This is apparent when you attend openings or art walks, but it is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the undefiled market continues being supported by the artists, but it is also unable to reach its full potential without monetary backing. This is where we believe Pittsburgh has the opportunity to shape the collecting culture it will soon acquire as the city continues to grow.

As Pittsburgh progresses in response to the innovative industries establishing here and its vivacious cultural renaissance, we hope to see an increase in the community of serious collectors, more outreach and collaboration from the large institutions and the sustain of Pittsburgh’s unrelenting communal support.


Treading Art is a Pittsburgh based arts blog that seeks to connect creative communities within the city.
All images are courtesy of Christine Smith and Melissa LuVisi, founders of Treading Art.

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