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Arts, Sports & Culture

Conflict Kitchen, Mattress Factory Host First Amendment Panel Discussion

Two Pittsburgh organizations known for their sometimes controversial art installations are teaming up to talk about the First Amendment.

Conflict Kitchen in Schenley Plaza and the Mattress Factory on the North Side are hosting a panel discussion Tuesday on the challenges artists face when creating and presenting work inspired by the relationship between Palestine, Israel and the United States.

“We would like to hear from all points of view. That’s really what this discussion is about,” said Mattress Factory co-director Michael Olijnyk. “It’s not a one-sided this person is wrong or this person is wrong. Where are you from? What do you want to talk about? That’s all open.”

Both organizations have first-hand experience in trying to balance an artist’s freedom of speech with international conflicts.

The Mattress Factory canceled an exhibit in May after three of the show’s Palestinian artists were accused of breaking the International Movement Boycott, which stresses a cultural and economic prohibition of all things Israel. The exhibit, “Sites of Passage: Borders, Walls & Citizenship,” was in the works for about a year before it was pulled just days prior to its opening.

Conflict Kitchen, which serves dishes accompanied by conversation topics from countries at odds with the United States, temporarily closed its doors in November after the owner received death threats. The threat claimed the food wrappers only included anti-Israel messages.

Mattress Factory co-director Barbara Luderowski knows the conversation might get heated, but said she’s expecting a calm conversation.

“We’re not doing it and they (Conflict Kitchen) are not doing it with the intention of pouring gasoline on a political fire,” she said. “We really hope that it ends up being an educational, informative group. I’m sure it will get animated, but not angry and difficult.”

Panelists include the Mattress Factory’s Barbara Luderowski and Michael Olijnyk, as well as Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski of Conflict Kitchen. ArtUp Director Tavia La Follette, Germaine Williams of the Pittsburgh Foundation and Joseph del Pesco, director of the Kadist Art Foundation in San Francisco will also sit on the panel.

The event is free and open to the public. The discussion will start at 7 p.m. at the Mattress Factory. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.