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Contemporary Craft To Move Galleries, Studios To Upper Lawrenceville

For 32 of its 48 years, arts group Contemporary Craft has been headquartered in the Strip District, in a big space capping the eastern end of the landmark Produce Terminal. There it’s hosted more than 200 exhibitions featuring work by an international array of artists doing cutting-edge versions of traditional disciplines like ceramics, fabric art and metalwork.

This past June, the nonprofit learned it would have to vacate its leased space because of redevelopment efforts there.

Thursday, the group announced that its search for a new home had ended. Contemporary Craft will purchase and renovate a former manufacturing facility in Upper Lawrenceville, about three miles up the Allegheny River from its current headquarters.

The group looked at more than 20 properties before settling on the former Em Bed It, Inc. site, which made Lucite plaques and toys.

“When we hit it, we knew,” said Janet McCall, Contemporary Craft’s long-time executive director, at a Thursday event announcing the move. “We walked in the door and said, ‘This is it.’”

The new space is 13,500 square feet, a shade smaller than Contemporary Craft’s current home. But even raw – and, as of Thursday, unheated -- it has similarly high ceilings and an open floor plan that recalls the Strip District venue. Architectural renderings indicate the current plain exterior will be modernized, with lots of windows opening to Butler Street and letting in natural light.

Matthew Galluzzo, executive director of community-redevelopment group the Lawrenceville Corp., says, “Contemporary Craft will become the cultural gateway for Upper Lawrenceville.”

Buying and renovating the property will cost $5.5 million – money Contemporary Craft is still raising. But it has a good head start: McCall announced Thursday that Daniel McCaffery, of McCaffery Interests, the developer behind the Produce Terminal project, is donating $1.3 million toward the group’s move.

McCall credited partners who assisted in the move, including the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the offices of Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. Also speaking at the Thursday event were Fitzgerald; Craig Davis, president and CEO of VisitPittsburgh; and Dan Griffin, president of the board of the Allegheny Regional Asset District, a major arts funder.

Contemporary Craft was founded in 1971, as the Society for Contemporary Craft. (It dropped the “Society” only recently.) It was originally headquartered in Verona, and moved to the Produce Terminal in 1986. It’s long been one of Pittsburgh’s top art venues, with a retail outlet for artists, and has run arts-education programs and provided studio space as well. In recent years, many exhibits and programs have focused on social issues, including at-risk children and families, and the treatment of the elderly, the homeless, and people experiencing mental illness.

The group has a budget of about $1 million. It says 40 percent of its visitors come from outside Pittsburgh.

Contemporary Craft's current home is right in the midst of the Strip’s mix of shops, restaurants and nightclubs, and a short walk from Downtown, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, and Heinz History Center.

The new location occupies a bit of a frontier for arts groups: While its near neighbors include Hop Farm Brewing Company, the intersection of 57th and Butler streets lies several blocks from the heart of the Butler Street retail district, in a stretch Butler that is also home to car-repair places and industrial facilities.

But McCall said that one of Contemporary Craft’s core values is accessibility – admission to all exhibitions will remain free – and that relocating to a residential community is a plus.

“Being able to put down deep roots in a neighborhood is appealing to us,” she said. “In the Strip, we had a lot of foot traffic but then people went home, there weren’t as many residents. So this is a way to engage differently with the community and schools.”

While some tenants of the Produce Terminal have already been evicted, Contemporary Craft negotiated a deal that allows it to remain through December. It will open its final exhibit in the new space, the prestigious Fiber Art International, in May. McCall said it plans to open its new headquarters in March 2020.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: