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Warhol Museum announces expansion in neighborhood with its new 'Pop District'

The Andy Warhol Museum calls its ambitious new $60 million development project “The Pop District” in honor of its namesake, the famed Pop artist and Pittsburgh native. Museum officials announced the plan to remake their corner of the North Side at a press event Friday.

Warhol, famously, left town right after college; the Pop District, officials said, is meant to ensure that future Warhols don’t feel they have to do the same to find success.

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The District already features the just-opened public-art park across the street from the museum. But the centerpiece of the plan is an expansion of the museum’s existing workforce-development program for young people each year in digital media, marketing, and communications, into spaces in nearby buildings.

And still in the early planning stage is a new mid-sized live-music and event venue, to occupy the museum’s surface parking lot, catty-corner from its flagship building across Sandusky Street. Museum officials said the venue – with standing room for 800 to 1,000 visitors -- would accommodate both some of the 300 or so rental events each year the museum is asked to host but doesn’t have space for, and touring acts that currently bypass Pittsburgh.

In total, the Pop District is planned to roll out over 10 years and affect a six-block area around the museum.

A new footprint
Warhol director Patrick Moore said at the press event the plan began about three years ago, with a desire to increase vitality and foot traffic in the area. Moore said the idea is to complement existing local amenities. The museum, founded in 1994, is one block from PNC Park, a short trip across the Andy Warhol Bridge from Downtown’s Cultural District, and about a half-mile from the North Side entertainment district that includes the Stage AE concert venue and numerous taverns and restaurants.

While the museum itself is already among the city’s top tourist destinations, Moore said research by the consulting firm Chora Creative indicates that within 10 years, the Pop District “can have a $100 million annual economic impact for the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.”

The museum has raised $25 million toward its $60 million goal, including $15 million over the next three-and-a-half years from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, and $10 million over four years from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation. Further fundraising is planned to complete the first phase of the project, and then to begin the second phase.

Hillman Foundation president David K. Roger said the Pop District suggests “the future of how museums are going to engage with communities in a very, very different way going forward.”

“We’re exploring ways to enhance our relevance by expanding our mission beyond the walls of our buildings,” said Steven Knapp, president and CEO of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, the Warhol’s parent organization.

“What’s most intriguing … is the workforce piece of this to train the next generation of digital creatives to be able to participate in this new economy,” said R.K. Mellon Foundation director Sam Reiman. “This is an honest initiative telling kids what they need to do to be able to compete in the 21st century economy.”

“This initiative will only succeed if it helps to make sure that the next Andy Warhol doesn’t have to leave Pittsburgh to become Andy Warhol,” he added.

Others speaking at the event included Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald and state Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Pittsburgh), who’s also board chair of the Sports & Exhibition Authority.

What's here, what's to come
Elements of the Pop District already visible on the street include a vibrant abstract mural by Miami-based artist Typoe, on the Rose Way face of the museum, and Pop District Park, on the former site of the Rosa Villa restaurant, featuring banners and plantings by Michael Loveland, also based in Miami.

Pittsburgh-based artists Mikael Owunna and Laura Jean McLaughlin will also contribute public artworks. McLaughlin’s will be a mosaic on the museum’s exterior honoring Warhol’s mother, Julia Warhola.

While the Warhol is known for its youth-education programming, it has not heavily publicized the pilot program it’s now calling Pop District Creative. The program harks to Warhol’s own beginnings as an artist in advertising.

Participants, all of whom are paid, create digital content for the Warhol itself and a second client, Dell Technologies. Along with growing its client base, its goal is to matriculate 100 or more participants ages 14 to 25 annually, create $1 million in annual income for creative talent, and create 25 or more annual full-time and part-time jobs, along with gig work and internships. The plan calls for the majority of those workers to be BIPOC, LGBTQ+, or immigrants.

Dan Law, the museum’s associate vice president for capital projects and major gifts, said this year the Warhol should have 90 participants in the program this year. He said 60% are currently BIPOC, LGBTQ+, or immigrants.

The expanded operations will be housed partly next door to the museum, on the seventh floor of what’s sometimes called the Burns White building. The space is currently under renovation but operations there are set to begin as soon as July, said Pop District director Anneliese Martinez. The space will be a co-working tech studio with facilities for podcasting, audio recording, film and video, and photography, along with classroom, office, and meeting space.

There are also plans to activate other spaces nearby, including the former site of a restaurant in a parking garage owned by the Sports and Exhibition Authority.

The concert and event venue is the part of the Pop District in the earliest stages of planning.

The museum’s Dan Law said rental events are an important income stream for the museum that could be boosted by such a facility. The museum also sees the venue as a way to expand on the success of its long-running Sound Series – as well as to attract touring acts that don’t currently hit Pittsburgh.

A groundbreaking is tentatively set for 2024.

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: