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Three Rivers Arts Festival boasts new footprint, bigger artists market

Three Rivers Arts Festival main stage
Bill O'Driscoll
90.5 WESA
The Arts Festival's main stage has been relocated to Fort Duquesne Boulevard at Stanwix.

Save for the “virtual festival” year of 2020, last year’s Three Rivers Arts Festival was the first ever — after 62 years — to be held outside Point State Park. Many guests seemed satisfied with the new layout, which threaded through several blocks of Downtown streets and surface lots.

But the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which stages the free festival, did get some negative feedback about the main stage for the fest’s music headliners, which sat at Ninth and Penn streets. A solution emerged from a natural experiment: Allegheny Overlook pop-up park, the popular mid-pandemic attraction — complete with music stage — the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership set up in summer 2021 on Fort Duquesne Boulevard.

So this year, three blocks of Fort Duquesne Boulevard will serve as the spine for the entire festival. A la Allegheny Overlook, the stage for touring talent like KT Tunstall, Galactic and Corinne Bailey Rae is situated at Stanwix, facing upriver on the bank of the Allegheny right across from PNC Park.

Singer Corinne Bailey Rae
Alexandra Valenti
Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
Singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae headlines on the festival main stage Thu., June 8.

The spot might not fully satisfy those who still long to unroll a blanket on Point State Park’s vast lawn, but it will likely strike most visitors as more scenic than the sides of the office buildings at 9th and Penn.

“We’ve got a whole block of shade, we’ve got a little bit of green space, you’ve got that river, which has a nice breeze. It feels so Pittsburgh,” said Sarah Aziz, the Trust’s director of festival management. She said up to 5,000 guests should be able to take in each concert.

Most of this year’s expanded Artist Market will also stretch along the boulevard, from Seventh to Ninth Street, with some artists in an adjacent surface lot. Aziz said the number of artists is way up, from last year’s 200 or so to more than 300 this year.

A traffic note: The boulevard’s riverside, or westbound, lanes will remain closed between Stanwix and Ninth until Tue., June 13. The city-side lanes on those blocks will be closed only on weekends, though vehicles can still cross at Seventh and Ninth streets.

The 10-day festival, sponsored by Dollar Bank, has both indoor and outdoor venues. The other main outdoor site is the Backyard at 8th and Penn, featuring its own music stage, Squonk Opera’s closing-weekend performances of its musical spectacle “Hand to Hand,” and two temporary public artworks.

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One is “Utterance,” by Blawnox-based artist Jim West, known for his landmark statue of George Washington and Guyasuta having a tête-à-tête on Mount Washington. “Utterance,” located inside a tent, consists of 16 posts, each 6 feet tall and topped with a sculpted head, with angry voices issuing wordless imprecations from hidden speakers.

“It’s about communication. There’s a lot of yelling and no listening,” said West. “We’re talking about, maybe we need to pause and be a better listener to what people have to say.” Visitors can scan a QR code that accesses a site where they can leave suggestions for how people can communicate better; their ideas will be posted on a screen as part of the exhibit.

Nearby stands “We Are All Connected To Each Other Through Nature,” an installation by Laurie Shapiro, a Carnegie Mellon University graduate now based in Los Angeles. The work, part of the festival’s long-running Anthropology of Motherhood series, is a structure designed as a short “tunnel” that provides visitors – include those who need to nurse children, or change diapers -- a comforting environment. The walls consist of semi-translucent banners with colorful floral patterns that, when lit from within at night, will resemble stained glass, Shapiro said.

Indoor attractions include the annual Juried Visual Art Exhibition, at SPACE gallery. It features work by 30 regional artists, juried by Steve Alexis, Lexi Bishop, Tara Fay Coleman and Jillian Daniels.

The Harris Theater hosts free screenings of recent music documentaries “Little Richard: I Am Everything,” “Rewind and Play” (about Thelonius Monk), and “What The Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat and Tears?”

And at the Trust Arts Education Center, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co. is offering free preview performances of its forthcoming production of “12:52: The Mike Webster Story.” The new play by Randall Benson and Ross Howard explores the life of the Hall of Fame Steelers center whose untimely death ignited concerns about brain damage resulting from contact sports.

A complete festival schedule and more are here.

Cat Luck

Cat Luck began their journey into jewelry with broken or damaged pieces from their part-time job.

“I would just take the broken pieces of jewelry and the discount that I got from the bead shop, and then I would turn it into these treasures. … I would bike around the city with the jewelry under the back of [my] bicycle,” Luck said.

 A person sits on the top of a van.
Courtesy of Cat Luck.
Cat Luck

Their first jewelry collection is Collarbone, a high fashion line made with real pearls and stones. The newest collection, Cat Luck, features a more high-end, minimalist look. Both are made using traditional jewelry-making methods including wax-casting, mold making, and soldering.

“Think of it like a ying yang; one side of it is the Collarbone collection and the other side is the Cat Luck line. They come together to create balance in harmony,” Luck said.

As a queer, non-binary artist, gender nonconformity is a fundamental part of Luck’s jewelry platform.

“What I'm hoping to do is break the barrier of everybody being able to just be whatever they want, and wear whatever they want. …I think of my pieces, like spreading little breadcrumbs of joy and love, and I just want it to be accessible to everyone,”

Luck will be at the festival until June 11th.

Aimee Manion

A woman paints on a canvas.
Courtesy of Aimee Manion
Aimee Manion at work.

Aimee Manion won the Emerging Artist scholarship in 2008, which gave her a free booth at the Three Rivers Arts Festival to display her work.

“It just really was an awesome opportunity. I made enough money [at the festival] to just kind of jumpstart my career,” Manion said.

Manion uses a water-based medium along with acrylic, ink, and pigment powders in a layered process to create her work. She enjoys making her work feature a level of detail that requires a more in-depth look.

“I loved Where's Waldo when I was little… pulling people in closer and closer to get the tinier details, but you can also step back and see how it all flows together,” said Manion.

Even though Manion was a biology major, she displays her knowledge in her work which takes inspiration from the world and turns into a message about climate change.

“A lot of my work is addressing pretty serious issues like pollution and mental health, climate change, destroying the planet. But I try to approach it in a more hopeful, optimistic, uplifting way,” Manion said.

Manion will be at the festival until June 11th.

 Corey D. Bush sits on a car.
Courtesy of Corey D. Bush
Corey D. Bush

Corey D. Bush

Among the artists featured this year at the Three Rivers Arts Festival is Corey D. Bush.

Using his skills from woodworking and crafting furniture, Bush turned to ceramics to create contemporary and memorable artifacts. The Pittsburgh-based artist works mainly with stoneware and porcelain.

“My pieces usually have a pretty clean, minimalist kind of aesthetic,” Bush said. “A lot of it is done in sets or collections with particular glaze patterns that are kind of inspired by things I've seen in nature locally or on various trips.”

Bush said he likes the idea of his work existing beyond a lifetime.

“I deal with a lot of existentialism, you know, just thinking about why I'm here,” Bush said.

“And so I just kind of love the idea of putting things into the world that I've made with my own hands that have the potential to last for generations, hundreds or even thousands of years.”

Bush’s collection will be on display at the festival until June 6.

Marlon Gist

Marlon Gist
Courtesy Marlon Gist

Taking after his father, Marlon Gist has spent his life exploring his own artistic talent. Influenced by the people around him, the Aliquippa resident’s artwork spans different mediums including acrylic, watercolor and charcoal.

“A lot of my pictures are of my friends,” Gist said. “They're places that I've been from or just happy stories that I want to tell, a happy world that I want to see.”

Gist said he’s in his safe space when he’s painting and creating artwork.

“That's my getaway,” Gist said. “I could be mad and start doing art and it makes me happy.”

Gist will be at the festival through Tuesday, June 6.

Denielle DeSantis-Gase

Denielle DeSantis-Gase
Courtesy of Denielle DeSantis-Gase

As a full-time high school art teacher, Denielle DeSantis-Gase explores many different forms of art. The former dancer’s artwork is influenced by movement and communication through brushstrokes and layering techniques.

“I approach my art in the same way. I want to visually communicate a message through my art just the same way I did with dance competitively growing up.”

If there’s one piece of advice DeSantis-Gase would want budding artists to know, it’s to not stay in a gridlock.

“My best advice to anyone exploring a career, a creative career in general, is to get as much experience in different industries and different jobs,” DeSantis-Gase said. “Get a better sense of what you enjoy doing.”

DeSantis-Gase’s work will be featured at the festival through June 11.

Updated: June 7, 2023 at 2:12 PM EDT
Includes more artists on display.
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:
Shreya is a rising junior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in economics and sociology with a creative writing minor. She's had multiple articles published as a senior staff writer for Pitt's student-run news outlet, The Pitt News. In her free time, she enjoys reading and going on long walks.
Addison is a Junior at Point Park University, majoring in Broadcast Reporting. She is the News Director for Point Park's campus station, U-View Television and reports on the show Daybreak. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and spending time with her cat, Soup.