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Gritty Pittsburgh Embraces the Arts

Gritty Pittsburgh Embraces the Arts

A multimedia designer and artist, Jesse Hambley dabbles in Web and graphic design, photography and even film work. But when he started looking for a photography studio, the 23-year-old realized he couldn't afford a place on his own.
So Hambley and some associates decided to form the Creative Treehouse, a membership club for artists to share creative space in a borough just outside the city line. Their goal: to support each other's talents and grow the grass-roots arts community here.
"People still have the impression if you're still such a great artist, such a great photographer, why aren't you living in New York? Why aren't you living in San Francisco?" Hambley said. "I think a lot of us want to change that."
No longer the smoky steel town of days past, the hometown of pop artist Andy Warhol is increasingly becoming known for its thriving arts community. This year alone, the city will host three national and international arts conferences, including a yearlong celebration of glass art and a gathering of museum directors.
"Many people from the outside still remember Pittsburgh from its steel days. It's really transformed itself," said Jason Busch, curator of decorative arts at the Carnegie Museum of Art.
Busch is helping to organize a decorative arts symposium in April for members of The Decorative Arts Trust, a national nonprofit group made up of collectors, museum professionals and others.
"There's a rich artistic and cultural heritage to Pittsburgh and that's something we will really show through in this particular visit," Busch said. "For many people, it will be their first visit to Pittsburgh."
Pittsburgh has a long history of cultivating the arts, dating back to the city's early industrialists. In 1896, for example, Andrew Carnegie established the world's second-oldest contemporary art exhibition. Known as the Carnegie International, the show is still held approximately every three years.
The city boasts famous art museums, including the Carnegie, the Andy Warhol Museum and the Frick Art Museum. And its arts community, traditionally located on the city's eclectic South Side, now is also prospering downtown and in neighborhoods such as Lawrenceville, which calls itself the "Design Zone."
"Pittsburgh has successfully remade itself into one of the strongest arts and cultural centers in the United States," said Mitch Swain, CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, a group that provides professional development, technical development and educational services for artists and the arts community.
This summer, the group said a new study by the Americans for the Arts will be released looking at the economic impact of arts in cities across the country. The last study to measure that, in 2002, found that arts organizations had a business impact of $251 million in Pittsburgh alone, a number that Swain expects is much higher now.
Swain said support from large foundations and local and state governments and cooperation among locals arts groups combines to make Pittsburgh a good place for a variety of artists, including painters, sculptors, glass artists and photographers.
Big museums in the city such as the Warhol and Carnegie "create the sizzle, but the makeup of (smaller arts groups) help create a cultural character that's very colorful and vibrant and diverse," Swain said.
Over the years, the city has hosted artists from across the world and the tradition continues this year with the annual meeting of the Association of Art Museum Directors in May followed by the annual meeting of the Glass Art Society in June.
Mimi Gaudieri, executive director of the Association of Art Museum Directors, said the group hasn't had its annual convention in the city since 1985. The group was invited to meet here by the directors of the Carnegie, the Frick and the Warhol museums.
"It's such an improved city in the arts community as well as physically," Gaudieri said. "It's a very exciting city."
The upcoming Glass Art Society's meeting is part of a yearlong celebration here of glass arts, and is expected to draw glass artists from all over the world.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have up to 1,500 artists from around the world all focused on glass to come and meet with us," said Karen Johnese, executive director of the Pittsburgh Glass Center. The city's arts groups have helped grow Pittsburgh's reputation by sharing programming, resources and training, she said. The next step is to use the city's art culture as a sort of economic development tool.
"It is our goal to woo artists to move here and establish their studios here," Johnese said.
Hambley said the city is welcoming to artists _ the only limitation is that the residents here tend to be "a little old-fashioned" so it's sometimes hard to find a market for the art being made.
"I'm hoping that's going to change," Hambley said.
Ultimately, his dream is simple: He hopes when people list creative cities across the country they'll think of the old Steel City.
Seattle. Austin, Texas. Pittsburgh.
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On the Net:
http://www.decorativeartstrust.org/sym_P
http://www.aamd.org
http://www.glassart.org/Pittsburgh_2007
http://www.pittsburghartscouncil.org


Updated : 2021-08-05 09:27 GMT+08:00