The 2015 edition of the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival had all the components that people look forward to in this annual rite of passage into summer — free music and performance, festi-food and an Artist Market that appealed to a variety of tastes and budgets. It also continues to expand its circle of community involvement, fine tune arts programming across a variety of disciplines and draw attention to its location in the Cultural District.
Public art has returned to the festival in recent years with mixed success. It introduces a more thoughtful and complex kind of art to the average visitor, and offers art aficionados something to seek out. But by its nature it takes a bit more explaining, and that’s hard to achieve on the relatively small text panels that accompany these works. Trial and error will determine what works best in this space, as well as the lead time and budget required to schedule the most effective artists.
Hiring an independent curator, Nadine Wasserman, to shepherd the public art this year was a step in the right direction, as was holding a public art panel discussion and curator-led walking tour of the works.
Placement and scale are important. Fernando Orellana’s “Confluence,” sited under the Point State Park Portal Bridge, was perfectly designed for the space and in an optimal location for viewers. It would have been helpful to put text panels on both sides of the bridge. On a crowded weekend, some visitors didn’t know there was an explanatory sign because it was hidden by people gathered around it.
It’s commendable to take advantage of the park’s beauty by pulling visitors into it, but apparently many missed Michael Arcega’s “Baby: Corps of Re-Discovery” perched on the park overlook. Perhaps the number of public artworks will grow so that visitors become accustomed to seeking them out between the food booths and fountain.
Rudy Shepherd’s “Black Rock Negative Energy Absorber” was a marvelous concept, elaborated by the artist’s “induction ceremony” opening weekend, but it was dwarfed by the park’s expanse. A piece several sizes larger (think Squonk Opera last year) is needed to make impact there. Mr. Shepherd’s somewhat mystical “rock” would have been better served in a more intimate area on the fountain side.
The work that most successfully integrated was Michelle Illuminato’s “Lost & Found Factory,” which invited visitors to describe an object, person or event that had been lost, and provided a symbolic replacement for it, created by artists on site. Demand was so high that daily intake had to be restricted. Each of the 257 “found” objects was photographed, and they and their stories may be seen at http://michelleilluminato.com/lost-and-found-factory.
The lost items and their circumstances ranged from childhood stuffed animals to family members with varying degrees of poignancy. I laughed aloud when reading about a chicken that recently disappeared from its coop. Under the descriptor question “taste,” the participant wrote: “Ask the damn raccoon.” Many of the “founds” had been claimed by festival closing day. Ms. Illuminato is hoping to find a time and place to hold a pop-up factory shop to “give the owners a second chance to be reunited with what they lost,” she said in an email.
The Juried Visual Art Exhibition held its own with many very fine works, some from outside the region. This was the first year that submissions from beyond Pittsburgh were accepted. The People’s Choice Award, which includes $500 cash and was tallied at festival end, went to Jacob Brown of Mars for a mixed-media abstract work, “Buck Hill 5.”
Again, the visual arts benefited from professionalism, including a supportive display by Carin Mincemoyer that treated new media as something better than an afterthought. Juror Astria Suparak brought the open-minded progressive approach she displayed for years as director of CMU’s Miller Gallery.
The Pittsburgh Society of Artists and Radiant Hall pulled together and manned fine group exhibitions at 937 Liberty Ave. and The Wintergarden, PPG Place. Attracting visitors from festival central to such fringe locations is difficult, but attendance should grow over time if the sites continue to be occupied, giving more local artists opportunity for exposure.
A highlight for me was the 2015 CREATE festival held at the Wyndham Grand Hotel. A co-production of the Pittsburgh Technology Council in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, the mostly free event offered more than 40 panels, workshops, performances and demonstrations over two days. It attracted visitors from across the country who spilled into the arts festival in the evenings. The energy was optimistic as a potpourri of creatives drawn from the arts and technology shared ideas. The Friday keynote speaker, Miki Agrawal, was a knockout worth looking up. Author of “Do Cool Sh*t: Quit Your Day Job, Start Your Own Business and Live Happily Ever After,” she was named one of Forbes’ Top 20 Millennials on a Mission.
As the festival adds presentations and attendees, parking is a growing thorny problem. Readers reported incorrect information on Alco websites. Perhaps it’s time to consider a shuttle from outlying lots or other alternatives. You may weigh in on the festival, and perhaps guide its future, by filling out a survey at www.3riversartsfest.org.