Regional Report: Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Region
Carin Mincemoyer, Dandelions, steel sign posts, aluminum, paint, and hardware, 2014. Temporarily installed in Manhattan, now permanently installed in Pittsburgh outside the Brew House Association Gallery. Commissioned by NYC Department of Transportation Urban Design & Art Program and the Columbus-Amsterdam Business Improvement District.
Carin Mincemoyer, Dandelions, steel sign posts, aluminum, paint, and hardware, 2014. Temporarily installed in Manhattan, now permanently installed in Pittsburgh outside the Brew House Association Gallery. Commissioned by NYC Department of Transportation Urban Design & Art Program and the Columbus-Amsterdam Business Improvement District.

AICA-USA's regional representatives report on the state of the arts and art criticism in their area in order to bring wider awareness of important exhibitions, events, and the accomplishments of art critics throughout the country.

An update on the visual arts in Western Pennsylvania would have a different tone if it were not for the upheaval caused by COVID-19 shutdowns. Governor Tom Wolf ordered a state-wide shutdown on March 16. This remained in effect until some counties transitioned into the yellow phase of reopening; in this phase galleries and museums remained closed. On June 5 most of Southwest Pennsylvania, including the Pittsburgh region, moved to the green phase. In this phase most institutions will be allowed to reopen with restrictions in place. Yet some areas of Eastern Pennsylvania hardest hit by COVID-19 remain in the red shutdown phase.

During this unprecedented shutdown annual events in this region were cancelled and virtual events planned instead. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Three River’s Arts Festival will take place June 5-14 online. The artist’s market, instead of being an outdoor event, will allow each artist included in the juried exhibition a web page with contact information for purchasing artworks. The outdoor festival is a substantial annual income generator for many of the region's craft artists and selling online may adversely impact their revenue.

Contemporary Craft, opened in 1971, had planned a grand opening April of their new permanent home in Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood. The grand opening was to include free community events, summer art programs for underserved youth, and outreach programs in public schools. Some of these activities were cancelled. The delay in construction activity caused by COVID-19 shutdowns means that the Contemporary Craft center will not be opening in June, and the rescheduled grand opening date is still to be determined. In the meantime they too are presenting virtual programming.

On March 23, the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, which include the Museum of Art, the Natural History Museum, the Carnegie Science Center, and the Andy Warhol Museum temporarily furloughed staff members, anticipating that the closure would cause deficits of nearly $1.4 million dollars per month. As of now there is no new information on their webpage of reopening dates. The Pittsburgh Glass center furloughed half of its staff and shut down its gas furnaces. They are currently in the planning stages of reopening, but the shutdown will have profound negative effects on this and other non-profits in the region. The Mattress Factory is also closed indefinitely with all community programming cancelled.

The region including and surrounding Pittsburgh has more than 800 nonprofit arts and cultural groups. This is according to a survey released by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. These organizations employ more than 15,000 workers and many are small, with budgets under $250,000. Many of them serve a demographic most likely to be hard-hit by prolonged shut downs.

In an instance of downsizing unrelated to COVID, the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and Media, a non-profit community arts campus responsible for exhibitions, education, and operating two city cinema theaters terminated its film programs and fired almost all of their employees in November, 2019. They also vacated the Marshall mansion in Shadyside which had housed art exhibitions and programming since 1945.

Although not in the immediate region, many Pittsburghers are part of the summer programming at Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, NY. Pittsburgh’s Judy Barie is the Susan and John Turbin Director of VACI Galleries there. On May 1 the Board of Trustees decided to suspend in-person programming at the Institution for the Summer 2020 season. Lectures, religious services, performances, classes, and youth programs were cancelled, although many of them will be offered online. The good news for art lovers in Chautauqua is that the Strohl Art Center will open on June 30 with three curated exhibitions. The Gallery Store, a museum quality gift shop on the premises, will also be open. There will be opportunities for guests to view the work in person and on a new online platform. Virtual tours, interviews, blogs, lectures, and special events will be offered. Chautauqua Institution is waiving gate fees for the season.

Cutbacks in other parts of Pennsylvania are also felt here. Due to the COVID-19 crisis and the resulting budget shortfall, the City of Philadelphia eliminated its Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy effective June 1. Pittsburgh artist Carin Mincemoyer planned to install a commissioned public work for the Fishtown Recreation Center on the fencing surrounding a new community swimming pool. Fishtown is a former fishing village on the Delaware River and the work was meant to celebrate the neighborhood’s ties to the water. While Mincemoyer anticipates that the project will proceed at some point, the budget cuts have crippled the city’s ability to provide support. The position of project manager responsible for handling this and other public art projects was eliminated. This work and that of other ongoing projects now falls to the two remaining staff members.

Obviously the effect of shutdowns on employees, artists, non-profits, and the community in Western Pennsylvania will be profound. The Steel Valley has had its share of economic crises and has always managed to rebound. Hopefully the next report on the region will show improvements in the current state of the visual arts.

Melissa Kuntz

MFA, MA SUNY Purchase, Professor Art, Clarion University of Pennsylvania

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