Unseen/Unheard. That’s the theme of this year’s Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival (TRAF). Epitomized by the public art, the theme addresses everything from lost personal objects to the millions of Native Americans who died during European colonization. But Unseen/Unheard is also what can happen if festival goers fail to plan their visit accordingly. With over 350 artists, dozens of musicians, and an estimated 400,000 visitors, it’s easy to miss an exceptional art gallery or live act.
What follows is a series of nudges. A nudge across the street. A nudge under the Fort Duquesne Bridge. A nudge away from the Dollar Bank Stage. (Though don’t get me wrong, watching Richard Thompson, Neko Case, and others is how I’ll be spending the majority of my TRAF.) These nudges are designed to ensure visitors take those extra few steps and see everything this arts festival, one of America’s greatest, has to offer before it ends Sunday, June 14.
Walking to Gateway Center, the white tents of the Artist Market will be the first sights to come into view. Each tent houses a different artist working in a different medium—painting, photography, fabric, and countless others too numerous to list. Although a few artists stay the whole of the festival, the majority tear down Tuesday, June 9 with a new batch setting up for Wednesday. Take note—that kiln-fired mug you were eyeing Sunday afternoon will likely be gone if you wait until later in the week to purchase it.
Nestled in the heart of Gateway Center is an acoustic stage. Don’t allow these musicians to go “unheard.” Time your visit according to the concert schedule and peruse the art to a light strumming accompaniment.
If it’s Food Truck Friday, scents of haluski, hamburgers, and hibachi will waft along Penn Avenue Extension across from the Artist Market. Fill up on pierogies or perhaps a hot dog from Franktuary, but before meandering to the Point, take a moment to cross the Liberty Avenue Extension to a small enclosed glass pavilion. I did Friday and, thanks to Laurel Jay Carpenter, will soon be reunited with my long-lost puppy, gone since I was two years old.
Carpenter, intake operator for the Lost + Found Factory by M. Michelle Illuminato, asked me to describe the puppy on a piece of paper as well as how I lost it. The dog wasn’t real; rather, it was a small stuffed Dalmatian I carried with me in my stroller. I have no memories of it, just photos. According to family lore, Grandma was pushing me through the park one day when I must have dropped the dog. (Grandma denies I lost it on her watch; Dad still refuses to believe her. I’m just hoping the Lost + Found Factory, whose mission is to recreate lost objects to the best of visitors’ recollection, can finally end the dispute.) From outside the pavilion, visitors can watch the artists begin the recreations. Visitors will receive a text once the object is complete. The service is free.
At the Point State Park entrance, the white tents diverge. To the right, multinational vendors sell Italian sausage sandwiches, gyros, chicken on a stick. Left, the Artist Market continues to the Portal Bridge. In the center of the park is Rudy Shepherd’s Black Rock Negative Energy Absorber, an imposing sculpture designed to expunge the festival of negative energy. Below the Portal Bridge is Fernando Orellana’s Confluence. 120 military-style hospital beds, 60 on each side of the pedestrian archway below the Portal Bridge, stand in a reflecting pool. Grass, rather than sheets, fill the beds, and at the head of each is a rolled blanket, which symbolizes not only the colonial fur trade but also the smallpox blankets given by white settlers to indigenous people. In a few beds sit sculptures of dogs, sacred in some Native American cultures. Arguably most striking are the empty beds, the dogs having departed to carry souls to the land of the dead.
On the other side of the Portal Bridge is the Giant Eagle Creativity Zone, signaling that only children’s activities remain left to be explored, right? Wrong. Take a right, and hike over a grassy knoll towards the Allegheny River. Here you will find Michael Arcega’s Baby: Corps of Re-Discovery, a hand-built Pacific outrigger canoe. Arcega paddled it throughout the United States while studying the people of Nacirema (American backwards). The canoe is the opposite of a pole-driven riverboat, which was built for downstream (and thus Western) expansion, encouraging viewers also to think in reverse and consider America pre-colonization. The boat’s landing provides a surrealist juxtaposition to the nearby Fort Duquesne Bridge.
Under this bridge and along the Allegheny River, volunteers can pick up a paintbrush and help local artist Kim Beck paint the city’s newest mural. Where there is now graffiti, there will soon be silhouettes of over-sized weeds, inspired by a Henry David Thoreau diary entry. Also under the bridge are a series of posters detailing proposals from the AIA Design Pittsburgh 2014 Young Architect’s Studio Competition. All proposals envision futuristic structures and landscapes for underutilized areas in Southwestern Pennsylvania. One example suggests re-purposing the Steubenville Tunnel as a cycling/pedestrian/transit underground byway, one which would stretch under Ross Street and terminate at Penn Station.
If you’re at TRAF and the temps and humidity are anything like they were Friday, it may seem like a good time to head to the parking garage or nearest T Station. However, before leaving the city, though, remember the festival extends to the air-conditioned art galleries on Liberty and Penn Avenue. Yes, these galleries are open year round but each has exhibits curated for this special time. The 937 Gallery, as in 937 Liberty Avenue, houses Intr(Au)spective. That’s the periodic symbol for gold housed in those parentheses, and it symbolizes the golden (50th) anniversary of the Pittsburgh Society of Artists (PSA), an over-400-member collective of artists within a 150-mile radius of the Steel City. The Met’s Freyda Spira juried works by these members into an exhibit worth so much more than its air-conditioned setting.
But what about the nearly dozen other galleries? The Stanwix Stage? The film screenings, poetry readings, and dancers? In my attempts to unveil and un-mute the unseen and unheard, respectively, I have omitted still other, less-visited festival events. However, I hope my initial nudging has inspired a greater sense of curiosity in you, the reader, and that you will take further steps beyond whatever initially brings you to the festival, whether it’s the art, the music, or those deep-fried Oreos.
Photos: Christopher Maggio
Christopher Maggio is a Pittsburgh writer. He enjoys live music and never misses the Three Rivers Arts Festival.