Posted by: Justin Hopper | October 26, 2008

Festival Wrap-Up: I Love Livin’ in the City

There was a rather obvious sincerity to Smokey Robinson’s declaration of his love for Pittsburgh and his extreme pleasure at performing in the gorgeous Benedum Center last night. Smokey may not have been here as part of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts, but his sentiment was similar to the sum of that project: The cultural assets in Pittsburgh could go toe-to-toe with any American city – from the Benedum and Byham, to the creativity and elbow grease that galvanize the avant-garde art scene in Braddock and the scrappy galleries of Lawrenceville and Garfield, and the men and women who work behind the scenes to make the biggest and smallest exhibits and shows happen.

Parts of the Festival have been resounding successes. Ballet Maribor selling out their two performances and, as Anya points out, inspiring probably Pittsburgh’s first-ever ballet scalpers, for one. Hosting Teatro de los Sentidos’ indescribably beautiful El Eco de la Sombra was undoubtedly one of the greatest artistic performance triumphs in the city’s history. Not everything was a smashing success: I haven’t heard too many people rave about Peter Reder’s Guided Tour, and have certainly heard my share of complaints. And there were certainly those who didn’t “get” Kassys’ Liga, and at least part of the time, I was one of ‘em.

But as a showcase for the city, and an illustration of what “The Arts” are capable of here, this was a wake-up call. Maybe Teatro wrote and performed their show, but it was the combination of the Ellis School armory’s urban mystique and the Clear Story Creative team’s multi-faceted talents that brought it to fruition in such subtle grandeur. And while 13 Most Beautiful… might be broadcast in the world as the latest project by well-known New York City indie popsters Dean and Britta, it was no false pretense that put a giddy smile on the face of The Andy Warhol Museum’s Ben Harrison Friday night: This was, to a great extent, his baby, shepherded from the idea’s inception to creation by Harrison, the Warhol’s film and video curators, and an almost absurdly creative North Side team that we’re so lucky to have.

Friday afternoon, I went to lunch with a New Yorker looking to possibly relocate to the ‘Burgh – a task I’ve performed before, and always relish. This time, however, I noticed my strategic tack changing. There was less emphasis on prices, though that can never be discounted. (“See that house? For what you pay for your 400-square-foot apartment, you’d own that house.”) Less emphasis on civility, though I still find Pittsburghers to be startlingly fair – as long as you know your Hines from your Heinz. This time, speaking to a highly successful graphic designer who’s grown tired of the struggle of New York City, it was how exciting it is to live in Pittsburgh right now. (It doesn’t end here by any means: Not only are Gravity of Light and the Festival of Lights ongoing, there’s Life on Mars at the Carnegie Museum of Art, and the Warhol’s Off The Wall series, plus our everyday, brilliant array of artistic pleasures.)

I think of this city as a team mentality – you can talk smack on your teammates, and often do, but when it’s time to pull together, you give that proverbial 110%, and our triumphs, like our failures, create shared joys and sorrows that make them all the more emotionally palpable. (One of the most sublime moments in my adult life: The jolt of ecstatic energy from a text message, received onstage with my then-band on tour in Brooklyn, saying simply “All Nine Miners Alive.”) That team showed another side of its assets and abilities over the past two weeks creating the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts – a project willing to risk it all, but destined to succeed. And whether you were an audience member, a set builder, a production manager, or an armchair blog-reader (and, of course, just below that on the work scale, a blogger), you’ve got reason to be proud of what we’ve accomplished.

So boast and brag about what this town’s got to offer. I know I’m going to.

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