Arts & Culture

Arts and culture reporting from 90.5 WESA.

Three State Parks You Need to Visit this Summer

Jun 5, 2014
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

If you’re looking to explore the great outdoors this summer, you can’t go wrong visiting one of the Commonwealth’s many state parks. From Erie to Scranton and all points in between, our guide to some of Pennsylvania’s state parks is travel contributor Elaine Labalme.

State parks can be found in 61 of Pennsylvania's 66 counties. Cherry Springs, Ricketts Glen, and Pine Grove Furnace are among Labalme's favorites.  

Chaka Khan Headlines at Pittsburgh Pride in the Street

Jun 5, 2014
ChakaKhan.com

A force of nature is a term used to describe a lot of things and if it applies to any single entertainer, Chaka Khan certainly fits the description.

Khan is a singer, songwriter, author, producer, actor, philanthropist and entrepreneur and she is coming to Pittsburgh to perform as the headliner for Pride in the Streets.

Khan shared her thoughts on headlining the event in Pittsburgh, “In lieu of what’s happened in the past week or so, I’m honored. I’m very honored to be performing at this momentous occasion.”

The temperatures are rising and the social scene is heating up. 90.5 WESA’s Josh and Yelp’s Rachel have some tips to keep you cool with this weekend’s Social Club. In this episode, chill out with a cocktail tip-of-the-week, take a petty cab for a joy ride, and collect some affordable local art. Listen in for why, “if you show up as an adult unaccompanied, you might get some looks.”

The Golden Legacy of Little Golden Books

Jun 4, 2014
Marcus Charleston / 90.5 WESA

For generations of children, Little Golden Books have served as an introduction to reading. The first set of 12 books was released on October 1, 1942, selling for 25 cents apiece. Since then, the series has sold more than two billion books worldwide in a variety of languages. They feature characters from all across the children’s pop culture spectrum drawn by many accomplished illustrators.

Having played such a significant role in the lives of children everywhere, several of the books were included in the Smithsonian Museum’s Division of Cultural History. This month selected artwork from the series will be on display at the Toonseum in Pittsburgh. Essential Pittsburgh visited the exhibit and talked with Joe Wos, the museum’s executive director. He explained why the books have remained timeless.

Preserving history can be an expensive task, but the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) is trying to make it a bit easier by handing out grants.

This year, the commission awarded $1.9 million to 130 museums and official county historical societies throughout the commonwealth.

“These grants are used for general operating support,” said Howard Pollman, PHMC spokesman. “So that really helps some museums and historical societies operate in some way because those kind of dollars are often very difficult to come by.”

Official Wigle Whiskey Twitter

 

In the past, the United States has faced a shortage of various products, such as oil. Now, according to publications such as the Smithsonian and Esquire, the nation is facing a new type of shortage-whiskey.

Demand for the drink is way out in front of the distilleries’ ability to produce. Meredith Grelli co-owns Wigle Whiskey in the Strip District, she came across town to talk about the great whiskey shortage and whiskey history in Pittsburgh.

Grelli noted that the shortage is due to the popularity of whiskey coming back in a big way.

“As Americans, we’ve sort of gone through this evolution. We were really interested in wine for awhile, and got very educated about wine. Then we became home brewers, and became very interested in beer, and that continues. And now it feels like spirits are kind of the final frontier.”

The Summer Movie Season, What to go See and What to Stream

May 30, 2014
Cinema in the Park / Citiparks

The official start of summer might still be a few weeks away, but the summer movie season is already under way. In late May and early June, major studios bring their biggest movies of the year to theaters and drive-ins across the nation, hoping for a blockbuster. 

Pittsburgh City Paper movie critic Al Hoff dropped by to talk about the must-see movies, and which movies are better left to be watched on Netflix. 

The biggest film of the summer, at least thus far, is Godzilla. Hoff said she enjoyed the monster but thought the characters could use more work.

“I think they rounded up some really great actors and I think they didn’t give them anything to do other than stand around and react to explosions and buildings falling. Number one, there was three great actresses in that film that had absolutely nothing to do. Two of them you weren’t even sure what their role was, and then the third was just the imperiled mom, which is a waste of anyone that can act. It was a little baffling to me but obviously the focus of the film is Godzilla and the other monsters,” said Hoff.

A Look at the Career of Pioneering Broadcaster Eleanor Schano

May 29, 2014
EleanorSchano.com

Eleanor Schano, a pioneering broadcaster in Pittsburgh, was the first female commercial announcer, the first television “weather girl” and the first female news reporter, mainly working on WDTV before it became KDKA.

She explains some of her early desires to be a reporter in her autobiography, Riding the Waves, The Life and Televised Times of Eleanor Schano.

“I always wanted to be a reporter, from the time I was six years old," Schano said "There was a comic strip when I was a kid that was called Brenda Starr, Girl Reporter. So here's this little kid growing up and I'm going to be Brenda Starr. So I would take my daddy's yellow flashlight, and while other kids were playing tag, I would gather up the neighborhood kids and I'm going to interview them. And I asked tough questions. ‘Who do you like more your mother or your father?’”

Maya Angelou: Remembering the Author, Poet, and Activist

May 28, 2014
MayaAngelou.com

Writer, performer, teacher, director and political activist Maya Angelou has died at her home in Winston-Salem, N.C. She was 86 years old.

Dr. Angelou is known for her award-winning book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first of a series of memoirs. And her reading of the poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at President Bill Clinton's inauguration made her a household name.

We spoke with her last year just before Mother's Day, about her autobiographical book, Mom & Me & Mom. Hear the full interview here.

Pittsburgh's Summer of Festivals Brings Big Business

May 27, 2014
Marcus Charleston / 90.5 WESA

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of the summer season. In Pittsburgh, no matter where you go there will be festivals a plenty, celebrating everything from ice cream to the arts.

Business contributor Rebecca Harris looked at the economic impact of these festivals citywide, especially when it comes to the diversity of events.

“Everything from huge outdoor concerts, to massive fairs, to small outdoor events, to cinema in the parks, to neighborhood festivals. There's really just about something for everybody."

They're back! 90.5 WESA's Josh and Yelp's Rachel are back to give you the weekly skinny of happenings in Pittsburgh. This week learn how to swap clothing with strangers and friends and gorge on gourmet Mac-N-Cheese.

Gene Kelly Fans / Wordpress

The life of Gene Kelly, legendary dancer, director, choreographer and Pittsburgh native, will be celebrated Wednesday evening in a show presented at the Byham Theater called Gene Kelly: The Legacy, An Evening with Patricia Ward Kelly. As his widow and biographer, Ward Kelly discusses both Gene Kelly’s career and personal life.

She explained that no matter which direction her husband took his career, where he came from was always a huge influence.

“Gene was very distinct among the Hollywood elite. He was kind of the outcast. He wasn’t in the upper crust, and in fact, he used to say he wasn’t even invited to the Basil Rathbone house. He was the lower, middle income guy. It started, obviously, with the Pittsburgh roots, which were very important for him. But, very distinct from [Fred] Astaire who hung out with the Vanderbilts and the Whitneys. That was not Gene Kelly.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff / Wikipedia

This week the major television networks each release their respective schedules for the fall, schedules that will include new shows ABC, CBS, and NBC hope will win back their audience.

Given the availability of streaming sites such as Netflix and the quality of content on cable channels, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s television writer Rob Owen said the public is tuning in less and less to the major networks. The networks have tried a variety of programming to try and boost sagging ratings, and this year we're seeing major changes in late night TV hosts. And according to Owen, the major networks are still important.  “I do think that that broadcast networks matter because really its all about the content. Even if people aren’t watching on the linear broadcast channel, they are watching it, online, on demand, something like that.”

The Community College of Allegheny County has been awarded a grant for helping reluctant readers delve into topics such as censorship and intolerance with their Big Reads program.

The program, run by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), aims to get people who normally wouldn’t pick up a book — to read.

Barbara Evans, CCAC Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, said the grant enables them to do “authentic community outreach.”

Three Out of State Amusement Parks You Need to Visit

May 15, 2014
Craig Lloyd / flickr

People chase their endless summer in different ways. Some visit ballparks, others beaches. A dedicated group of fun seekers visit amusement parks in search of the perfect roller coaster thrill ride.

Travel contributor Elaine Labalme, suggested three out of state coasters to visit in the next few months.

BYU Vocal Point / Facebook

The A cappella group Vocal Point, out of Brigham Young University, has just released their tenth CD titled Spectrum. One of the tracks on the latest album is titled Allegheny, with lyrics referencing "the sweet Allegheny, Monongahela.”

Carnegie Mellon Ph. D candidate Ben Tengelsen wrote Allegheny and said he had put his songwriting on hold indefinitely. However, the birth of his son, and a little motivation from his wife, provided the songwriter with the inspiration to write Allegheny.

“The words came first. My wife and I were driving around Pittsburgh when we first moved here (trying to get to know the place) and crossed the bridges many, many times. And the thought came to me once, ‘What would it be like to write a song with the words Allegheny and Monongahela in them? And is that even possible? Because I can’t think of many words that rhyme with or sound good next to those words.’ And so that was the prompt that was sort of sitting in the back of my mind. And my wife gave me a kick in the butt and said, ‘Why don’t you write me a song?’ And so those two things together got the words together." 

Pitt's Angular Arch Turns 40

May 13, 2014

The bright yellow geometric arch outside the University of Pittsburgh’s Posavar Hall will have a 40th birthday party on Thursday, complete with cake.

Pittsburgh’s Office of Public Art (OPA) and the University Art Gallery (UAG) are joining forces to celebrate the history of Tony Smith’s minimalist sculpture.

A tent will be set up next to the sculpture and guided tours around the sculpture will be offered at noon and 3pm.

UAG curator Isabelle Chartier will be one of the tour guides.

Heather McClain / 90.5WESA

Throughout the last year we’ve heard, and discussed at length, the problems faced by those who wish to save the financially troubled August Wilson Center.

Right now the fate of that facility is in the hands of a judge who may sell the building to pay off the center’s debts.

Janera Solomon, Executive Director of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater acknowledged there were missteps that led to the current state of affairs at the August Wilson Center. She is leading a group committed to achieving a vision for the center that will celebrate August Wilson, African American culture, and the city.

She said while the troubles faced by the August Wilson Center are unique for Pittsburgh, when it comes to cultural organizations throughout the country, many struggle in their first 5 to 10 years. 

Rebecca S. Antal / Prime Stage

The Devil’s Arithmetic is an award-winning historical novel about time travel and the Holocaust by author Jane Yolen.

The book has been adapted for the theater by Lancaster, PA resident Barry Kornhauser. This weekend Prime Stage Theater gives the first performance of the adapted play, at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side.

The story centers on Hannah, a modern day teenager who is mysteriously transported back to the time of the Holocaust. 

Jessica Lasky / 90.5 WESA

The 55th annual Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival kicks off in Pittsburgh the first weekend in June. This year’s event will feature the signature Artist Market, live musical performances, and numerous art installations and performances throughout the cultural district. Festival organizers said this event, along with next week’s International Children’s Festival, the Jazz Live International Festival, and New Year’s First Night are huge economic drivers in the region.

Why Pittsburgh's Theater Scene Is Ideal For A Fringe Festival

May 7, 2014
Kim Traynor / wikipedia

In 1947, eight theater companies in Scotland were not invited to the inaugural Edinburgh International Festival.

Instead of going home, the companies set up on the outer edges of the festival, where they could take advantage of the large crowds and showcase their alternate brand of performance. Since then, these “fringe festivals” have expanded across the globe.

Dan Stiker had long dreamed of bringing a fringe festival to the Steel City, and this year that dream has become a reality as Pittsburgh stages its inaugural Fringe Festival.

Jennifer S. Jordan

Handbells aren't just for Christmas, Easter and holy hallelujahs.  The Three Rivers Ringers community handbell group is ringing in spring. The ensemble's performing classical waltzes,  jazz, tunes by pop star Lady Gaga and even wedding dance songs.

Mapping Pennsylvania's Historic Roller Coasters

May 1, 2014
Wikimedia

Dorney Park, Hershey Park, Dutch Wonderland, Lakemont Park, Idlewild, Kennywood... Pennsylvania has some of the most historic amusement parks, and roller coasters in the country.

As amusement parks start coming to life for the season, David Witoslawski, a McKeesport substitute school teacher and author of the book, Great Pennsylvania Amusement Parks Road Trip, gave us a guide to the state’s classic coasters and parks. The book is available in black and white as a paperback and in full color as an e-book.

"I love the matter of community spirit when it comes to going to amusement parks," Witoslawski said, "You go there and people just forget about all their problems in the world."

Arthur Goldwag / Facebook

Arthur Goldwag, writer of The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right speaks at the Penn State New Kensington campus this Thursday. 

The talk will focus on "conspiracy theory as the canary in the mine shaft of the Democratic Party."

The New Hate discusses racism and paranoid speculations about money that have long thrived on the American fringe as possible conspiracy theories. 

It also links the hysteria about the Illuminati of the new American Republic of the 1790s and the McCarthyism of the 1950s, and considers the similarities between the anti-New Deal sentiments of the 1930s and the modern day Tea Party movement.

When Goldwag originally began his book he said he focused on the older conspiracy theories and then something changed.

The Spirit of Pete Seeger Returns to Shadyside

Apr 29, 2014
Anthony Pepitone / Wikipedia

Musician and activist Pete Seeger filled his audiences with enthusiasm and hope. He is best remembered for his dedication to the American spirit with songs that continue to influence musicians today.

Seeger passed away this past January, but the First Unitarian Church in Shadyside will hold a Pete Seeger Tribute concert on Saturday to celebrate what would have been his 95th birthday.

Tribute coordinator Ginny Hildebrand says the church invited Seeger to perform in 1962, during the height of the "red scare," after being rejected from other Pittsburgh venues for being too “radical.”  

Art Advocates Take a Trip to Harrisburg

Apr 29, 2014

The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council (GPAC) joined arts advocates from all over Pennsylvania in the capitol Tuesday to lobby legislators for financial support of the arts.

According to GPAC CEO Mitch Swain, the main points of focus are a re-establishment of the PA Governor’s School for the Arts, additional funding for the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission and the approval of a proposed budget that allocates $9 million in funds to the arts.

A New York developer has emerged as the top bidder for Pittsburgh's bankrupt August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

WQED.org

It was sixty years ago this month that WQED went on the air as one of the nation’s first public television stations. The idea that a station did not run commercials, but instead relied on public donations, was revolutionary. Today, it’s hard to imagine life without public television. WQED gave viewers programs such as Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, Previn and the Pittsburgh, and The War That Made America

WQED President and CEO Deborah Acklin said the start of WQED was made possible by non-commercial educational licenses, also known as NCE’s, being offered for the first time for television.

“For the first time, it was going to be a license that was owned by the community as opposed to owned by a school board or owned by a University or the other kind of models that were out there. There were only four, WQED was the fourth, there were only four stations on air when WQED went on the air. So everything was an experiment.” 

Pittsburgh's Lost Steamboat Serves as an Accidental Time Capsule

Apr 28, 2014
Artist Gary Lucy

How did a 19th century steamboat made in Pittsburgh wind up perfectly preserved in a Kansas cornfield? This is just one of many questions that emerges from the story told by Leslie Przybylek, lead curator for the Treasures of the Arabia Exhibit at the Senator John Heinz History Center. The Arabia is known as Pittsburgh’s lost steamboat and serves as an accidental time capsule. In its hull, were dozens of hats, shoes, pants, even edible food stuffs, all more than 150 years old.

In bringing the exhibit to Pittsburgh, Przbylek has been working with the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City, where the excavated items are normally on display. She explained how the boat ended up in that cornfield.

Kelly Bogel

Etched on the walls of Pittsburgh’s most well-worn buildings, advertisements for long-forgotten products serve as a haunting remembrance of the city’s past consumerism. Two Pittsburgh photographers have documented these signs in an exhibit called “Palimpsests: Ghost Signs of Pittsburgh.” 

Pages