Arts & Culture

Arts and culture reporting from 90.5 WESA.

How World War I Divided One of Pittsburgh's Historic Churches

Jul 29, 2014
Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh has always had a large German population, and for centuries the German Evangelical Protestant Church, now known as the Smithfield United Church of Christ, was the pride of the community.

The church featured opulent stained-glass windows and a steeple which at one point, could be seen from any part of the city. Pittsburgh’s oldest organized church is now hidden between towering skyscrapers, a reminder of the city’s past. Historian Donn Neal joined us to look back at an especially trying time in the church’s history: World War I, which began in earnest 100 years ago this week.

The church was important, Neal says, because it was the center of German community.

For the podcast this weekend, 90.5 WESA’s Josh and Yelp’s Rachel ask the deep questions: What's your favorite animal, and are meerkats related to cats?

Of course, the Social Club has some suggestions for how to spend your weekend beyond these animal-related inquiries. Listen in for why, “Adults and face painting don’t often go together, but I think whiskey maybe is the missing ingredient there.”

Summer in the City of Brotherly Love

Jul 24, 2014
Gary McCabe / Flickr

Philadelphia is the largest and most populous city in the commonwealth. There’s a wealth of things to do as well as great things to eat. Travel contributor Elaine Labalme, who tweets about food and travel under the twitter handle New Girl in Town, takes us across the state to talk about enjoying summer in the city of brotherly love.

Philadelphia has many charms and certainly where the arts are concerned. Check out Elaine's list of places to stay, eat, drink and explore:

Chris Squier / 90.5 WESA

It’s early on a sunny summer morning and Damien Martinez Coro is leading a group of young ballerinas through a rigorous dance routine at the Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh. 

As he moves through the studio, he keeps time by snapping his fingers while yelling commands and adjusting the girls’ forms.

The dance school in Bethel Park is a far reach from his hometown of Matanzas, Cuba.

Mike Vondran / Flickr

As the heat of July blazes on, we’ve been talking with some of the hosts at our sister station 91.3 WYEP, about music of the summer. Throughout July and August the hosts talk about what makes for a great summer song, and new music for the summer.

For WYEP afternoon mix host, Rosemary Welsch, a summer jam is about sense of place and time, and “The Brazil Connection” met these requirements.

“It's this wonderful project that was put together by the Berman brothers, they’re a production team. Where they took the original masters of incredible soul ballads like Bill Withers and Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye and Billie Holiday and they brought in Brazilian musicians to put either Bossa Nova or Samba rhythms under those great vocals. And it’s a wonderful record that marries two perfect worlds together.”

Preview selections from The Brazil Connection

We love our booze — ahem, our craft beers — here at the Social Club podcast, so of course the upcoming Beer Fest is one of Josh and Rachel’s favorite happenings this weekend. For the sober-minded, however, there’s no need to worry: this week’s events include yoga in the square, fashion trucks, and overlooked Pittsburgh barbecue. Listen in for why, “This is like, deliberate yoga, not just a weirdo running around the Square.”

Santa Claus in the summer? The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP) celebrating its 20th anniversary this week with dancing in the streets and Christmas in July, among other things.

The eight day celebration will highlight some of the most vibrant and attractive aspects of downtown Pittsburgh, says PDP President and CEO Jeremy Waldrup.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity to just get out and walk around our beautiful city,” Waldrup said.

Jacket Design by Eric Fuentecilla
Eric Fuentecilla / Penguin Books

There aren’t too many writers whose first attempt at a novel gets published- and even fewer have the movie right to their debut scooped up immediately by a major film company.

If Thomas Sweterlitsch's experience in literature has been anything but ordinary, that’s because his first novel, Tomorrow And Tomorrow, has been too.

The book tells the story of John Dominic Blaxton, an investigator living in the future who explores a digital recreation of Pittsburgh, in order to explore the city a decade after it was reduced to dust by a nuclear detonation.

Lisa Kirchner

Lisa Kirchner’s book Hello American Lady Creature: What I Learned as a Woman in Qatar has been compared to Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller Eat, Pray, Love. Kirchner doesn’t mind the comparison, after all both books deal with a woman’s journey of self-discovery. Although guest host Josh Raulerson thinks Kirchner's book has a little more humor than Gilbert's bestseller.

Kirchner made her trip to Qatar to help out with Carnegie Mellon University's new campus and she had some very challenging times while over there. The hardest change for Kirchner was the heat.


Watch any movie about friends reuniting and it’s a near guarantee one of the characters will be a writer.

With Anthony Breznican it’s a case of life imitating art. The senior writer for Entertainment Weekly magazine came home to Pittsburgh for a high school reunion, which coincides with the release of his first novel, Brutal Youth.

The story is inspired by Favorite Hour, an Elvis Costello song that was released in 1994, the year Breznican graduated high school.

The story is set at a crumbling, Catholic high school in Western Pennsylvania called St. Michael the Archangel. The school is a dumping ground for troubled kids and for kids of protective parents who are trying to shelter them from public school.

Breznican said that this ironic combination creates "sort of a perfect Darwinist mix of survival of the fittest."

Between these groups, the book shows the two different types of people in difficult situations.

The Social Club podcast gets charitable this week, as Yelp’s Rachel throws out some weekend suggestions for those in need of a good cause. Don’t worry, though, lovers of debauchery: 90.5 WESA’s Josh made sure to pull Rachel back to talk about something “entirely frivolous.”

Listen in on their conversation for a Pup (not pub) Crawl, '90s covers, a secret song, and for why, “It’s good luck to get pooped on by an exotic bird in the jungle.”

Savannah: A Belle of Southern Charm

Jul 10, 2014
Dizzy Girl / Flickr

It’s the oldest city in Georgia and was once the state capital: Savannah. The city draws a number of tourists who come to look at its architecture and historic sites. One recent visitor to the city was travel contributor Elaine Labalme.

The charms and southern comfort found in Savannah make it a great place to visit for a summer trip. Labalme gives us her fabulous five lists of things to see, do and most importantly, where to eat in the city of Savannah.

Leeanne Schwartz / Hillman Photography Initiative CMOA

Pictures are said to be a way to capture moments forever and if one has enough pictures they can create a story. This thought is shared by the Hillman Photography Initiative at Carnegie Museum of Art.

They're seeking photos from Pittsburgh residents to tell the city’s story, a people's history of Pittsburgh.

Program Manager Divya Rao Heffley said the project is the first of its kind and the artists who thought of it, Melissa Catanese and Ed Panar are asking people to share stories and photographs.

Summertime in Pittsburgh, Sweet Simplicity and Spectacle

Jul 8, 2014
Taber Andrew Bain / Flickr

The July Fourth holiday weekend saw a number of activities in the city, from the Regatta to the annual visit of the Furries.

Betsy Benson, publisher of Pittsburgh Magazine says big summer events, such as the reopening of the Point State Park fountain and the arrival of the large rubber duck of last summer, have been big in Pittsburgh because of the attention they receive.

She says Pittsburghers really know how to enjoy the simplicity of these events, no matter how small.

“More people are swarming into the city, through tunnels and across rivers, for weekday and weekend activities. Yes, there are a couple of big events coming to town this summer, notably the USA gymnastics visit in August, but a lot of the activity is small stuff that just adds up. Like hundreds of people showing up to do yoga in Market Square. And the Furries, their presence makes any routine trip downtown a potentially odd and remarkable experience.”

Exploring 80 Years of a Summertime Classic with 91.3 WYEP Host Brian Siewiorek

Part of what makes any summer truly great is a catchy summer tune. 91.3 WYEP production director and host Brian Siewiorek guides us through the historic popularity of a classic summer song composed 80 years ago, Summertime by George and Ira Gershwin.

With the Fourth of July weekend upon us, 90.5 WESA’s Josh Raulerson and Yelp’s Rachel Carlson have a special Staycation episode for your listening pleasure. Since yinz probably finalized your plans for the Fourth long ago, Rachel whipped up a list of the best things you can do in Pittsburgh this summer regardless of the date, including kayaking, a secret Potato Patch, the Sounds of Science, and a chance to Go Ape. Listen in for why “you could get some maybe uncomfortable insights into your relationships.”

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

The world’s largest furry convention is under way in downtown Pittsburgh. The convention for artists, animators, costumers, puppeteers and fans has called the Steel City home since 2006.

“By the time we’re finished with this particular convention, Anthrocon will have left $41 million of economic activity in the Pittsburgh region over the last nine years,” said Craig Davis, president and CEO of Visit Pittsburgh, the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau.

The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble begins its new season July 11 and artistic director Kevin Noe stopped by the WESA studios to talk about the organization and what they have planed for their audience. He began by describing how the ensemble performs. 

Edgar Degas is perhaps most famous for his brightly colored paintings of ballerinas in 19th century Paris – but you won’t find any of those works in the exhibition at the Frick Art & Historical Center that premiered Saturday.

That’s according to Sarah Hall, Director of Curatorial Affairs, who said this exhibit will instead give visitors a glimpse into Degas’s other works that she described as “subtler.”

Carl Pietzner / Wikipedia

One-hundred years ago this Saturday, June 28, 1914, Arch-duke Francis Ferdinand, nephew and heir of the Austrian Emperor, was shot and killed by Gavrilo Princip while riding in an open car through the Bosnian capital. The tragic incident set in motion events that led to the start of World War I.

The Last Billboard: Simplistic Poetry in the City

Jun 27, 2014
Jon Rubin /

At the corner of Highland Ave and Baum Blvd, above one of the busiest intersections in East Liberty, there is an old fashioned metal framed billboard on one of the rooftops.

The messages on the billboard have changed fairly often over the last 4 years. The chosen phrases are simplistic and not like a typical advertisement. Recent press from websites such as Buzzfeed have prompted curiosity about where the messages come from and why they’re there.

Jon Rubin is the unique interdisciplinary artist behind the project, which he calls The Last Billboard.

In this episode, we have a beer tracking app, a pile of trash in Heinz Field, food trucks and the opportunity to get your wino on. Josh Raulerson is back from vacation in Colorado, and he brought with him some recommendations on the best local brews in Boulder. He trades them with Yelp’s Rachel Carlson, in exchange for some weekend party tips. Listen in for why there’s, “a time and place for every wine.”

A Summer Staple: 5 Outdoor Concert Venues to Visit

Jun 26, 2014
Heather Harvey / Flickr

One of the many joys of summer is listening to music at an outdoor venue. Whether you enjoy opera, jazz, rock or classical it somehow seems more enjoyable outdoors.

Travel contributor Elaine Labalme, suggests some famous performance spaces where you can enjoy an outdoor concert.

Chris Squier / 90.5 WESA

Speaking about her self-published “In The Garden: A Botanically Illustrated Gardening Book,” Sandra McPeake says, “I want it to become a very dirty book … take it to the garden … learn how to plant.”

McPeake’s love of gardening is a family tradition, and it’s based on the food she likes to eat.

"What are we really hungry for and what do I normally harvest to cook with” are questions she asks herself before each spring’s planting.

Row House Cinema / Facebook

For generations theaters have been an important part of thriving cities and towns across the country. In recent years more people are seeing how theaters can be an economic engine of development.

The Conclave Theater tour is held every year in a different city. This year Pittsburgh hosts the tour, showcasing the region's contributions to theatrical architecture.

As the summer officially begins, 90.5 WESA’s Josh has a bad case of whiplash from this already fast-moving season. Thankfully, Yelp’s Rachel Carlson, has the know-how to pull him out of his funk.

In this episode, the dynamic duo tells of the event of the summer, the difference between plates and bowls, the best sandwich on the Northside, and the pitfalls of sugar. Listen in for why, “It’s worse than cocaine and tobacco put together.”

An Essay by Nafari Vanaski: Pittsburgh Honored by Odd Lists

Jun 18, 2014
Phil Quinn / wikipedia

From livability to walk-ability, Pittsburgh keeps showing up on an endless series of lists. These honors were the focus of a recent column by Tribune Review writer, Nafari Vanaski.

Jessica Nath / 90.5 WESA

  More than twenty children lined the stage at the CLO Academy of Musical Theater today to rehearse songs from their Cinderella production - and now even more children can take part in future productions.

That’s because the PNC Foundation has awarded the academy a four-year, $800,000 grant.

A Mother's Loss During The Freedom Summer

Jun 17, 2014
Federal Bureau of Investigation / Wikimedia

Fifty years ago this week, three men who were working for Freedom Summer, a project to register black voters in the South, disappeared.

The bodies of Andrew Goodman, James Cheney, and Michael Schwerner were found 44 days later by the FBI.

The men had been driving through Mississippi when they were pulled over by Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price and led off the road, where they were shot and killed by members of the local Ku Klux Klan. 

Before she passed away in 2007, Goodman's mother Carolyn collaborated with author Brad Herzog on a book called My Mantelpiece, a memoir of survival and social justice. Herzog talked about his collaboration with Mrs. Goodman, who was an activist herself, and the influence she had on her son.

Voices from the Firing Line: Jim Crowe Customs in Pittsburgh

Jun 17, 2014
National Archives Foundation

Community County of Allegheny County Professor Ralph Proctor has just released his latest book Voices from the Firing Line: A Personal Account of the Pittsburgh Civil Rights Movement.

Written as a personal narrative, the book discusses demonstrations and the methodology of those in the movement, as well as the results they achieved. Proctor said he remembers a segregated Pittsburgh, even though he was far away from the Jim Crowe laws of the south.

Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Race: Are We So Different? is one of the current exhibits at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The touring exhibition examines the history of how race has been defined and its impact on our lives.

Cecile Shellman, communications and community specialist for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, said the exhibit’s long term goal is to be an “awareness building campaign, and to stamp out racism.”

“It’s just a taboo subject for some people," Shellman said. 

"Some people may lack the skills or the interest or the vocabulary or the courage to talk about race. And this exhibition really does invite people in overt and unconscious ways to talk about race. I think across the board, all of the other venues and here at the museum, we realize we’re actually helping people by encouraging that openness.”