Arts & Culture

Arts and culture reporting from 90.5 WESA.

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.”

One Pittsburgh summer tradition, the Three Rivers Arts Festival, is behind us and another one is ahead – the Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival.

The fourth annual celebration of jazz has grown since it started and has attracted a wide audience that benefits the region.

Pittsburgh Jazz Performers: Past And Present

Jun 13, 2014
Joella Marano / Flickr

Pittsburgh's Black Jazz Musicians Union

Every Saturday, a group of local musicians gathers in the auditorium of the Homewood Library to carry on Pittsburgh’s rich jazz tradition. They are the descendants of the Black Musician’s Union, a collection of pianists, drummers, and other performers who worked Pittsburgh’s clubs and dissolved in the 1960s.

Many of the clubs and musicians are long gone, but the stories of this small group continue to thrive, and they're now seeing increased attention because of a new film.  Anthology: Local #471 Musicians Union, is about the now-defunct union and some of its more famous members.

With the Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival starting next week, it was the perfect time for Essential Pittsburgh to look back at Pittsburgh’s rich jazz history. Labor historian Charles McCollester and Jackie Young, whose father Harold founded the local jazz group talked about how the Black Musician’s Union was established.

“The 460 (the original musician’s union) just didn’t really want to represent the black musicians, they didn’t want to give them their share of gigs, they didn’t want to represent them if they had some type of conflict, so that’s why the 471 was erected in the first place.”

McCollester talked about the importance of the 471 in the local jazz scene.

Dan Savage / Wikipedia

Sex columnist, author, and lecturer Dan Savage is in Pittsburgh this weekend for HUMP tour, a film festival which has garnered a bit of controversy locally. It's a festival of independently made adult films, which was originally slated to screen in Dormont. But because of a local ordinance, the festival will instead be shown in Lawrenceville. 

Savage describes HUMP as a film festival of amateur porn that marries funny with sexy. The festival begins at 9 pm Friday at the Row House Cinema in Lawrenceville.

Savage is best known for his syndicated sex advice column, regularly featured in the Pittsburgh City Paper and the It Gets Better Project, created to inspire and give hope to LGBT teens.

90.5 WESA's Josh Raulerson has a confession to make: He doesn't get out much. Thankfully, Yelp's Rachel Carlson is on hand to pick up the slack for this episode of the Social Club.

This weekend, we have a few good reasons to be feel Pride, a trail of libations, and ... a cat stroller? Listen in for why, "Pets and booze and beer are our thing."

Jessica Nath / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh might not have its own beach, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have a giant sandcastle.

Sculptors Rusty Croft and Kirk Rademaker from the Travel Channel’s show Sand Masters transformed a five-ton pile of sand into a work of art in Market Square Thursday.

The artists co-own the business Sand Guys and have been professionally sculpting sand since 1997.

VisitErie, Erie County’s tourism promotion agency, hired the “masters” to create the sculpture for its “Hello Summer, Hello Erie!” advertising campaign.

The Smithereens Rock the Arts Festival

Jun 12, 2014
M. Jeremy Goldman / Flickr

The Smithereens perform tonight as part of the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival. In the 80s and 90s, the group was churning out hit songs like “Only a Memory,” “Blood and Roses” and a “Girl Like You.” Pat DiNizio is the lead singer of the rock group, and joined us in studio to talk about the history of the group, and what he’s been up to since the group’s heyday.

DiNizio describes fame as “anticlimactic.” He says he finally realized the band had “made it” when he heard “Girl Like You," broadcasted on a radio station in New York, after six years. DiNizio says it was emotionally for him, because the band never expected to sell more than 3,000 records. They sold millions.

A North Side-based group known most for its support of exiled writers is spreading the word, literally. 

The City of Asylum has partnered with the Pittsburgh Office of Public Art to connect its Alphabet City, a literary center, to its Alphabet Reading Garden, the residential part of the neighborhood, by creating what it is calling a River of Words. The “River” will consist of area neighbors hosting words made out of  plastic placed on the outside of their homes.

When Opposites No Longer Attract: Coming Out After Marriage

Jun 11, 2014
@MichaelJTesta / Twitter

Coming out can be a difficult process for anyone who realizes that they're lesbian, gay, or transgender. But what are the challenges for LGBT people who have been married, raised families and realize they’re not straight?

This topic is the focus of the book, When Opposites No Longer Attract, by Michael Testa. It's based on his own personal experience with this situation.

Three Rivers Arts Festival Goes Green

Jun 9, 2014
Pittsburgh Cultural Trust / Twitter

The Three Rivers Arts Festival got underway over the weekend. This year, the annual celebration made up of concerts, art exhibits and food has a decidedly green component.

Three River Arts Festival director Veronica Corpuz explained the importance of this component.

“It’s one of the few green arts festivals of its kind in the country. We say it’s a green festival, it means that our operations, everything from how we sort our waste and try to divert as much waste from landfills by recycling and composting materials… to create a zero waste event at the Arts Festival. Given that behind the scenes operations, we’ve tried to bring that more to the forefront, through the art.” 

Those attending the 55th annual Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival will find portraits of air, a 4 story figure named Lady Pneumatica and a tribute to the Fort Pitt Block House.

The festival that runs today through June 15 has a theme of aesthetic creativity and environmental sustainability.

“Many of our art installations explore either the built environment and architecture or the natural environment and how our actions can impact and affect the natural world around us,” Veronica Corpuz, Director of Festival Management, said.

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. 

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