Arts & Culture

Arts and culture reporting from 90.5 WESA.

Style Week Comes to Pittsburgh

Aug 11, 2014

Think fashion — think Paris, Milan, New York … Pittsburgh?

Monday kicks off the second annual Style Week Pittsburgh, six days of events meant to support and promote Pittsburgh’s local fashion scene.

Event founder and CEO of Style & Steel Event Planning LLC Wadria Taylor says the week-long celebration is different from other fashion events.

Kelly Tunney / For WPSU

Oil City suffered the fate of many other Pennsylvania communities that were once driven by prominent industries. It was once the hub of the nation's oil production and home to major companies like Pennzoil and Quaker State.

But the companies moved away and the days of Oil City's prosperity are gone. Oil City has had to find ways to reinvent itself. And it's chosen to embrace art—and artists.

90.5 WESA’s Josh and Yelp’s Rachel are back as The Social Club looks into the future. This time around, Rachel has some week-long and month-long events to keep you occupied long-term. Listen in for tips on yinzing ironically, unicycles and the importance of style.

From tales about an elderly woman who decides to go to medical school, to fairy tales and historical accounts told by local students, the 14th annual Three Rivers Storytelling Festival held this Friday and Saturday at Winchester Thurston’s North Campus will be chock full of interesting yarns.

15-year old Shaler Area High School student Sara Walker says her favorite part of storytelling is connecting with listeners and seeing them captivated by her tales.

LeVar Burton: Opening Books and Opening Minds

Aug 6, 2014

LeVar Burton is known as an actor for the numerous roles that he has taken on over the years: as Kunta Kinte in “Roots,” as Detroit Tiger Ron LeFlore in “One In A Million: The Ron LeFlore Story,” and as Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

But to millions of young adults, he was known as the affable host on the PBS show “Reading Rainbow” from 1983 to 2006. Burton will be in Pittsburgh for Steel City Con this week due to his fame on “Star Trek,” but Burton appeared on Essential Pittsburgh to discuss the revival of “Reading Rainbow.”

In 2011, Burton and his business partner, producer Mark Wolfe, acquired the “Reading Rainbow” license, promising to bring to the next generations of kids the finest reading and enrichment experiences found anywhere.

“Reading Rainbow” is now a fully re-imagined app bringing the beloved brand to children of the digital age and one of the most popular and highest rated children’s products in the market.

Marcus Charleston / WESA

Resistance is futile. Geeks have taken over the world, according to Joe Wos, executive director of the Toonseum, and Pittsburgh is a huge part of the takeover.

“In 1960, a woman named Dirce Archer, who is from Pittsburgh, brought World Con to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania," Wos said. "This is in 1960. This woman just bulldozed right through the science fiction community and said, ‘We’re bringing this to Pittsburgh.’ Despite at that time, 1960, Pittsburgh wasn’t known as a tourist attraction. And it was at that con where comic fandom had its first seeds planted.”

This 1960 conference is historic, as the World Con had the first people dressed up as superhero characters. These costumes led the way to creating conventions for comic book fans.

This weekend Pittsburgh is hosting its own science fiction and comic convention, Steel City Con.

The Steel City Con is at the Monroeville Convention Center Aug. 8, 9 and 10. Single-day tickets are $15 and three-day passes are $30.

After some time abroad, Yelp’s Rachel returns to the Steel City refreshed and ready to wow 90.5 WESA’s Josh with some weekend happenings. On tap this week: shopping, Spamalot, and the sounds of science. Listen in for why, “The one quote that I think of from the show I can’t even mention on air.”

Carnegie Museum of Art

The Carnegie Museum of Art's current exhibition of Renaissance paintings that underwent serious forensic investigation is called Faked, Forgotten, Found.

Lulu Lippincott, the institution's Curator of Fine Arts looks at the science of art preservation and restoration, as well as the winding paths that these works have followed to Pittsburgh.

Lippincott says the museum was skeptical when they “rediscovered” a painting of Isabella de Medici while Lippincott was cleaning up the museum’s collection of art. So skeptical, in fact, they took it to be X-rayed.

What they found was outstanding. She says the X-ray revealed that the painting had been “painted over” in the Victorian era. People in that era had the wrong idea of Isabella de Medici for years.

As seen in the X-rays, Lippincott says it’s almost as though the painting was airbrushed to make de Medici look better.

The Pittsburgh Biennial has begun at the Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA) with a local artist showcasing his two-and three-dimensional works, and the Pittsburgh Glass Center is about to join in on the Biennial with a wide array of glass ideas.

The Pittsburgh Biennial is held roughly every other year, 2011 was the last one, and gives local Pittsburgh artists a chance to be featured by the galleries around the city.

Courtesy photo

After the murders of Sarah and Susan Wolfe earlier this year, a community of grieving artists and friends were faced with the question of how to move on from the tragic loss.

Matthew Bucholz, Sarah’s boyfriend, led the group to channel their grief into something productive. Inspired by the Wolfe sisters’ involvement in the Riot Grrl movement in the mid-90s, Wolfepack Goods sells the work of local makers to raise money for the charity Girls Rock! Pittsburgh. Girls Rock! stages empowerment-through-music camps for young girls.

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.