Pittsburgh uses G20 to showcase local artwork

Credit: Frances Soong/Art Staff Credit: Frances Soong/Art Staff
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Ever since it was announced that the 2009 G20 Summit would be held in Pittsburgh, it was trumpeted as a chance for the city to shine, to show what Pittsburgh was really made of.

Other than those seemingly important words, however, there is not much reference to how the people of Pittsburgh were to do that.
Of course, there were the usual complaints about the effect that the G20 would have on many of the city’s businesses due to security concerns—that many of them would have to close down and lose vital revenue for the duration of the summit.

And also, of course, there were people who told the others to stop whining and complaining, and to think of the positive things that the summit would bring to the city.

Another group of people, however, has taken their own spin on what aspect of Pittsburgh they want visitors to see when they come for the G20. According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, a coalition of multiple arts groups in Pittsburgh — aptly named ARTS and headed by the dean of the College of Fine Arts — has formed to show people what an important effect art has on the city of Pittsburgh and its people.

The article cites a four-part message that the coalition hopes to leave visitors with: Art transforms Pittsburgh. Art employs Pittsburgh. Art “greens” Pittsburgh. Art inspires Pittsburgh.

I really appreciate the different spin that the coalition is putting on what would normally be thought of as a business-oriented event. And it really is the perfect time to show off Pittsburgh’s art scene — the city keeps being told that this could be their chance to shine, and I think it’s great that ARTS is stepping up and taking the oft-heard warning to heart.

And what many people may not realize is that Pittsburgh does have a vibrant arts scene. There is, of course, the Cultural District, which showcases a number of musicals and plays on a rotating basis, as well as the always-constant staple of the symphony. While Pittsburgh might not be a performing mecca on the level of cities like New York or Los Angeles, I have been to a number of shows of all types and can personally attest to their quality. In addition, there are a number of museums for more visually based art. Not only are there the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, there are also lesser-known museums like the Mattress Factory or the Warhol Museum, all of which have interesting and varied displays.

In addition, Pittsburgh has so many small cultural neighborhoods that all have their unique architecture. Two summers ago, my internship took me on a field trip to the Mattress Factory, and I discovered that a block or two away from the museum were a few beautifully painted and decorated houses.

I was so surprised to learn that something so unique and beautiful existed on a random block in a random neighborhood. Because Pittsburgh is inhabited by people of different cultures that originally tended to form neighborhoods to stick together, cultural landmarks can be found all throughout the city.

Carnegie Mellon also got a specific mention in the article, where it stated that our architecture program is ranked number one in terms of teaching sustainable design, in reference to the coalition’s message that art “greens” Pittsburgh.

What impresses me most about the coalition’s efforts, however, is their perseverance and dedication to their cause. Because of the still-undecided security measures that loom in the city’s future, many businesses in the area are planning on just closing completely to cut their losses (and, of course, complaining about it). ARTS, on the other hand, is taking the exact opposite approach.

They are hoping to keep as much open as possible; they understand that in order for the city to be seen in the best way possible, it needs to seem alive, not like a ghost town with numerous closed businesses.

And the list of what ARTS hopes to have going on during the summit is actually quite extensive.

The Post-Gazette article lists maintaining regular hours for the Liberty Avenue art galleries and the Wood Street galleries, as well as Space, another gallery; free performances at the plaza at Seventh St. and Penn Ave.; and performances by an Indian dance group, a flamenco dancer, and singers from the Pittsburgh opera.

So while most Pittsburgh residents and G20 delegates are focusing on economic issues during the summit, I hope that people are able to take a few minutes off and check out what the Pittsburgh arts scene has to offer — it may be more impressive than people think, and will certainly help to put the city in a better light at a time when all eyes will be on it.