Ways to spend spring break in Pittsburgh

Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Dots Mirrored Room,” part of a permanent installation, is among the attractions on 
display at the Mattress Factory. (credit: Courtesy of the Mattress Factory) Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Dots Mirrored Room,” part of a permanent installation, is among the attractions on display at the Mattress Factory. (credit: Courtesy of the Mattress Factory)

As its name implies, spring break is a time for students to take a break from work. Even if you’re not going home or somewhere warm and sunny, your spring break doesn’t have to be a bummer. Whether you have the whole week or only an afternoon to spare, Pittsburgh has a lot to offer and there’s no better time to get out and explore.

If you’re looking for a bit of adventure, check out the Mattress Factory, a contemporary art museum located in the historic North Side that focuses on exhibitions that feature a variety of media to fully engage visitors. Getting there can be a challenge and the entrance is hidden in an alleyway, but it’s worth the effort once you get inside.

The Mattress Factory currently features two exhibitions in addition to its permanent collection. Factory Installed, which has been on display since October, features a wide variety of work — from projections to mirrored rooms to technology-focused installations — by artists Pablo Valbuena, Mariana Manhães, Natalia González, Nika Kupyrova, Than Htay Maung, and Veronica Ryan. All of the works in this exhibit are site specific and were created just for the Mattress Factory. Factory Installed is on display until May 27.

Also on view at the Mattress Factory is 610-3556 by New York-based artist Sarah Oppenheimer. This piece features an opening in the floor of a room on the fourth floor of the museum that directs viewers’ attention to a neighboring yard across the street. The piece is the first time an artist has altered the building’s structure in its 30-year history. When visiting the museum, it seems that every exhibit is more exciting than the last, making for a truly memorable experience. Best of all, Carnegie Mellon students get into the Mattress Factory for free.

For music lovers and collectors of vinyl, Pittsburgh has some great record stores — but who really has the time to sift through a record store when classes are in session? That’s why spring break is the perfect time to devote a few hours to digging through grungy record shops.

Jerry’s Records in Squirrel Hill is the go-to store for many vinyl collectors. Home to over 1 million vinyl albums, Jerry’s was named one of Rolling Stone’s best record stores in the United States in 2010. Even Mac Miller loves Jerry’s — he released a freestyle about the store in January called “Jerry’s Record Store.” If Jerry’s isn’t your jam, try Wicked Discs in Oakland, which focuses on classic rock, punk, and metal, or 720 Records in Squirrel Hill, which focuses on hip-hop, reggae, funk, and jazz.

While it may seem like an obvious suggestion, you could spend a day at the Carnegie museums in Oakland during the break. The Carnegie Museum of Art’s permanent collection contains around 35,000 European and American art works from the late 17th century to the present. The museum is also hosting temporary exhibits, including an exhibit by sculpture and landscape artist Maya Lin (titled Maya Lin) and a retrospective of African-American photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris (titled Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story). The museum’s photographic exhibit Picturing the City: Downtown Pittsburgh, 2007–2010 is closing March 25, so spring break is a good opportunity to see it before it closes.

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History is currently home to Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection, an exhibit featuring more than 200 of Albright’s pins, which she wore to convey and reinforce diplomatic messages during her term as Secretary of State. In addition to its permanent exhibitions covering a range of topics from botany to dinosaurs to minerals, the museum also features the Cats and Dogs Series, silkscreen prints of domestic dogs and cats by Andy Warhol. Both Carnegie museums are a short walk from campus and, like the Mattress Factory, Carnegie Mellon students enjoy free admission.

If you have a car, or a friend with one, take a day trip to Falling Water. Located about an hour and a half from Pittsburgh, Falling Water is a home designed and built between 1936 and 1939 by esteemed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The home appears to be standing on nothing, instead stretching out over a 30-foot waterfall. When it was built, Falling Water was immediately recognized as an architectural feat and is now a National Historic Landmark. After being closed for all of January and February, the architectural landmark will reopen for the 2012 season on Saturday.

There’s a lot to see in and around Pittsburgh, and it seems like there’s never time to get out while classes are in session. So take a day off, get some fresh air, and take in the local culture. You won’t regret it.