The Arts in Pittsburgh
As we all start to settle in for the new semester, aesthetes and culture-curious newbies alike might be wondering where to go to get their fix of art and entertainment. Pittsburgh, as you may have heard, is a city rich with music, theater, and the arts. Although it is not as big as an arts hub as New York or L.A., the low cost of living and rich history leads to a diverse and exciting art scene. Whether you are looking for activist exhibitions, underground music events, or beautiful gallery settings, there are tons of venues to explore in Pittsburgh. I am always learning about new ones, but here are just a few that I recommend. Follow these galleries on social media and look out for Carnegie Mellon School of Art events. Opening receptions and leisurely strolls through galleries will be your new (often free!) favorite thing to do on weekends.
Pittsburgh Center for the Arts
6300 Fifth Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15232
Pittsburgh Center for the Arts (PCA) is a beautiful space. It’s a great example of the mix of pop up and well established art communities, in that it is a non-profit education and gallery space. In addition to summer camps and classes, it has a professional gallery space that hosts the local contemporary artists including faculty painter and multimedia artist Devan Shimoyama. Did I mention it’s a beautiful space? PCA consists of two mansions and a carriage house, which makes for a lovely viewing experience.
Carnegie Mellon University
The Ellis Gallery is kind of an unintentional secret of the School of Art. Its location isn’t super ideal, in that it is a small room tucked around the corner from the men’s bathroom on the third floor of the College of Fine Arts building. With that said, it is the place that shows student work most frequently on campus, so if you are looking to keep up with what all the talented creators in our school are making it’s a good place to do so.
Carnegie Mellon University
The Miller Gallery here at Carnegie Mellon is both conveniently located and a great space for the arts. You’ll see it as you walk along Purnell, just past Walking to the Sky. They host a variety of shows — mostly by professionals, but also student thesis shows — on art, architecture, and design. The work there is usually exciting and cutting edge because of its presence on the Carnegie Mellon campus. Look out for end of the year thesis shows from Carnegie Mellon students and for interdisciplinary exhibitions. Also, last year they hosted small music performances in the gallery space, which were definitely worth attending.
The Frame Gallery
Carnegie Mellon University
Located across the street from the Carnegie Mellon soccer fields and near The Hill, the Frame Gallery is another gem of Carnegie Mellon-owned art space. This gallery is entirely student run and it hosts several student artists each semester. Look for the neon sign as you walk down Forbes on the Thursday or Friday gallery openings to see what fellow students are creating. There’s serious talent at this school, and it’s always worth it to keep an eye out for what young people are creating. Also, opening nights the artists are almost always there, and student artists have a lot to say about their work, so ask questions!
Carnegie Museum of Art
4400 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15213
The Carnegie Museum of Art was founded in 1895 by Andrew Carnegie, and is now a beautiful museum near Schenley Park down Forbes Avenue, a short walk from campus. With free admission with your student ID and its connection with the Natural History Museum, it is definitely a must see. Although its collection is relatively small, it has a pretty thorough expanse of modern and classical art with rotating special exhibitions that are almost always very, very cool. They also do free special events like yoga or dance parties where you can observe Pittsburgh’s uber hip population congregating for a good time and overpriced drinks. Until the end of the semester they have a collaboration with The Studio Museum in Harlem called 20/20 which is a powerful show on racial politics and prejudice.
500 Sampsonia Way, Pittsburgh, PA 15212
The Mattress Factory is another space that has been converted to a stunning and quintessentially Pittsburgh gallery. Its goal is to encourage emerging artists and site-specific installations, the sight being a giant old factory building. With that said, both James Turrell and Yayoi Kusama have installations in the gallery (which you may see on just about everyone’s Instagram). Don’t miss out on the satellite galleries in buildings around the corner from the main building — Second Home, for instance, is an incredible installation that feels like a maze through an odd dollhouse. You have to book ahead for this one, as it fills up like crazy. This gallery is another must-see. It is really a one of a kind contemporary art space. Make a day of it, the neighborhood around the Mattress Factory also is pretty and has great food!
1501 Arch St, Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Randyland is special. When people ask me why I love Pittsburgh, Randyland is what I think of. Randy, the artist and namesake of Randyland, is best described as a folk artist. He bought two houses several decades ago and converted them into what can only be described as a magical space. Promoting love, diversity, inclusion, and fun murals, signs from around 150 countries line the brightly colored landscape. It’s connected to the Mattress Factory, so you can see them in same day if you like. But make sure you get a selfie with Randy himself and get free hugs from the robot that hangs outside.
819 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA, 15222
The Future Tenant gallery is located in a strip of galleries downtown, and it’s another gallery space supporting rising and student local artists. The gallery space is a reflection of Pittsburgh culture at large, working with ideas and concerns we collectively are wrestling with.
Andy Warhol Museum
17 Sandusky St, Pittsburgh, PA 15212
If you haven’t already heard, Andy Warhol went to Carnegie Mellon, albeit for just one semester. Also, we get free admission to the museum! It’s a beautiful space. Go to see the groundbreaking work in the Pop Art movement. It’s a sometimes over the top celebration of celebrity, capitalism, and wealth. Fun permanent installations include a room with floating silver balloons and a cloud couch. Although things like the $49.99 Warhol Barbies it sells seems like a terrifying shrine to consumerism, the special exhibitions are often very cool and powerful. Last year’s Firelei Baez’s exhibition, for instance, remains one of my favorite shows.
Wood Street Galleries
601 Wood St, Pittsburgh, PA 15222
The Wood Street Galleries are special. They’re located right above the Wood Street light rail station and are home to multi-disciplinary and new media installations by artists from international and local artists. Funded by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, the space is unique and tucked away in a way in the heart of downtown. Keep an eye out for upcoming exhibitions, it’s frankly one of the coolest spaces in Pittsburgh.
812 Liberty Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222
One of the galleries downtown, SPACE is another community-oriented exhibition space. Working with multiple disciplines and local artists, it’s a place to find interesting new pieces and emerging artists.
Silver Eye Center for Photography
4808 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224
This is a gallery dedicated to photography, as you might gather from the title. I personally believe it’s important for everyone to understand the power of images, especially in the social media era, and the best way to do it is to start going to see the work of professional photographers and the way they put forth a narrative. The current exhibitions are The Notion of Genesis, which tells the story of the North Braddock neighborhood and On the Making of Steel Genesis: Sandra Gould Ford, which details the life of a groundbreaking artist of color from Pittsburgh.
5106 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224
The Mr. Roboto Project is known as one of the hotspots for local artists and the DIY community in Pittsburgh. It is run as an art cooperative, and declares itself a “safer space” and a place to combat hate and bigotry. Look out for art exhibitions and music performances here!
4824 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224
Assemble is a community oriented gallery space that focuses especially on connecting creators with youth. It’s a nonprofit working to promote creativity and learning through exhibitions, talkbacks, and workshops. These community oriented spaces in the art world are so important so, if you can, check it out!
5001 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224
Artisan is a coffee shop, tattoo parlor, and art gallery all in one. Grab some coffee, see some art, ink some art onto your body. Sounds like a delightfully hipster day.
5139 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224
Boom Concepts is a community focused space working to move beyond simply being a gallery. In addition to being a space for music and arts, it hosts classes in wellness, finances, and other workshops targeted at helping the community. Boom Concepts collaborates with local organizations, as well us people here at Carnegie Mellon. It’s really easy to get stuck in the bubble of college campuses when you’re here in school, and this may be one really cool way to be more immersed in the Pittsburgh community at large.
Irma Freeman Center for Imagination
5006 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224
Part of the Penn Avenue strip of galleries, the Irma Freeman Center for Imagination is all about green energy, diversity, and creativity. It’s big on working between arts and STEM fields. If you’re at Carnegie Mellon that’s most likely your jam.
Point Breeze/North Braddock
201 N Braddock Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15208
Even though Carnegie Mellon feels like the place for all things tech and growth, it is hard to spend any time it Pittsburgh without feeling the industrial history of this city. The Mine Factory is an interesting space that kind of exemplifies this place in its history, in that it is literally a factory that was converted into cultural space. Studio and exhibitions spaces open to local artists mean that the shows work to reflect the diversity of the community. It’s also right across from a food cooperative, so it’s fun to make a day of.
The Frick Collection
7227 Reynolds St, Pittsburgh, PA 15208
The Frick is a more formal space, as it’s a mansion converted into a museum. This is another museum created by a wealthy industrialist family, in this case Helen Clay Frick. If you like art history (or would like to learn more about it!), it’s beautiful and a good thing to check out. They also have lectures and special exhibitions in addition to their permanent collection.