Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.



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Culture: A prime-time hub entices new crowds.

Since its opening in February 2013, Arcade Comedy Theater on Liberty Avenue has seen the crowds coming through the doors of its performance space grow.

Many weekend shows at Arcade fill the small, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust-backed room to capacity; when the building opened, however, those audiences were made up mostly of dedicated comedy fans and loyalists. Now, Abby Fudor and Mike Rubino — two of Arcade’s co-owners — report their patrons have diversified. Tourists visiting the city, families and couples from the suburbs and those spending a full evening Downtown all find themselves at Arcade.

As plans for Arcade (arcadecomedytheater.com) evolved through 2012, there never was any question the theater would be located Downtown. “I thought, ‘What if comedy was front-and-center in a prime-time spot in the Cultural District?’“ Fudor says. “That’s where the hub is, and it’s where the recognition is. That was always the idea.”

A few decades ago, such an attitude would have been unthinkable; even 10 years ago, the idea of relying on people to come Downtown for smaller performances would have been met with skepticism. But the success of Arcade and other cultural organizations speaks to a markedly increased desire on the part of Pittsburghers and out-of-towners alike to spend time in the Golden Triangle.

“We wanted a centralized location so that folks in the city could get to us and folks outside of the city could get to us,” Rubino says.

The ascendance of the arts in the Cultural District predates Downtown’s current resurgence, dating back to the concerted effort to turn a once-seedy part of the city into a performance hub in the mid-1980s. The 1984 formation of the Cultural Trust (trustarts.org) led to the restoration of prime venues such as Heinz Hall, the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts and the Byham Theater; the late-’90s addition of the O’Reilly Theater and the subsequent growth of the Theater Square complex dramatically expanded Downtown’s creative footprint.

More recently, though, marquee performances in grand houses have not been the sole draw for audiences and patrons.

The likes of Bricolage Production Company (bricolagepgh.org) and Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company (pghplaywrights.com) have expanded Downtown’s on-stage offerings. Gallery spaces such as Future Tenant (futuretenant.org) and SPACE (spacepittsburgh.org) — key locations in the Cultural Trust’s regular Gallery Crawl events — have brought visual arts beyond the city’s large museums. Next door to Arcade, the Harris Theater (cinema.pfpca.org) — one of three movie houses operating under the Pittsburgh Filmmakers banner and a venue for the annual Three Rivers Film Festival (3rff.com) — shows acclaimed world cinema in what once was an adult-film house. The Pittsburgh CLO Cabaret (pittsburghclo.org/cabaret) presents small-scale musicals to audiences who might not ordinarily attend a touring Broadway performance, and the August Wilson Center (culturaldistrict.org/pages/aacc) continues to offer programming in multiple disciplines.

The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership’s 2016 State of Downtown report cited a Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council study showing approximately 4.2 million people attended arts and cultural events in 2015 in the Greater Downtown area. That number does not merely represent increased attendance but also indicates the variety and type of offerings in the heart of the city is diversifying. And creators are recognizing Downtown as a desirable place to perform.

“I was enamored by the idea of central Pittsburgh,” Fudor says. “I liked the idea of being in the center of the city.” —Sean Collier
 

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