Three Rivers Arts Festival Goes Out of Mainstream

This year's festival discovers, explores and showcases sights, sounds and experiences not often in the spotlight. Popular, classic attractions are back as well.

photos by anthony musmanno

This year’s Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival discovers, explores and showcases sights, sounds and experiences outside the mainstream. Popular, classic attractions are back as well.

Among the mysteries of Pittsburgh is our legendary “fourth river” (actually an aquifer called the Wisconsin Glacial Flow). It flows unseen and unheard under our buildings and streets.

It will be directly underfoot at this year’s Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, although it gushes forth (or fourth) at the Point State Park fountain (yes, applaud the aquifer for the stupendous water magic). Consider that river to be an appropriate symbol for the 56th annual event, with its edgy theme of “Unseen/Unheard.”

“‘Unseen/Unheard’ speaks to the idea of the exploration and vocalization of narratives that are not heard or are marginalized,” says Veronica Corpuz, director of festival management and special projects of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which produces the festival. “The theme is also inherently geared toward emerging artists, and the artistic possibilities involved in ‘Unseen/Unheard’ are endless.”

Look for threads woven throughout the festival that address and explore complementary themes such as social-justice issues related to race, gender and sexual identity; labor and colonial narratives; and others.

Kicking off and turning on the festival is “The Black Rock Negative Energy Absorbers,” a multimedia sculptural grouping by Rudy Shepherd. It boasts “magical” powers to rid us of prejudice, racism and other forms of negative energy, allowing us to respond to others and ourselves with positive vibes.

Another not-to-be-missed visual spectacle is “Confluence” by Fernando Orellana. The installation — 60 military-style wooden beds with elements such as military blankets and plastic dogs — “explores the collision of Old and New Worlds,” including colonialization of Native Americans. Located appropriately at history-rich Point State Park, it also includes philosophical and spiritual insights.

Other visual highlights include Michael Arcega’s “Baby, Corps of Rediscovery,” featuring a hand-crafted outrigger that has sailed waterways explored by Lewis and Clark, which provides a “meditation on de-colonization.” A piece by Daniel Baxter, in conjunction with the “Mindful” exhibition at Society for Contemporary Craft, examines mental health through art. Photography by Anthony Musmanno, “7B:1,” (pictured) focuses on people with HIV/AIDS living in South Africa and India and the retro-viral drugs helping to stem the tide.

Lose something? Then visit Michelle Illuminato’s “Lost+Found Factory,” where festival-goers can describe an object they’ve lost — say your favorite toy as a child — and have an artful facsimile created by Factory artists ready for pick-up at the conclusion of the festival.

Look for artists from Pittsburgh to the Middle East participating in an invigorated Juried Visual Art Exhibition; its scope has been broadened and made more geographically inclusive. The 41 selections offer a wide variety of media (including rocks made of silk) and ideas (“body schadenfreude”).
On a more local level, there’s a special exhibit to mark the 50th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Society of Artists, and an Artist Studio Tour Launch Group Show promotes an event scheduled for later in the summer featuring local artists’ studios.

But TRAF is not just art but also arts. Literary arts — with an emphasis on new works — are represented from A to at least X. A few highlights: Award-winning rapper Jasiri X, along with 1 Hood artists, will take the stage and give spoken-word performances; poets Tameka Cage Conley and David Newman perform in partnership with City of Asylum/Pittsburgh; and aspiring authors can hone their craft through various writing workshops in various disciplines, such as creative nonfiction with Anjali Sachdeva. 

photo by devon christopher adams via flickr creative commons


The sounds of music also are key at the festival, with headliners such as Jenny Lewis, Elephant Revival, Railroad Earth, Milo Greene and others making music every day. A wide mix of styles will be heard — folk, blues, pop and rock — and mark June 6, Bluegrass Day, on the calendar.
For lovers of more traditional music, don’t miss the return of the world-renowned Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in performance with singers from the Pittsburgh Opera.

Dance highlights include premieres by Attack Theatre and choreographer Alexandra Bodnarchuk. And still there’s more. Art and technology intersect at the CREATE Festival (June 10-12), a national conference composed of an open salon and exhibits by national artists, in partnership with the Pittsburgh Technology Council. Educational and creative opportunities abound at the Giant Eagle Creativity Zone with special programming and hands-on activities for kids.

Environmental sustainability remains a value the Three Rivers Arts Festival promotes, and there will be various efforts to raise visitors’ awareness of “greening” practices that affect our air and water quality — including that of our fourth river. 

2015 Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival: June 5-14, various sites, downtown and Point State Park; 412/456-6666,


Categories: From the Magazine, Things To Do