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Hillman Center adds new arts programs under director Sarah Rubin



So you've never visited Fox Chapel because you've never gone to any debutante balls. That might change if you take a shine to the Hillman Center for Performing Arts, a dual-venue complex -- 640-capacity theater, 110-seat black box -- that recently opened as an arm of Shadyside Academy.

At least that's the hope of the Hillman's 27-year-old director, Sarah Rubin, whose experiences include a master's degree in rhetoric from CMU, teaching in Hong Kong, organizing indie-rock festivals, and doing cartoon voices for Comedy Central. Now, she's managing a concert lineup programmed by her predecessor, David Liebman, which includes Quebecois group Genticorum on Fri., Jan. 23. With lilting flute and bouncy fiddle, the folk trio should delight audiences accustomed to the Celtic side of Calliope's spectrum.

Rubin's also organizing an advisory board of community leaders from Oakmont, Verona, Fox Chapel and Blawnox for her 2009-10 season. In the meantime, the theater is rented out constantly.

"Next weekend, we have Chinese-Americans doing a showcase with dance, music and food, and the Indian community did something similar a month ago." Shadyside students also use the theater.

"The school fosters alumni who have made it big in media, like the CEO of MTV, the singer of TV on the Radio [Tunde Adebimpe], and [screenwriter] Carl Kurlander, who did My Tale of Two Cities. [Major contributors] Henry Hillman and Richard Rauh were also alumni," Rubin says. "There's never been a forum for the school to provide a service to the community through the arts."

Rubin created programs such as RADICAL (Real Art Develops in Community and Leadership), bringing students from Homewood's Afro-American Music Institute and Garfield's Neighborhood Academy to hobnob with Shadyside kids. "An artist or musician talks to them about realizing their dreams, and the students ask questions. We're also creating summer programs to utilize the theater space," she says, calling the black box ideal for a series for suburban teen-agers who can't drive into the city.

While the Hillman's target audience might not be adventurous ("older people and families find a calmer lifestyle suits them, avoiding the bustle of the city"), Rubin's never disconnected from the urban cultural milieu. She has talked with the directors of the Hazlett, Kelly-Strayhorn, and Manchester Craftsmen's Guild about methods of synergistic cooperation, perhaps with a festival involving all the venues.

"I chose to return to Pittsburgh because the scene is collaborative here, not competitive like in Boston or D.C. Organizations join with other ones to make things stronger. It's a perfect storm of post-industrialism and cultural heritage -- the exact right city for something like this to happen."

For more info, visit; for show tickets, call ProArts at 412-394-3353.

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