A new arts festival
focusing on conversations with writers, artists and other thinkers will premiere here in late March.
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and the Humanities Center of Carnegie Mellon University announced the festival today at a Downtown event. The festival is the brainchild of CMU English professor David Shumway, who was inspired by the long-running Chicago Humanities Festival and brought the idea to the Trust.
Trust officials, who said the four-day festival will “explore and evaluate the current condition of human life,” say it is the first of its kind in town.
Guests will include Azar Nafisi, author of the best-selling memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran
The festival will include a couple of major events, but will be largely structured as a series of 18 hour-long moderated talks with the guests, plus an audience Q&A. “Nobody’s going to read a talk,” said Shumway
, who directs CMU's Humanities Center.
Organizers, including the Trust’s Paul Organisak, emphasize that while the fest’s content might be intellectual, the format will be entertaining. Referring to intellectual subject matter, Shumway said, “We shouldn’t think of it as spinach. We should think of it as cake.”
Besides Nafisi, the festival will welcome such nationally known guests as filmmakers John Sayles and Maggie Renzi (Matewan
, Eight Men Out
) and Rolling Stone
senior editor Anthony DeCurtis, who’ll discuss Lou Reed as well as his own life in rock ’n’ roll. And well-known composer Cynthia Hopkins will perform A Living Documentary
, about her struggles as a theater artist in New York City.
But the festival draws heavily on local talent, including such CMU colleagues of Shumway’s as Kiron Skinner, an expert on Ronald Reagan; Tim Dawson, known for his “deliberative theater” technique of addressing social issues; CMU professors Jennifer Keaning Miller and John Carson’s project “Art Walls in Belfast”; and Christopher Warren’s “Six Degrees of Francis Bacon” project, which uses computers to analyze Renaissance writings to figure out who knew whom in that “early social network.”
Other local artists on the program, include Vanessa German, who’ll discuss how her art and her activism inform one another; National Book Award-winning poet Terrance Hayes
; filmmaker Tony Buba and historian Marcus Rediker on their film Ghosts of Amistad
Most of the events will take place in the Trust Arts Education Center, on Liberty Avenue, Downtown, or in Space gallery, across the street. Hopkins’ piece will be performed at The Andy Warhol Museum. Nafisi and the closing-night event (still TBA) will be at the Byham Theater.
The festival will run March 26-29. Tickets go on sale Feb. 16. A festival pass, covering all 18 events, will cost $20 ($10 for students). Tickets for Nafisi and the closing-night event will be $15. That means, says Organisak, you could do the whole festival for about $50.