Growing up in West Virginia, Gregory "Beef" Jones never saw Pittsburgh as a dynamic arts community. But Jones ... now a promoter for Def Jam Records and the Russell Simmons Music Group ... says he will help change that image on Fri., Aug. 25, at the Arts Alliance Conference being held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
"I used to come to Pittsburgh trying to get involved in the music industry, but there was nobody there with the experience that I have now," Jones says.
South Side-based Royal Tribe Music and other local urban-arts and cultural groups are hosting the conference, at which Jones's talk will be one of many workshops. Among the other topics scheduled: "Identifying Quality Industry Jobs: No More Starving Artists," "Schools, Our Youth, the Arts, and the Money Issue: Options To Gaining Success," and "Making A CD/DVD." The Aug. 24-26 event will also include a concert and a fashion show featuring local designers (see Short List, page 58).
Pittsburgh is the final host city for this series of conferences presented across the country by the National Arts Alliance.
While the most obvious way to be successful in the arts is through singing, Jones cautions youth to remain realistic about their talent. If the raw artistic talent isn't there, he suggests getting involved in music marketing or record label representation. He plans to speak about what a young person needs to make it in music in Pittsburgh ... how to "own this town," he says.
"When a performer comes to Pittsburgh, they need someone knowledgeable about the area," he adds.
That doesn't hold true just for hip hop.
"Minority groups and lower socio-economic classes have all these misconceptions about who opera is for," says conference speaker Beth Parker, director of community outreach for the Pittsburgh Opera. "I want to be sure that kids in these groups know that the major cultural institutions in Pittsburgh are also for them." Getting involved in the arts is not only an alternative to traditional academic careers, she says; studies indicate an interest in the arts can also make for more focused students in other classes.
"The arts can save kids in the way that nothing can," she says.
For Def Jam's Jones, that may have been literally true. He was arrested for drug dealing as a teen-ager, he says, prompting some changes in his life, including getting involved in the arts. Now based in New York City, Jones says he'll be returning to Pittsburgh in search of "at-risk" youth.
"I was on the streets with you, but you can't stay there forever," he adds. "Crime leads to jail. If you're comfortable spending time in a concrete cell with all men, then by all means, do your thing. If not, come listen to me. There are plenty of ways to make money in the music industry. Waking up with nothing to do is a crime itself for a young man."