Displaced from Point State Park, the Three Rivers Arts Festival retools. | Art Reviews + Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Displaced from Point State Park, the Three Rivers Arts Festival retools.

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Still from a video by Ross Nugent featured in the Best of Pittsburgh 2007 exhibit at the Three Rivers Arts Festival.
  • Still from a video by Ross Nugent featured in the Best of Pittsburgh 2007 exhibit at the Three Rivers Arts Festival.
The Three Rivers Arts Festival without Point State Park seems as hard to imagine as a Pittsburgh summer minus the 48-year-old festival. That historically consecrated expanse of lawn -- its location inscribed in the fest's very name -- has welcomed rock bands and troubadours, jugglers and dancers, massive art installations and idle strollers. And along the park's Downtown edge sat TRAF's trademark gauntlet of food vendors.

When TRAF executive director Elizabeth Reiss learned that this year's festival couldn't inhabit the Point, because of ongoing renovations, it was just weeks after last year's craftspeople had rolled up their tents. For a 17-day event that draws an estimated 600,000 visitors to enjoy the work of hundreds of artists and dozens of performers, 10 months isn't much time to regroup.

In fact, of the two other big summertime Point events, the Dollar Bank Jamboree took the year off, while the regatta will sail to the North Side. The TRAF board, however, decided that to remain accessible to everyone, the festival had to stay Downtown. That would mean big changes.

First, though, here's what stays the same about the festival: The artists' market, as always, will inhabit the tree-shaded pavement of Gateway Center Plaza -- and host a record 100 new artists among its total of 300. The Best of Pittsburgh exhibit, though transplanted to the PPG Wintergarden, will still showcase dozens of visual artists -- actually, even more of them than last year.

Other innovations from the 2006 fest remain, including both a TRAF fund-raiser (puckishly named "Not the Point," on Thu., May 31) and the 4th River Project performance series, whose several productions take place at various indoor venues (and which now cost $5 per show instead of a $5 series pass). And TRAF's new partnership with the multi-genre arts showcase known as Flux (which began with April's event, in Braddock) continues with a June 16 Flux in an underused space Downtown, at Sixth and Smithfield.

Moreover, the festival is still free (except for the 4th River shows and Flux). It's also about as big -- just laid out much differently.

With the Point closed, the action has largely shifted to two venues. One is the Stanwix Triangle -- that grassy patch adjacent to Gateway Center Plaza that lies between Penn, Liberty and Stanwix. It will host the main music stage and food vendors. The other is Market Square, which hosts a series of happy-hour concerts as well as a public-art project.

In addition, the live music, magic shows and hands-on fun of the TRAF Family Festival take place in the new "Magic Garden," located in the space next to the Penn-Stanwix T stop (also known as Four Gateway Center Plaza). And PPG Place will host a few live performances.

Because Stanwix Triangle, site of the biggest music shows, can't hold as many people as Point Park, the festival consciously booked smaller acts, Reiss says: Robert Randolph & The Family Band, and Ozomatli, for instance, instead of Wilco and Sonic Youth. But she adds that at any given moment this year, there are likely to be more shows happening than before. "We're asking audiences to make more informed choices," Reiss says. "We're hoping all those people just spread out more."

Financially, Reiss says, a closed Point meant reduced funding from sponsors. It also ate into revenue from food vendors. Expenses, meanwhile, rose, with higher costs for added security (to watch the artists' market during big concerts) and fencing (to keep people off streets that will be closed to auto traffic only on weekends).

Notwithstanding an anonymous foundation grant dedicated to upgrading the artists' market, it all added up to a budget of $1.3 million (last year's was $1.1 million) with a deficit of $150,000 or more, she says.

TRAF hopes to convince the state government to include in its new budget funds to defray that cost. The festival has also retooled its staff. In February, it eliminated two positions: those of festival coordinator Jane Schilling and curator Katherine Talcott. (Talcott still worked on this year's event as a contractor.) Subsequently, Reiss hired consultant and arts administrator Chris Taylor for the new position of associate director, a job focused on fund-raising.

The festival will need all the help it can get: Next summer, Point State Park will still be closed, while the Stanwix Triangle is scheduled to be off-limits during construction of a light-rail tunnel to the North Side. So for the arts festival, the question remains: Where to now?

Three Rivers Arts Festival Starts at noon daily, June 1-17. Downtown. Most events are free. 412-281-8723 or www.artsfestival.net

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