Ryan Walsh is leading the effort to plan a week-long music festival to mark Pittsburgh's 250th birthday in 2008. The good news is that he's got a diverse team of young Pittsburghers ready to tackle the project, and $12,000 so far to put it on. The sobering news is that the festival will be modeled after Austin's annual South By Southwest ... which has a multimillion dollar budget.
Walsh, program director for the South Side's Coro Center for Civic Leadership, had been kicking around the music festival idea for months when the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the city and the county announced last November a full slate of events to draw national attention to the city's birthday.
Local committees and boards of this scale are known for being very white, very male and very old; Walsh has instead gathered a varied crew to plan the musical portion of the party.
"A lot of these people are not your typical music-players on the scene," says Walsh. "These are people who are concerned with promoting Pittsburgh." The group also hopes the musical events will appeal to everyone within a five-hour drive of the city.
Neither the group, nor the festival, has been named yet, because, as Walsh puts it, "research will determine the name."
The local Sprout Fund recently gave the effort $7,300, while the Allegheny Conference is pitching in $5,000 to support such research, which so far involves traveling to Austin and other regional festivals, including Burning Man, in Nevada, and Seattle's Bumbershoot and North By Northwest,. The festival committee will collaborate with Coro's research department to develop surveys for potential music patrons regionally and nationally, whose answers will help mold the festival. There is also a blog, www.pgh250.blogspot.com, for anyone to provide input about what they'd like to hear at the festival.
"The biggest challenge," concludes Walsh, "is taking the idea and making the public feel involved in the process."