By Meg Fair
Pittsburgh Current Managing Editor
The pressure to give the perfect material gift during the holidays is stressful–and to be honest most of us already have way too much stuff. Instead of cluttering up someone’s home, gift them a year’s worth of experience by giving the gift of local culture.
A Day at Randyland
You can’t buy a season pass to Randyland, because going to Randyland in the North Side is free. Instead, save up some cash to donate when you get there and go on a date with your gift-receiver, taking some time to be carefree and happy in Randy’s colorful yard/perma-art installation. Hula hooping surrounded by colors and mirrors and bric-a-brac will be much more joyful than the feeling your pal gets from looking at the watch you bought them, probably.
An Evening at Trundle Manor
Trundle Manor in Swissvale is a hidden, freaky gem in our lovely city. The self-proclaimed art house/tourist trap is a private collection of weird objects from taxidermy to medical implements to art installations to weaponry. A group of one to 15 can tour at once, and all tours must be scheduled ahead of time. Like Randyland, this creative hub is powered by donations. Unlike Randyland, Trundle Manor does accept taxidermy, dead things, weapons and booze as donations, so consider bringing cash or some of those other things and get lost in the magic of Trundle Manor.
There are so many museums in Pittsburgh, and it’s easy to take that for granted. When you only stop in at a museum once a year, it can be overwhelming to tackle the whole place–instead, make consuming culture casual and see all the installations and collections that pop up throughout the year.
If you gift a membership to the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh you’ll have free admission to Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, the Carnegie Science Center and the Andy Warhol Museum. Whether it’s taking a day to talk about Warhol’s place in art history in the presence of his art or giving a rowdy kiddo a random afternoon at the science center to burn off energy while learning, a Carnegie Museum membership has you covered.
If you need to buy a gift for a pal that is more tactile, a membership to the local modern art museum is probably a good move. The Mattress Factory showcases art that’s generally hands-on, challenging and atypical, and it’s permanent Greer Lankton installation could eat up a whole afternoon of oogling if you had the time. Its membership options vary too, so you can gift membership for an individual, a pair or a whole family.
The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh has a membership program that really hooks it up for patrons, including unlimited free admission for members and discounts for non-member friends who are joining them at the museum. It’s a great gift for family members and friends with kiddos, but it’s also a great gift for those who are kids at heart–this museum isn’t just for literal children, and there’s plenty to see and explore for kids of all ages.
The Opera, The Symphony
Whether you have an enthusiast in your life or a friend you think would love to witness some opera and symphony performances, gifting the gift of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Pittsburgh Opera is simple. Make it a buddy experience and buy tickets to a single event for you and your pal or instead consider a subscription to the PSO. You can build your own subscription by choosing three to 20 events with interchangeable ticket options and flexibility. It’s the better deal if your gift-receiver is trying to hit several shows throughout the year. As for the Pittsburgh Opera, individual ticket gifts are an option, but you can also engage in a membership option that grants you access to dress rehearsals, show previews and beyond.
Dance & Theater
Pittsburgh’s dance community is eclectic and vibrant, and there are a lot of ways to gift the gift of dance performance to the folks you love. For the more traditional, tickets to a Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre performance or a subscription or membership to the Pittsburgh Dance Council, part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust may be some good options. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust also offers overall membership options for those who you’d like to gift plays and musicals too, and also special access options.
In addition to memberships, buying tickets to the amazing range of shows at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater and its Alloy Studios, Attack Theatre and beyond are all great ways to gift unique cultural experiences to friends. What’s a more exciting gift than the opportunity to engage with unique, local performance?
Workshop PGH Classes
Consuming art and culture is cool, but making it is also very cool. Workshop PGH is a DIY school that centers classes taught by local makers and business owners. The classes not only teach great creative and practical skills, they’re also a lot of fun. For the hands-on creative in your life, consider buying a gift certificate so they can pick a class of their choosing or buy two tickets to participate in a class together that you’ll both be excited to dive into. Have you and your pal or mom or whoever always talked about getting into leatherworking? How about knitting? Do you both need to build a stylish and simple wooden shelf to store all the other gifts you’ve bought each other up to this point? Workshop PGH probably has a class to suit at least one of those needs.
Zoo, Aquarium, Aviary Membership
There are plenty of opportunities to see and learn about wildlife and preservation in our city. Consider gifting a membership to the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium or The National Aviary in the North Side to your nature and animal-loving friends, or to the little cousin, sibling or nibling in your life who is obsessed with animals and biology. Not only is it cool to see so many creatures, but both locations also offer interesting educational classes and opportunities to contribute to preservation efforts. When it comes to environmental protection and natural education, it’s probably good to start them young!
Donate to an arts organization on behalf of those you love
If the people you love are super busy or have unpredictable schedules or your just not sure a membership or ticket to an event is the right move, pick an arts or cultural group you know your pal loves and donate to it on their behalf. It shows that you pay attention to what culture your friends and family care to support, and it’s a gift to the cultural groups that are here in our city doing the most to keep it colorful, cutting edge and exciting.