By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
The dawning of another March marks one year since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the complete change of everyday life in America. It happened right as the weather began to warm, as Pittsburgh’s many spring and summer festivals made preparations for that year. Now, those annual events are organizing COVID-safe events for the second year running.
One of these is the 24th annual Art All Night festival, which will be held virtually on April 24 and 25. The event will see hundreds of artists from across Pittsburgh, professionals, and amateurs alike, submitting art in a vast range of media to be displayed for 22 consecutive hours.
“It will be a lot of what [audiences] experienced last year, as well as what they may have experienced attending in-person events in the past,” said Marisa Golden, a co-organizer of Art All Night for the past twelve years. “That includes music performances, painting, drawing, sculpture, interactive elements for children and adults…we will have a little bit of everything.”
In years past, Art All Night would be held in a large empty space, usually a warehouse, which would be converted into a large-scale art gallery. Artists regardless of skill level are encouraged to submit their creations to be displayed and even purchased by the public. The event begins on a Saturday afternoon, and the festivities proceed continuously until the following Sunday afternoon, attracting approximately 15,000 attendees every year.
This time last year, Golden and the team of volunteers that put Art All Night together every year were planning for an in-person festival. Then, COVID restrictions went into effect. It forced a complete rethinking of plans, and canceling the event completely was on the table. Ultimately, the choice was made to push the event back from April to May, and to make Art All Night one of the first events in the city to go all online.
“We felt like the arts community and the people of Pittsburgh would really appreciate having the show in some capacity,” said Golden. “We agreed, in essentially three weeks’ time, to build an online environment and give people the best thing we could come up with having never done it that way before.”
The complete shift in platform forced their volunteer staff to learn new things on the fly, particularly building a brand new digital art gallery. It was a far cry from the work they used to do setting up an in-person event.
“We’re used to doing a lot of things with our hands. We’re used to converting an empty building into an art gallery for 22 hours,” said Golden.
This year, in addition to all the usual artistic creations and performers that fill the halls of Art All Night, there will be a live painting session during the festival. Two artists will collaborate in real time, without having met or consulted prior, on an original painting. Those in the audience will be able to watch the painters’ creative process and even bid on the work in an auction once completed.
This year’s event also puts more emphasis on breakout rooms, where people can congregate virtually in small groups to discuss specific topics, engage with interactive activities, or just hang out. But no matter how one chooses to experience it, Golden hopes Art All Night will create a space for the community through the power of art, even minus a big warehouse to fill.
“That’s one of the primary points of Art All Night: the idea that art can be shared and experienced by anyone and everyone,” said Golden. “That creates a community.”
The 24th annual Art All Night will be held from April 24 at 4 p.m. to April 25 at 2 p.m. A call for artist submissions will be put out in early April. For more information, visit artallnight.org.