By Steve Sucato
Pittsburgh Current Dance Writer
In remembrance of the 50th anniversary of New York’s Stonewall riots, a seminal moment in the gay rights movement and a symbol of the history of struggle for the LGBTQ community, local activist and arts patron Richard Parsakian has organized a free street celebration this Friday to coincide with the formal unveiling of a city public arts project in Shadyside at the intersection of Ellsworth and Maryland avenues that acknowledges Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community.
“It’s a celebration of those who suffered, died and lived through those moments in 1969 that shaped our community and what they did for us to allow us to have a voice,” says Parsakian, who also owns and operates Eons Fashion Antique on Ellsworth.
The event will kick off with speeches by local dignitaries and area historian and activist Billy Hileman who will talk about the history of Stonewall and of Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community. Then, says Parsakian, Venezuelan artist Leonardo Moleiro’s multi-colored, multi-shaped street mural will be unveiled from underneath Parsakian’s 30′ x 30′ “historic Pride flag” covering it while Harold Arlen’s “(Somewhere) Over the Rainbow” is sung. The celebration’s marquee moment will come in the form of an unrehearsed flash mob-style dance performance to Shoshana Bean’s cover of the song “This Is Me,” from the film soundtrack of The Greatest Showman. Dancers from Attack Theatre, STAYCEE PEARL Dance Project, Shana Simmons Dance, DANA Movement Ensemble, Point Park University, Texture Contemporary Ballet along with Trevor Miles, Jil Stifel, The Pillow Projects’ Pearl Ann Porter and more will participate.
The Free Remembrance Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall riots and formal unveiling of new city public arts project street mural is on Friday, June 28 and begins at 7 p.m. at the intersection of Ellsworth and Maryland Avenues in Shadyside.
Parsakian’s hope is that the loosely-structured celebration will unfold like a mini-PrideFest. The event will also include performances by Phat Man Dee, local drag queens, spoken word and other artists and a DJ will be playing music.
While the event is meant to unite the LGBTQ community in celebration of its shared history, Parsakian says it has met with some opposition within the LGBTQ community.
“It was a missed opportunity by the public art commission to create unity in not choosing a queer artist for the project,” says Parsakian. “Some people are now using that as a talking point (along with the choice of its location) for elevating distrust and protest. I am saddened by that.”
Despite the public art project perhaps not speaking to everyone in the local LGBTQ community, Parsakian sees it as a positive step “that the city recognizes our community needs to be celebrated in some way through public art. This is a beginning point, not an ending point.”