By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Local summer festivals are the best part of summer for so many, and Pittsburghers are no different. From Picklesburgh to Art All Night, crowds flocked to sites citywide for beautiful spectacles, fantastic food, and camaraderie. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic forced restrictions that made these beloved events impossible in 2020. Now, more than a year later, a welcome shift back to normal has emerged.
On May 12, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust released updated plans for the Three Rivers Arts Festival, in light of the governor lifting the state’s mandate of COVID-19 restrictions at the end of May. The annual arts festival, opening Tomorrow,June 4, will take place both in-person and online, a step back in the direction of pre-pandemic practices after hosting the 2020 festival entirely virtually.
Initially, plans for the 2021 festival were modest, but the organizing team at the Cultural Trust wanted to safely incorporate some in-person elements, according to Three Rivers Arts Festival director Sarah Aziz.
“Six months ago, we were thinking about a pretty small hybrid festival, and not sure we could even do that,” said Aziz.
The festival’s downtown footprint will span much of the Cultural District. All ten days of the event, over 150 artists of all media, from photography to ceramics to metalworking and much more, will set up open air stands to sell their wares. They will be joined by over 200 additional artists from across the country whose work can be purchased on the festival’s online artist market.
All of the Cultural Trust’s downtown art galleries will also be open with exhibitions on public display, and the O’Reilly Theater lobby will be outfitted with Anthropology of Motherhood: Culture of Care, a show which features art centered around the female experience of parenthood. Outdoor art exhibitions and a juried art competition are also planned for the festival, and many of these events will be viewable online as well as downtown.
A regular feature of the Three Rivers Arts Festival are the main stage performances in Point State Park, with the best in local music talent giving the crowd their best. According to Aziz, the original plan for this year was to host musical performers at the Byham Theater, as Point State Park would be very difficult to utilize while adhering to the state’s COVID-19 restrictions.
“At that point, it didn’t look like there would be any way to use the park, because the mandate stated you had to be able to count everyone going in and out to monitor capacity,” said Aziz. “In order to do that at the park, you have to have entry and exit points that are staffed, and that was a scope that we were not able to take on.”
With Governor Wolf’s announcement on May 4 of the rollback of the state’s COVID-19 mandate on May 31, the Cultural Trust announced that the Dollar Bank Stage will be moved from the Byham to Point State Park on each Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the festival. Local artists Celisse, Bassel and the Supernaturals, Rayland Baxter, Shemekia Copeland, Caroline Rose, and Son Little will headline at the Point. More local musicians and dancers will showcase their best at the Riverside Stage, a second pop-up stage on Fort Duquesne Boulevard between Stanwix and 7th Street.
Even though restrictions are relaxing, safety is still paramount at Three Rivers Arts Festival. Masks, physical distancing, constant disinfection, and air filtration are all measures being taken to ensure that the whole community can safely enjoy the festivities and feel welcomed back to Downtown. Although putting it together has been a roller-coaster, Three Rivers is in for a smooth landing, and Aziz hopes the community enjoys the ride.
“I think it’s going to be a really great re-entry and welcome to summer, and welcoming everybody back to the Cultural District,” said Aziz.
The 2021 Three Rivers Arts Festival will run in person downtown from June 4 to 13. The festival can also be accessed virtually on traf.trustarts.org, where more information can be found.