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Pittsburgh is deserving of recent nod as arts destination

Last week, AmericanStyle magazine released the results of its 10th annual “Top 25 Arts Destinations” readers’ poll, and to the surprise of many, Pittsburgh placed first in the mid-sized cities category, up two spots from its 2006 ranking.

It’s surprising because the second-place holder, Albuquerque, N.M., has been an arts destination for decades and has been on the list since its inception, as has Las Vegas, which captured the No. 3 spot.

Should Pittsburghers be surprised by this• Not really. Whereas sports fans have had their new stadiums to flock to since 2001, not to mention the proposed arena planned for the Penguins, developments in the arts over the past six years have grown exponentially as well.

Since its inception in 1984, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has led the way in this regard. Under the Trust’s command, ongoing development of the 14-block Liberty and Penn corridor, which was once considered the “seedy” side of town, has grown into the Cultural District, an exemplary arts and entertainment district.

Today the area is not only a nationally renowned model of cultural and economic collaboration, it is home to world-class performance centers and visual arts venues such as the Benedum Center, the Byham, O’Reilly and Harris theaters, Cabaret at Theater Square, SPACE and Wood Street galleries, and so on.

As the owner and operator of all of those places, the Trust has done a remarkable and commendable job of marketing the Cultural District, and for that matter, Pittsburgh, as a destination.

But there’s more. Last year, “Pittsburgh Roars,” an eight-month celebration of the region’s arts and cultural offerings through planned events and attractions by more than 70 cultural, civic and community organizations, brought even more attention to Pittsburgh’s fully blossomed arts scene.

And this year, “Pittsburgh Celebrates Glass!” a yearlong celebration created to honor the significant role that glass and glass art play in the vibrancy of the Pittsburgh region, is estimated to contribute more than $20 million to the local economy and draw thousands of visitors. Programming will include “Chihuly at Phipps: Gardens & Glass,” an exhibition of world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly’s work that will be on display at the Phipps Conservatory beginning May 10.

Also planned is an event in June in which Downtown will shine during a premier artistic lighting event by noted French artist Lucette de Rugy, president of Artlumiere, in conjunction with the Glass Art Society 37th national conference, “Transformational Matter,” scheduled for June 7-9 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Rugy and her team will illuminate six buildings throughout the city in vibrant, shimmering color, creating another reason for people to come Downtown and enjoy the great performance art, galleries, restaurants and activities.

It’s an interesting side note, when looking at Pittsburgh’s relatively recently formed glass art community, that since 2001– according to “Pittsburgh Celebrates Glass!” — approximately 25 glass artists have relocated to Pittsburgh, more than 136,000 sqare feet of vacant property has been converted into artists’ living/working space, and nearly $8 million in private arts-related investment has been secured in support of the local glass community.

“Pittsburgh is widely recognized as one of the country’s centers for the arts. ‘Pittsburgh Celebrates Glass!’ is an opportunity to showcase the important role that arts and culture play in our community,” says Kenneth R. Melani, M.D., president and chief executive officer of Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, who recently took over the reigns as chairman of the board of the Cultural Trust.

Does Pittsburgh and its artists, as well as its civic and corporate leaders, all deserve a pat on the back for this• Most definitely, and why not• Pittsburgh may not be Paris, but Paris today isn’t exactly the cultural mecca it was a century ago. Things do change.


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