Vision and History
The Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, a production of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, is a celebration of the arts in downtown Pittsburgh unlike any other in the nation. Each of its world-class, multi-disciplinary performing and visual arts attractions is free to attend and open to the public!
The Festival begins on the first Friday in June and takes place at the confluence of Pittsburgh’s famed three rivers in Point State Park, throughout picturesque Gateway Center, and in the city’s world-renowned Cultural District.
Why we do it: Art matters. We envision our region as a place where impactful, artful experiences contribute directly to the quality of life for everyone and are embraced as essential for the entire community.
How we do it: We talk and make art. We envision the Festival as a safe place for the open exchange of creativity and dialogue, ideas and participation.
What we do: We present everything from “fun” to “wow factor.” We envision a full spectrum of programming that collectively creates vibrancy throughout downtown Pittsburgh, provides respite and fun, and evokes a sense of awe and wonder.
All anyone really wanted was a little outdoor art show near Carnegie Institute, some paintings, perhaps, scattered along the mall among the trees outside Carnegie Library. Adolph Schmidt – the Festival’s first chairman – persuaded the “founders” to take the show downtown, and the Three Rivers Arts Festival was born…
People who were not gallery or theater-goers had their first glimpse of live actors and dancers, saw photographers stretch the dimensions of light and color, moved among pieces of sculpture, and watched artists turn chunks of clay, glass, wood and metal into bits of beauty.
- From the 1979 Three Rivers Arts Festival program
Three Rivers Arts Festival quickly grew from the “little outdoor art show” cited above to what is today the region’s largest multidisciplinary showcase of visual art and performing arts. Despite a rapid growth, the Festival’s mission to connect the community to arts and culture has remained consistent throughout the event’s 54-year history.
Founded in 1960 by the Women’s Committee of the Carnegie Museum of Art, Three Rivers Arts Festival has presented, during its vast and varied history, more than 10,000 visual and performing artists and entertained millions of residents and visitors. Such notable and memorable stage performances have included Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Phillip Glass, Steven Reich, Smokey Robinson as well as literary legends Allen Ginsberg and Spalding Gray. Contemporary dance artists Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane, Lar Lubovitch, Pucci:Sport and many others have performed, and within recent past, concerts have featured Norah Jones, The Avett Brothers, Wilco, Sonic Youth, The Wailers and the Black Keys.
Among the long list of visual artists who have graced the Festival galleries and public exhibition spaces, noted visionaries have included Otto Piene, Louise Nevelson, Keith Haring, and Nam June Paik. Today the cultural legacy of the visual arts program of the Festival can be seen throughout the city with permanent, commissioned works: Clement Meadmore’s “Up and Away”; Kenneth Snelson’s “Forest Devil”; and “Pittsburgh” by John Henry located in Frank Curto Park alongside Bigelow Boulevard.
In 2009, Three Rivers Arts Festival faced a new turning point in its history as a production of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, further advancing the shared mission of each organization to foster economic development through the arts and to enhance the quality of life in the region. Looking to the future of the festival, Mary Thomas of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes: “The Cultural Trust’s task is to remain true to traditional audiences while attracting new visitors with experiences that will wow both. It looks like they’re well-suited to the task.”