The Pittsburgh Cultural Belief brings the humanities to the individuals with the Humanities Pageant @ Dwelling
Black and white images of the National Negro Opera House in its former glory shuffled across the screen. The house that is now on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s The annual “11 Most Endangered Locations” list was established in 1941 in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
The building, which was designed as a hub of creativity and education for the city’s black community, is now in Pittsburgh Humanities Festival @ Home. The festival, a production of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and the Humanities Center of Carnegie Mellon University, offers weekly lectures on a variety of humanities topics.
Held in person in the Pittsburgh Cultural District every April from 2016 to 2020, the festival drew people from all over Pittsburgh to take part in these discussions. Due to COVID-19, the Trust is now hosting the event on its website Facebook Live and Youtube every Wednesday this month.
David Shumway – co-director of the festival and director of the Humanities Center at CMU – first approached the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust with the idea for the festival in 2015 Chicago and Adelaide, Australia, Shumway wanted to bring those talks back to Pittsburgh.
“[The humanities festival] Not only are there academics, but also journalists, writers, poets and artists in different fields, ”Shumway said. “Often people seem whose work doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the humanities at first, but that turns out to be.”
The Cultural Trust will be highlighting the works of four people this month, including Jonnet Solomon, whose work in preserving the National Negro Opera House was highlighted last week. The festival will be hosted this Wednesday by Yale professor and black feminist music critic Daphne Brooks. Brooks is expected to speak about her new book, Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound.
Sara Tang – a member of the activist group #NotWhiteCollectivewho wants to highlight the artwork of non-white women – will be interviewed Jasmine Cho, a baker from Pittsburgh. Cho will talk about her work in turning simple baked goods into platforms for her activism. Finally, the festival will host a panel on gun violence with members of Not my generation, an organization founded by Kathryn Fleisher, a senior citizen of Pitt, aims to build sustainable change in the Pittsburgh community.
According to Randal Miller, co-director of the Pittsburgh Humanities Festival, the Cultural Trust aims to involve a wide variety of speakers from different areas of the humanities. The festival has been putting emphasis on groups and individuals in Pittsburgh since last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the event from April to October. However, Miller said the Trust also recognizes the importance of choosing topics that are relevant to the world today.
“Something that’s a really hot topic a year isn’t a year,” Miller said. “And so we try our best to keep our finger on the pulse and to program accordingly.”
Before COVID-19 brought the Humanities Festival 2020 to a standstill, its organizers had the authors of The onion and Ira Glass stood to speak at the event. For the past few years the festival has hosted people like Kathleen Cleaver the Black Panther Party, author Anthony DeCurtis and filmmakers John Sayles and his partner, Maggie Renzi.
The festival also hosts people who work in areas that seemingly unrelated to the humanities. One event attended Jonathan Moreno, a medical ethicist from the University of Pennsylvania, who spoke about the difficulty of providing end-of-life medical care to patients. The Trust also highlighted Alex London, professor of philosophy at CMU, for discussing the ethical issues surrounding artificial intelligence.
According to Shumway, while science and technology may seem a long way from the humanities, there are many humanistic qualities in different STEM areas.
“The technology that enables us to have artificial intelligence in the simplest sense of the word is not really the business of the humanities,” Shumway said. “But what is programmed into the AI must be based on human decisions and decisions. And these are the responsibilities of the humanities. “
The ability to make these interdisciplinary connections is one of the reasons Shumway believes it is important to bring these conversations to the public, not just students and faculties at major universities.
“The humanities, about the kinds of concerns and questions the humanities raise, are really important to everyone,” Shumway said. “And people who don’t go to school or teach at a university often don’t have easy access to these things.”
Shumway hopes the Cultural Trust can bring the Pittsburgh Humanities Festival back downtown by April 2022. According to Miller, the festival will continue to highlight local, national and international voices on a variety of humanities topics.
According to Miller, the Cultural Trust hopes to have interesting conversations while adding an element of entertainment at the same time. While the format of the event remains relatively unchanged, Miller anticipates the festival will continue to adapt as a platform for these critical discussions.
Overall, Shumway and Miller said they hope the Pittsburgh Humanities Festival will continue to challenge people’s views and ideas about the humanities. During their events, they believe that members of the community will learn new ideas about the city and the world they live in.
“It’s one thing to think, you know, a lot of things and to get strengthened in your beliefs,” Miller said. “It is another, I think, equally valuable thing to go into a room without knowing what you are looking for and leave it enriched.”