The Three Rivers Arts Competition brings dwell music, artwork and meals again to the cultural district
Pittsburghers follow the sound of live music streaming from the speakers along Ft. Duquesne Boulevard will note that Pittsburgh’s local arts scene was brought back to life this summer for one of the first major events since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The dollar bank Three Rivers Arts Festival spans the cultural district this year and features art and food vendors in Point State Park.
Festival director Sarah Aziz said she was thrilled that the festival was so well attended last weekend.
“It’s hard to find the words to describe the journey we took this year to make this festival a reality,” said Aziz. “When I think about where we were last year compared to now, I feel like coming home – it’s comfortable, inviting and right.”
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has returned with the Three Rivers Arts Festival for in-person and virtual activities, offering 10 days of free art exhibits and live music. The festival runs from June 4th to June 13th from 12pm to 8pm and in Point State Park on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in the same time slot.
Although no COVID-19 social distancing rules – including the use of masks – have been strictly enforced for festival goers, guests are encouraged to follow the CDCs Large gathering guidelines. According to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Cultural Guest acceptance, all employees, crews and volunteers at the festival must wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status.
Aziz said several social distancing measures were in place while preparing for the festival that ended up not having to be applied, including a ticket system for admission that would limit the number of guests allowed at the festival.
“The guidelines have changed so drastically, and recently for the better,” said Aziz. “Some people are not quite ready to return to normal yet, and some are so ready – we try to keep up and balance what everyone is comfortable with.”
The overwhelming majority of festival guests over the past weekend enjoyed the arts, food, and live music of the festival without masks and social distancing. Trevor Walker, a Philadelphia resident who attended the festival, said it was exhilarating to get back to normal summer activities in Pittsburgh after working virtually all year round.
“I came to this festival in 2019 and I loved it, so it’s a wonderful feeling to get back to the same energy and mood – I don’t take that for granted anymore,” said Walker. “It’s a strange feeling that we can be more relaxed, but it also feels very inviting.”
Walker is originally from Squirrel Hill and recently graduated from Drexel University. He came to the festival with some friends before participating in the Pittsburgh Pride Revolution march. The march drew a large crowd to the Point State Park Art Fair. Walker said he thought the Pride March and Three Rivers Festival would be a perfect combination.
“This feels like a celebration of love and life,” said Walker. “After everything we’ve been through as a community with the pandemic, it’s a cherished feeling.”
For those who aren’t comfortable returning to large, unmasked crowds just yet, Three Rivers puts the virtual element of the festival developed last year instead of a personal festival. According to Aziz, a virtual artist market will be offered this year, along with an element called 24/7 Stage, where people can enjoy music videos at any time of the day.
“There was definitely some silver lining in 2020 – everyone learned a lot in 2020 in terms of personal growth and the like, but also in concrete, practical ways,” said Aziz. “Before 2020 the Trust didn’t have any virtual programming, so the pandemic gave us an opportunity to learn this and we’ve really improved our game.”
According to Aziz, more than 200 artists have chosen to participate in the virtual artist market instead of attending in person. On the other hand, 157 artists show and sell their work on location between the Cultural District and Point State Park during the 10 days of the festival. The arts include jewelry, wood carvings, ceramics, paintings, photography, and more.
Among the artists at Point State Park is Jesse Kunerth, who sells pop art through his company, Dose creative. Kunerth, who is originally from Orlando, Florida, said he was used to attending in-person art exhibits due to Florida’s looser guidelines during the pandemic.
But since he has friends in Pittsburgh who struggled to sell their art during the pandemic, he said he was glad to be back in a vibrant artistic environment like Three Rivers.
“It’s just amazing to see everyone back in Pittsburgh this summer,” said Kunerth. “I’m really happy because I know that there are some artists who haven’t been able to take part in shows for a year and a half – everyone is happy and I’m happy for them.”
Kunerth has been selling his work at the festival for four years and has been doing Pop Art for 15 years. He said the inspiration for his art comes from his love for music and travel. The pieces in Kunerth’s tent were eye-catching posters in primary colors of famous musicians and other public figures, as well as some domestic animals and exotic animals.
“The aim is to tell a story with my art,” says Kunerth. “I like to combine my passion for music and art and in the end I capture something special.”
Although the Trust was not able to present as many artists in person this year as in previous years, the festival nonetheless displayed an extremely diverse selection of art. Aziz said that this year she was most proud that festival guests could walk through and see “a little bit of everything”.
“I love to showcase these artists who are at different stages in their careers,” said Aziz. “[Younger artists] are just amazing, inspiring and really chase after him. [Artists] those at the other end of the spectrum just make beautiful art, are great and supportive. “
Aziz celebrated her sixth birthday as festival director last weekend. She said she was very grateful that Three Rivers was able to keep funding for this event as many sponsors suspended festivals due to financial difficulties during the pandemic.
“I think this festival is something that the community really needed this year,” said Aziz. “We couldn’t have done it without our sponsors, but of course we’re grateful to the City of Pittsburgh for coming out and creating this great environment.”