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Art + Tech + You: Three Rivers Arts Festival Has It All

June 6, 2017

By Meg Campbell

At noon on Fri., June 2, the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival (TRAF) kicked off its 58th year. Much like Pittsburgh itself, the Festival has undergone tremendous changes in that time.

Those visiting the Festival should expect to do so not just as viewers or attendees, bit as participants and co-creators in many of the exhibits and events, which bring to life the intersections of artist and audience with technology and environment.

“Intersectionality is at the forefront of my thought process in programming the Arts Festival,” Sarah Aziz, program manager of festivals and special projects at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust said. “My goals are to make it inclusive, diverse and accessible and maintain that level of artistic integrity that the Arts Festival is known for.”

She credits her predecessor, Veronica Corpuz, with beginning to move TRAF in an intentionally intersectional direction that considered the interactions of creator, viewer and the environment in a public art festival.

“It was the direction that I definitely wanted it to go, so when I was looking at public art this year I really wanted to focus on art and technology and art accessibility…I didn’t want any of the art to feel it was exclusive or high brow in the way that it can sometimes. I wanted it to be stuff that everybody felt like they could interact with and appreciate,” Aziz said.

The first piece that she decided to bring here has perhaps been the Festival’s most Instagrammed during opening weekend: Umbrella Sky Project. Since 2011, this rainbow of umbrellas has toured the world, bringing unexpected hues and delight to urban alleyways and corridors.


“It brings such color and whimsy and it’s really fun,” shared Aziz. “People really seem to be responding to it…it’s fun to see all different kinds of people taking selfies under the umbrellas or taking pictures of their family and friends.”

The next piece came to life when an agent she had previously worked with on another festival introduced her to Shilo Shiv Suleman, a visual artist whose work engages the intersections of art, technology, environment and the human body.

When Aziz saw Suleman’s previous work she was immediately intrigued.

I thought people in Pittsburgh would love this because we definitely have a pretty established tech side to our city…I thought this is such a great intersection to showcase.

She invited Suleman to come to Pittsburgh to explore the city. Suleman fell in love with the three rivers, and wrote about them as the arteries of the city, with the Point at its heart. From that vision came Tidal, a geofeedback installation that uses beautiful lights to react to the flowing river and people’s hands in a large bowl of water.

One of the Festival’s most intersectional pieces, Love Without Labels, is the passion project of one of Aziz’s coworkers, Seth Laidlaw in the Trust’s education department – a fact Aziz didn’t know when she selected the proposal.

“Love Without Labels really highlights diversity and speaks to populations that don’t always get to be heard and don’t always get to have their voices showcased in public ways like this. The other pieces that we had, while they’re really excessive and beautiful and interesting, lack that human element and Love Without Labels is all abut the human element,” Aziz said of the selection.

“It’s so beautiful, when you walk past that little bubble…and see all those people’s faces with those signs about who they love you feel like ‘Okay, it’s all going to be okay.’

Of course, the festival still has the more traditional elements that give attendees a chance to sit back and take it all in, like music performances at three different stages and the Artist Market featuring more than 350 artists.

Whether you’re a creator, consumer, or lover of art and music, TRAF has something for everyone, so grab a schedule and head down to the point through June 11!