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The CREATE Festival Was a Huge Hit With Pittsburgh’s Tech Crowd

June 16, 2017

“Plume” by Ian Brill | Photo: Matt Dayak

By Eric Seiverling

Need proof that Pittsburgh is at the forefront of the creative technology and arts scene?

Look no further than Pittsburgh Technology Council’s annual CREATE Festival, which was held at the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District on Thu., June 1.

Featuring a wide assortment of students, entrepreneurs, and professionals showcasing their latest creations and ideas, the CREATE (Changing Realities With Art and Technology Explorations) festival is a full day of art, technology, talks, performances, awards, parties and opportunities that puts the spotlight on the city’s creative industries.

“This was the biggest festival we’ve ever had,” Kim Chestney, Pittsburgh Technology Council’s director of creative industries acceleration, said of the 1,000 festival tickets that were sold. “It went so well. I’m still processing it all.”

Chestney and Pittsburgh Technology Council President and Chief Executive Officer Audrey Russo started the festival in 2009, when it was called the Design, Art + Technology Awards.

Trying out the Entertainment Technology Center's virtual reality learning software and the HTC Vive headset at the Pittsburgh CREATE Festival is, from the left, Jasmine Davis, Liz Shulman, and ETC Educational Network Coordinator John Balash. Credit: Eric Seiverling

Trying out the Entertainment Technology Center’s virtual reality learning software and the HTC Vive headset at the Pittsburgh CREATE Festival is, from the left, Jasmine Davis, Liz Shulman, and ETC Educational Network Coordinator John Balash. Credit: Eric Seiverling

“We were interested in bringing art and technology together,” Chestney said of the festival’s origins. “Pittsburgh has such a strong arts sector, a strong technology sector, and a strong academic sector and that made us realize there’s an interest in this type of festival. It’s a great way to meet people and mine for talent.”

To be featured in the festival, designers must apply and develop a proposal for Pittsburgh Technology Council’s approval.

“Five years ago, I would have been surprised by this sort of thing,” Liz Shulman, account manager for the online content marketing firm Community Elf, who’s experienced the technology scenes in London and Washington, D.C., said while networking with other festival goers. “But, I’m not surprised now. Pittsburgh is more daring and willing to try new things. We look at the situation and try to solve it. We don’t just throw spaghetti at the wall.”

Even Cleveland native John Balash, educational network coordinator with Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), agreed with Shulman about Pittsburgh’s creative spirit.

“We have a wonderful city that celebrates this type of movement,” Balash said during a break from demonstrating ETC’s virtual reality software based on the popular game Pictionary. “It’s been great being a part of this festival. Pittsburgh is on the forefront of technology and learning.”

 A popular attraction at the festival was the smart house prototype developed by the Pittsburgh-based company Module. The house is based on a modular-design where owners can add bedrooms, guestrooms, and entertainment spaces as their lives and needs change. The house will be connected with Comcast’s Xfinity and xFi services, which will control the house’s television, Internet, security, lighting, and indoor and outdoor cameras.

This year's CREATE Festival at the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh's Cultural District featured the largest attendance since the festival's inception in 2009. Credit: Eric Seiverling

This year’s CREATE Festival at the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District featured the largest attendance since the festival’s inception in 2009. Credit: Eric Seiverling

A malfunction with the transportation crane kept the company from bringing the actual structure to the festival, but that didn’t dampen the excitement of the firm’s plans for their designs as the company is preparing the house’s soft opening later this summer at Pittsburgh’s Nova Place.

“The house is a great display of technology and we think this is where housing is headed,” said Brian Gaudio, Module’s chief executive officer. “We’re pushing the physical aspect of housing and Comcast is pushing the digital aspect. It’s a really good marriage.”

Even though this year’s festival is over, Chestney’s work isn’t done. She’s already preparing for next year’s festival and traveling around the country to California and New Orleans, two regions that are asking for Chestney’s help in promoting and celebrating their own creative industries.

“As far as I know, Pittsburgh is the only place in the whole world that has this type of festival and we’ve set the benchmark for other cities to follow,” Chestney said. “We’re very fortunate to have the talent that we have. It makes my job easy.”

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