woman with baby standing in front of booth displaying textile art

Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh at the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival

Tue, Jun 5, 2018

Written by: Lily Rybarczyk

Through the support of The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments, we are excited to welcome seven artists to the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival as Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh Festival Grantees.

Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh

The Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh program was established by The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments in 2010 as part of a shared commitment to the vibrant cultural life in Greater Pittsburgh. Since then, the grants have funded projects ranging from films, musical and spoken word albums to photographs, sculptures, and artist residencies.

Shaunda Miles, program officer for Arts and Culture at the Endowments explained that the Festival Grantees initiative was created in response to an evaluation of the Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh program conducted by Dr. Gretchen Generett during the summer of 2016.

“Dr. Generett found that while there were many programmatic successes, the goal of supporting efforts toward greater collaboration and the elimination of racial disparities within the larger arts sector was simply not being met,” said Miles. “I know inclusivity is a big part of the Festival’s mission, and I learned that ABAP grantees wanted access to a larger platform to display their art. Many specifically called out the Arts Festival. Since our goals were aligned, I contacted Festival Director Sarah Aziz. I believe it takes authentic relationships to generate change, and it will require us forging new and authentic relationships to sustain meaningful partnerships that help advance us toward a thriving arts ecology.”

At the Trust, we aim to include something for everyone in the 10 days of the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, a mission supported by our open call for festival artists and Emerging Artist Scholarship. It’s clear that in our celebration of the arts we were missing key demographics, and Festival Support Grants were created to provide the opportunity for a larger diversity of artists to have the platform of the festival.

“If we are going to have a festival called the Three Rivers Arts Festival, it must include those who live in and around these rivers. If we are going to host it where these three rivers intersect, we must do a better job of including all the intersecting cultures, identities and people who live and have lived here,” stated Celeste C. Smith, program officer for Arts and Culture at The Pittsburgh Foundation. “We want all Festival visitors to see their lives and experiences reflected in the line-up of artists. We want audiences in Pittsburgh to be exposed to the nuanced representations of the arts and culture of the African Diaspora.”

Festival Grantees

Through the partnership, the work of seven artists who received Festival Support Grants appears throughout the Festival - in the Artist Market, on stages, and with art installations and exhibitions. The variety of artistic mediums blended seamlessly with the full spectrum of programming that creates the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival.

“We’ve got local artists, multidisciplinary artists, visual artists, dancers and gospel performers, and musicians from New Orleans with ties to Pittsburgh. It was important to us that we allow the full breadth of the field to be represented, as much as we could through the applications we received,” Smith explained. “These artists are talented, diverse, and exciting. This program is an attempt to invest in new voices, support various cultures, and show a different face of Pittsburgh.”

According to the foundations, the variety of artistic expression is a direct reflection of the diversity of artists who applied. “There were few explicit parameters in the application, and our leadership was nimble,” explained Miles. “The lack of traditional guidelines forced grantees to be quite courageous and a bit more transparent throughout the application process—it resulted in a beautiful variety of works. It also made the process more accessible to those who might have been unfamiliar with the grant making process, and some of our grantees are displaying their art at a festival for the first time.”

The Festival presents a unique opportunity to see the incredible work of these seven artists, some of it for the first time, and all in Downtown Pittsburgh. Each artist brings a new and unique voice to the Festival that is sure to enhance your experience and expand your mindset, so make sure you factor them into your festival schedule.

Aminata Camara-Mitchell: Espoire D’Afrique

Artist Market Booth #247 | June 1-7 | 12-8pm daily
All of Aminata Camara-Mitchell’s handmade items at Espoire D’Afrique are expertly tailored and made to last for years to come. The artist focuses on comfort and satisfaction and uses African fabrics as the medium. Being inspired by the colors and patterns the artist saw growing up in West Africa, she aims to create a unique line of clothing and accessories that are stylish, classy, and soulful.

Single Mom Defined by Heather Hopson

Gateway Lawn | Daily | 12-8pm
In this poignant photo essay and video series, Heather Hopson provides a much more accurate depiction about single Black motherhood than the one society represents. This interactive exhibit introduces visitors of all ages to positive images of over 50 mothers in the Pittsburgh region, aiming to change negative search results and combat cultural bias.

four women in front of photo display
Photo of Heather Hopson, taken by Richard Kelly


From Chains to Gains: Neville A. Brooks

Dollar Bank Main Stage | June 2 | 3:30-4:30pm
Chains to Gains is a musical production telling the story enslaved Africans’ horrendous journey from Africa to the American colonies and the hardships and suffering they endured once they arrived.

Chains to Gains tells how enslaved Africans were able to find hope and solace in singing spiritual songs, hymns and psalms that produced what we celebrate today as gospel music. It is a celebration of hope over despair and triumph over tragedy.

Water Seed

Dollar Bank Main Stage | June 4 | 6-7pm
Billboard Top 40 Recording Artist Water Seed is a progressive innovative band that dares to bring musicianship, dexterity and creativity to funk, soul, R&B, fusion and future funk.

Nick Daniels/DANA Movement Ensemble

Dollar Bank Main Stage | June 5 | 12-1pm
Nick Daniels is the founder/artistic director and choreographer of The DANA Movement Ensemble. Daniels’ choreography is based in Buton, African, modern and contemporary styles, and it challenges the dancers and audience to connect on an emotional level that pulls from their personal experience and within their souls.

four dancers in black in front of blue screen


Brandon-Ahmauri McClendon: The Forbidden ButterFlies Project

Acoustic Stage | June 5 | 5-6pm
Stanwix Stage | June 9 | 9-9:15am
The Forbidden ButterFlies Project is multidisciplinary project that focuses on the importance of deconstructing identity and navigating the intersections of life. McClendon will perform several pieces throughout the festival, moving between the mediums of dance and spoken word.

dance looking to left of frame wearing headband and necklace



Stanwix Stage | June 10 | 1-2pm
LoRen is an indie artist who enjoys the simple things in life and writes about it. Her performances are fun, authentic and come straight from the heart, featuring classic songs from soul artists as well as original music.

What's Next?

The Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh program will soon announce its new funding decisions, and its next application deadline is August 1. “There is more dynamic talent than there are available resources,” shared Miles. “If there are artists striving to be heard, we need to be reaching beyond the litmus of demographic numbers, to provide adequate support for artists and arts organizations in the region.”

At the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, we believe 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. We hope to continue engaging with our world-class arts community to ensure a diversity of artists are given equitable platforms to share their narrative.

As for the Festival Grantees? We can’t wait to see what they create next.

Lead image of Aminata Camara-Mitchell, taken by Richard Kelly

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