Boaz Frankel standing on the bridge of a boat, looking through binoculars off to the left of the image

Going On a Curiosity Voyage with Boaz Frankel — Humanities Festival Public Open Call Winner

Tue, Feb 25, 2020

Written by: Jamie Crow

The upcoming Pittsburgh Humanities Festival @ Home presented by Citizens Bank — a production of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and The Humanities Center at Carnegie Mellon University — is an engaging event that gives audiences the chance to learn and hear stories from a number of interesting individuals. This year, Boaz Frankel will be sharing his insight as the winner of the Public Open Call, an annual web-based audition that provides a chance for new voices to host a talk at the festival. His talk "Don't Google This" will take place virtually on October 23 at 7 PM.

Frankel had a variety of experiences around the world before moving to Pittsburgh with his wife in early 2019. He’s lived in a number of places across the country, and most recently found himself in Amsterdam for two years. He’s worked in entertainment journalism and advertising, and has also had a number of personal creative projects such as his Pedal Powered Talk Show — a traveling talk show built into a bicycle. Frankel is also the curator of a kazoo museum and a Guinness World Record Holder for high-fiving.

Frankel said his curious nature has fueled an interest in storytelling. He enjoys getting to know people, which he says is more easily achieved through the talk show format he’s adopted in his projects.

“I’ve had some sort of talk show for the past 20 years really, when I started my weekly late night talk show on NYU television,” Frankel said. “I’ve always liked having talk shows because it let me ask questions of people I wouldn’t normally get the chance to talk to. You can’t ask anybody, ‘Hey, do you want to get coffee with me?’ but you can ask anybody, ‘Hey, do you want to be on my talk show?’ That was a way for me to talk to people and ask questions.”


His latest project, a documentary series called PGH Stories, is an effort to get to know the city by making a short documentary about each of Pittsburgh’s 90 neighborhoods. The project is inspired by Ron Donoughe’s painting series of the 90 neighborhoods and by the work of Rick Sebak. Frankel is following the alphabetical order that Donahue created his work in, and he isn’t doing any internet research prior to visiting a neighborhood.

“I think I realized the internet tends to be an echochamber — if someone writes one thing about something, that often just gets repeated and repeated. There are so many neighborhoods in Pittsburgh and some are written about more than others,” Frankel said. “It’s so easy to get tripped up and think, ‘What else am I contributing if I’m not being curious on my own? I’m just copying this one thing that’s been said so many times.’”

The common thread in all of Frankel’s endeavors is curiosity, a passion he hopes to share with audiences at the Humanities Festival @ Home. In an increasingly digital world where Amazon’s Alexa and other technologies are there to answer questions for us, it can be difficult to stay curious on one’s own. Frankel makes a distinction between online and offline curiosity, and while he said he can’t help but be curious, he acknowledged that it’s required more of an effort to do so in the real world rather than finding answers to his questions online.

“I think it’s easier and easier to be curious but fulfill it in a much easier way by looking online and going down a spiral of Wikipedia articles and et cetera,” Frankel said. “I have to make a more concerted effort to make sure I spend time offline so I have a chance to be curious in the real world and have the down time where you would notice a weird plant on the side of the road, or you would notice someone in a park with a measuring tape measuring things. If you’re not present and looking around, you won’t have an opportunity to be curious about those things and you won’t notice them.”

At the beginning of the year, he created a mission statement to embrace and explore curiosity in a way that allowed him to be social and make things. When he saw the Public Open Call, he said he thought it was a great opportunity for him to achieve this goal.

Audiences can expect to learn about his passion for curiosity, which he describes as being a “magical, delightful thing that can lead to so many magical and delightful outcomes.” His hope is to portray that message in a way that is interactive and surprising for everyone in the room. He also hopes to answer the question of what it means to be curious today, in a world where most people have a device in their pocket that can answer essentially any question.

“I really want to play with the expectations, I want to play with the audience and mess with them a tiny bit to show the power of curiosity and have some sort of reveal,” he said. “I want to show you the power of your own curiosity.”

Frankel said he’s still surprised by the unexpected places curiosity leads him. On October 23 at 7:00 PM, his curiosity will lead him to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Facebook page and YouTube channel for his talk called "Don't Google This." We hope your own curiosity will lead you there as well. It’s sure to be a “magical and delightful” experience.

Learn more about the Pittsburgh Humanities Festival @ Home, including Boaz Frankel's talk and more, right here.

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