If the only things that come to mind when you think of the Pittsburgh art scene are the Carnegie Museum of Art or the Andy Warhol Museum, let me tell you: you’re missing out. Dozens of museums and galleries of all different sizes and themes are scattered around the city, with the Cultural District downtown having one of the highest concentrations of these galleries.
In fact, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust sponsors Gallery Crawls downtown four times a year, typically on Friday nights. During these crawls, all of the galleries are free and open to the public. There’s also generally live music, free performances, venues where you can make your own art projects, and even a night market complete with tons of local food and crafts vendors.
We checked out the recent gallery crawl in March 2016 that coincided with the 200th anniversary of Pittsburgh’s incorporation as a city. What we appreciated the most was the opportunity to explore cool little corners of downtown that we had never been to before- all for free!
Art Galleries in Downtown Pittsburgh
Making our way down Liberty Avenue and up Penn Avenue, we checked out the Pastoral Noir exhibit at Wood Street Galleries (with creepy sculptures of animals involving things like bees and butterflies suspended in air), Shaw Galleries (tons of really awesome historical maps for purchase), and the abstract SPACE gallery and 707/709 Penn Galleries that really need to be seen to be understood.
One of our favorite spots, though, was Tito Way- literally an alley full of art in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh. Spaced along the alley wall are signs with entertaining musings about life and death. Also in the alley is Cell Phone Disco, a screen that visualizes the electromagnetic fields of cell phones. We had quite a good time calling each other while walking back and forth, entranced by the dancing red dots on the screen.
Pittsburgh could definitely use more spots like this one.
Gallery Crawl Night Market
We then ventured to the Night Market on Smithfield Street (hosted in the old Office Depot building) for some grub. Although the live music was rather cheesy, the food was top notch with local restaurants like Meat and Potatoes and Market Street Grocery, a huge lineup of Greek food, Zeke’s Coffee, and even free samples from Buffalo Trace. We perused the local arts and crafts vendors while watching people play giant Jenga before heading on to our next stop- the Omni.
Other Fun Adventures
One of my favorite parts of our evening was stepping in to the Omni William Penn Hotel to check out their Heritage Hall. If you’ve never been in the Omni, it’s like stepping into another era with opulent gold decor, grand couches, and shimmering chandeliers. Heritage Hall is a hallway on the first floor that has historic artifacts and photos from the hotel’s history.
But what was really something else was the Speakeasy Lounge located down a set of stairs from the lobby. We serendipitously stumbled into it and were giddy with the ambiance and the carefully constructed Prohibition-era cocktail menu- even if they were considerably over-priced.
Live Performances for a Different Kind of Art
There were many other events and spaces that we didn’t get to during our gallery crawl including music at Tonic, a free improv show at the Arcade Comedy Theater, the Teenie Harris exhibit at The August Wilson Center, and even a fire troupe performance on Katz Plaza.
These downtown Gallery Crawls are fantastic for all kinds of visual and performing arts lovers, but also for Pittsburgh fanatics as you get to explore hidden gems right in the heart of downtown. But as we found out during our first gallery crawl- there is so much to see and do that you’ll have to visit more than once to take it all in!
For more information on the quarterly gallery crawls put on by the Cultural Trust, check out this link!
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