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Weekend Feedback: 3/1/02

Friday, March 01, 2002

PCA cuts have created a visual vacuum in the city

Mary Thomas' thoughtful article on cuts at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts articulates the sense of loss that many of us feel in the arts community (Feb. 13).

Vicky A. Clark, former curator at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, seen last November in front of Kenn Bass' "Ear to the Ground." (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

For more than a decade, members of the center staff have worked hard to create a vital contemporary exhibitions program and facility that succeeded in treating regional artists with the respect they deserve. Exhibiting the work of artists among us with that of national and international peers and in relation to current cultural trends and conditions prohibited the kind of regional isolationism and disengagement that plagues many artists who live outside of major art centers. This, in itself, is a great service to area artists and to any region that aspires to cultural vitality.

While other arts institutions in Pittsburgh occasionally exhibit area artists, not one has the express mission of representing them. Coupled with the previous closing of the Associated Artists Gallery Downtown, the cancellation of the exhibitions program (as we have come to know it) at the PCA has compounded the blow to the city's artists and their audiences. The civic pride that swells with the recent construction of two new stadiums is deflated with the disappearance of venues so essential to young and established artists who would like to remain here. Pittsburgh cannot survive on sports alone. We should not forget that the arts contribute much to the tourist economy of a city and that a thriving cultural climate is a major factor in luring new businesses. Yet, economic benefits are not the only reason to support the arts and are certainly not their reason for being. We must be motivated by more than the bottom line.

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While it is reassuring that there are plans for the survival of the Artist of the Year tradition at the PCA, it and guild exhibits are not enough. With great difficulty and some resistance, exhibitions programming at the PCA gradually emerged from a comfortable and predictable provincialism (thanks to the efforts of former executive director Sande Deitch and now former exhibitions directors Murray Horne and Vicky Clark). To imply that recent PCA exhibitions programming does not "give back to the community" (PCA president) or is not "in tune with what the community needs" (former executive director) is disheartening and erroneous, not to mention presumptuous.

These justifications perpetuate the myth that contemporary art serves only an elite, underestimating the public's capacity to think, feel and respond directly to artists' observations and interpretations of a world we all live in. Such comments undermine the efforts of curators and artists (and their funders) to encourage the public to trust in its own experience. They discourage public receptivity to what art has to offer, to interact intellectually, emotionally and sometimes even physically with whatever artists posit. Such remarks essentially say this is not for you.

It is precisely for us. The many communities that compose Pittsburgh need opportunities for provocation and contemplation, a place for reflection, images, objects, and actions that challenge or confirm our assumptions. Our minds need to be stimulated and our hearts un-numbed and it is often the voices and visions that are closest to us that are most effective and passionate.

For the sake of Pittsburgh, it is my hope that public and private funding be directed to reverse the visual vacuum that has grown in our midst and that the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts reorganizes itself to resume exhibitions programming worthy of a city of our caliber.

Head, School of Art,
Carnegie Mellon University

PG should travel with PSO

If the Steelers were playing exhibition games in Asia and Australia, I'd bet that a Post-Gazette reporter would be traveling with them and writing regular stories.

The Pittsburgh Symphony is an internationally recognized and acclaimed ambassador for Pittsburgh, so why isn't classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod traveling with them on their current tour?

It may be true that the Steelers are a greater attraction than the PSO for many Pittsburghers, but isn't Pittsburgh trying to enhance its image and get over its inferiority complex vis-a-vis other "world-class" cities? The PSO gains tremendous respect wherever it goes, for itself and, as a result, for the city it is named for.

I had the pleasure of attending PSO performances in London during their last European tour. The audience reaction was extraordinarily enthusiastic; I was thrilled to be part of it, but had I not been there in person, I could have known about it only through Andrew Druckenbrod's report to the PG.

I look forward to reading the accounts that some orchestra members will be sending, but that's not the same as regular accounts of the orchestra's performances and reception in each city. Pittsburghers should have the opportunity to follow our musical ambassadors as they do us proud around the world.

Squirrel Hill

PSO, spare us the lecture

The "speech," a dialogue given by the violinist-artist and a Pittsburgh Symphony spokesman prior to the performances Feb. 15-16 at Heinz Hall, was not only superfluous but in questionable taste.

The purpose was to throw light on the music of Alban Berg and the 12-note atonal system (Berg's concerto was to open the concert).

But why assume the audience needs a lesson in music appreciation? To begin with, the violin concerto is nothing new. It was composed over a half-century ago. Secondly, there are any number of resources for further study.

Leave the concert explanation alone and trust the Pittsburgh audience. No more lectures, please. The music will say it all.


Always remember Waylon

I first saw Waylon Jennings in concert when I was 6 years old. I'm 39 now and he has been a part of my life ever since. We have seen his concerts more than a hundred times. He was regarded as an outlaw, but I know from firsthand experience that he loved children, and all people in general. I was very fortunate to meet him when I was just a kid, and I still have an 8-by-10 photograph that is signed "To my little buddy Pete -- Your friend, Waylon Jennings."

Waylon was a true original and that is such a rare trait in country music today. He always said there is one more way to do something that's "your way." Well, I for one am glad he chose to live by that philosophy, because there will never be another artist that did it his way better than Ol' Waylon.

He will always be one of my all-time favorite singers and will remain a hero to me forever. I know he is only with us in spirit now, instead of on the concert stage, where we would like him to be, but his music will live forever. Let me end by saying, I'm sorry he died, but I'm so glad he lived!

Slippery Rock

My 'John Q.' quandary

The recently released movie, "John Q.," has all the makings of a hit medical drama -- adorable child and empowerment of ordinary people. But there's one fundamental story that viewers won't see in this film.

Movie Review

'John Q.'

It's my story and the story of thousands of others whose lives have been saved through organ transplantation. The movie portrays the plight of a father who finds his insurance won't cover the heart transplant that will save his son's life and in desperation, he holds the emergency room hostage. I'm sure this movie raises important questions about health insurance in our country, but it may also end up hurting people who truly need help. Ironically, it's the 80,000 Americans who right now are waiting for organs that may suffer.

I know because just a few years ago I was one of them. I know what it means to spend every waking moment waiting for your life to be saved by the generosity of strangers. I would hate for people to be turned off to the idea of donation because this movie sends a message that only a certain segment of the population receives transplants. I know this is not true.

Twenty-five years ago, I suffered from chronic bronchitis for five years, coughing constantly, always ill and having a very difficult time just coping with everyday living. After many doctors and endless tests I was diagnosed with a rare lung disease. At the time I believed my only option was to live with a limited breathing capacity and lots of drugs and hospitalizations. During this time, lung transplantation became a viable option for the treatment of lung diseases. In 1994 I learned my only chance of survival was a lung transplant. Although the ordeal of getting sick, receiving a transplant and recovering was emotionally traumatizing, my transplant was a success.

At the time of transplant my one daughter was expecting her third child, my son was expecting his first child, and my youngest daughter was planning her wedding. My presence at these events was in question. Thanks to my donor and his family, the team at UPMC, my family and friends, and God, I was there for all of those and so much more. I have since shopped the mall, joined a gym, taken graduate classes at the University of Pittsburgh, volunteered for some wonderful organizations. I have visited my sister in California, taken a cruise to Hawaii, ridden a bike, traveled often to the Outer Banks, gone with my grandchildren to Disney, been there for the birth of three more grandchildren and been able to spend time with them.

On Dec. 30, 2001, I celebrated my fifth anniversary. This summer I plan to attend the transplant Olympics as an athlete for Team Pittsburgh and to share my successful experiences with recipients and honor donor families from across the United States. Thanks is such an inadequate word for the precious present I've been given.

All transplant recipients, including myself, know whom to thank for a second chance at life. It's our organ donors and their families. I owe my own life to a family whom, in their time of need and loss, decided to donate their loved one's organs.

It is my hope as a lung recipient that no one will let their opinions of organ donation and the miracles of transplantation be changed by this movie. Let's do everything we can to keep the miracle alive.


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