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The Top 50 cultural forces in Pittsburgh with a twist: No. 1 Bill Strickland

Sunday, June 02, 2002

By Caroline Abels, Post-Gazette Cultural Arts Writer

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes ...

This spring, the Post-Gazette Arts & Entertainment department turned and faced the always strange task of having to assemble its annual list of the region's top cultural forces -- this time for the sixth year in a row.

Repeat: The sixth year in a row. Fifty names. Several meetings in which we'd again have to dispense with decorum and fiercely debate the merits of dozens of arts and entertainment leaders (not to mention consume dozens of pizzas during all those lunch meetings).

Top 50

No. 1: Mentor to programs nationwide

The PG's Top 50 Cultural Forces in Pittsburgh

800-Pound Gorillas


Pennies from Heaven



Rebels with a cause

Innovators from Within

Innovators From Without

Standard Bearers


Top 50 Expatriates
Pittsburghers who found fame elsewhere


"Um, ground control to Major Walton," we staffers cried out to the Boss. "We need to make a change this year. For the sake of our sanity. For the sake of our readers. For the sake of our vocal cords."

The Boss agreed -- and told us to bring our own lunch.

Little did we know, though, that this list would require even more effort than in past years. Hammering out the new format would end up sparking as much heated (or is it hot-headed?) debate as the assembly of our previous lists, which were simple rankings -- 1 through 50.

What did we do this year? We created 10 categories in which to place our 50 names: categories for the arts leaders who break with tradition; the opinionated leaders who challenge the city's notions about culture; the behind-the-scenes leaders who nurture the development of artists; the leaders of small arts groups who foster quality work; and others.

Under each category we placed a few names and ranked them in order of impact, influence or ingenuity. We treated all disciplines equally -- hence, modern dancers are listed with concert promoters, theater directors with gallery curators.

We thought this approach would offer a more comprehensive picture of the Pittsburgh arts community. And by showing where various leaders fit into the scene, we would show what the scene needs to thrive, as well as its strengths and weaknesses.

Janet Sarbaugh, arts program officer at the Heinz Endowments, likes to call our multi-pronged arts community an "arts ecology." We like to call this list a map of the cultural community.

Of course, there are many people listed here who could fall into two, three, even four of the categories -- such as our No. 1 pick this year, Bill Strickland of the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild. To solve this problem, we placed each person in the category most appropriate for his or her achievements since last June.

Our approach also allowed us to introduce people who were never on previous lists, such as some of the innovators and nurturers.

It did not, however, allow the listing of "Lobster Boy" -- the red-headed Carnegie Mellon University undergrad who attracted attention in March when he built a wooden house on campus as part of a senior project for his fine arts degree. When Lobster Boy was voted down, with much relief among many, one of our film critics was prompted to shout, "Stick a little fork in him!"

It was a rare moment of humor in a difficult but challenging process that we think has produced an interesting and enlightening list. Let us know if you agree. We're no stranger to change.

About this project ...

The list of Pittsburgh's Top 50 Cultural Forces was compiled by the Post-Gazette Arts & Entertainment staff: Caroline Abels, cultural arts writer; Susan Banks, TV listings editor; Rosa Colucci, news assistant; Andrew Druckenbrod, classical music critic; Sharon Eberson, Sunday Magazine editor; John Hayes, staff writer; Nate Guidry, jazz critic; Bob Hoover, book editor; Brian Hyslop, associate editor; Diane Juravich, page designer; Patricia Lowry, architecture critic; Adrian McCoy, staff writer; Ed Masley, pop music critic; Scott Mervis, Weekend editor; Annie O'Neill, photographer; Rob Owen, TV editor; Christopher Rawson, drama editor; Patricia Sheridan, staff writer; Mary Thomas, art critic; Marylynn Uricchio, associate editor; Barbara Vancheri, staff writer; Jane Vranish, dance critic; Allan Walton, assistant managing editor/A&E; and Ron Weiskind, movie editor.

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