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On Art: Aliquippa Embraces Art with flourish of festival and imagination

Friday, July 30, 1999

By Mary Thomas, Post-Gazette Art Critic

The scent of mown hay drifts from a small room where bundles of dry, tan stalks hang from the ceiling. In another space, down a well-worn hallway, stacked panes of glass reflect the glow of naked incandescent bulbs. At the opposite end, a border of painted red flames licks at black walls. The annual outpouring of expression and imagination that is Aliquippa Embraces Art has taken form.

AEA artistic coordinator Chris Taylor looks over installation by Pete Coffin of CMU, which incorporates plants that grow in urban and polluted areas. (Robert J. Pavuchak, Post-Gazette) 

Part festival, all art exhibition, the most happening day is tomorrow, beginning with an 11 a.m. parade and including food and vendor booths, children's activities, performances and works by more than 35 visual artists.

A project of the Aliquippa Alliance for Unity and Development designed to give a boost to a community that big steel left behind, this is the seventh annual event. While it's still defining itself, and has larger potential to flesh out, the tenacious commitment of a cluster of new and returning participants continues to provide nourishment.

The project makes it known that it embraces all comers to its evolution: that there is room for everyone is an unwritten AAUD theme. So there is pysanky and poetry, self-taught and MFA art, rock and folk music, local craftsperson and New York artist. And part of the appeal is this eclectic mix with its potential for discovery, all in a very laid-back, alternative environment that became a little tired-looking after years of neglect but which is now on the upswing.

This year's parade -- animated and jovial -- will have a different character than those of years past. AAUD executive director David Blenk suggested that it be "married a little more to the festival." So artistic coordinator Chris Taylor lined up "The Outlet for Creativity," a non-profit Beaver County art information clearinghouse, with decorated car and street performers. And the Bull Seal! Collective, who turns heads just strolling along Carson Street. Nate Johanson, one of the installation stars in past years, will drive his piece of mobile art, which will remain on display afterward. And the incredibly athletic and spirited African dance group UMOJA will appear in both parade and on stage, courtesy of Sweetwater Center for the Arts, Sewickley.

Once this kinetic rainbow passes through, presentations will begin on three stages and on the second floor of the G.C. Murphy Building, 464 Franklin.

For the children, there will be chalk-on-the-walk by Sweetwater and face painting. Norma Thoms from the B.F. Jones Memorial Library -- an elegant small temple at 663 Franklin that was built in 1929 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places -- will conduct a workshop based on Patrick Lewis' "Doodle Dandies" book about making drawings inspired by poetry.

    'Aliquippa Embraces Art'

WHERE: Franklin Avenue; map of art sites at Renaissance Place, 392 Franklin.

WHEN: Tomorrow's the big festival day, beginning with 11 a.m. parade and closing at 6 p.m. The art exhibition is up through August. Hours are Saturdays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and by appointment. Call for Aug. 7 events schedule.

SATURDAY EVENTS: Stage 1, Renaissance Place: 12:15 p.m. Leslie McIlroy (poet), 1 p.m. Matt Calvetti (jazz guitar), 1:45 p.m. Flat Broke (rock), 2:30 p.m. Lis Harvey (folk guitar), 3:15 p.m. Ten Dollar Suit (rock), 5 p.m. Paul McDaniels (song).

Stage 2, G.C. Murphy Building lot: 12:15 p.m. UMOJA, 1 p.m. Economic Justice Players (Christian inspirational skit), 2:30 p.m. Bull Seal!, 3:15 p.m. Mortu Gypsy Dance, 4 p.m. Chris "The Crowd Pleaser" & Tarzan (comedy), 5 p.m. Rising Spinx Collective (theater).

Stage 3, Murphy Building inside (downstairs unless noted): 12:15 p.m. Moore Ensemble Theatre (children's), 1-4 p.m. Sonja Yoon-Christopher J. Williams duo "PERSON" (upstairs), 1:15 p.m. Molly McKnight & Friends (storytelling), 2 p.m. Dennis Lee (poet), 2:30 p.m. egg decorating with Rose Krupansky (upstairs), 2:30 p.m. Jack Richards (physically challenged artist), 3:15 p.m. Ambridge Tamburitzans, 4 p.m. WindWord (poet and Native American flute player), 5 p.m. Open Poetry Session.

INFORMATION: 724-378-7422.


And then there's the visual art. Not as much has been done outdoors this year, as might be predicted by the hot, dry summer, but what is there is inventive. Carl Bean has dug a trench into the rock-hard dirt for a time capsule that he'll invite visitors to contribute to. Darlene Ferris calls attention to local botanical inhabitants (a theme that coincidentally crops up several times) with a fossil-like plant-imbedded cement plaque along the entry ramp to Route 51 North. The winning design in last year's playground competition has been built by Angelo Ciotti and his Art Institute of Pittsburgh class in the Crystal Market lot.

A simple and very stirring work across from the Murphy building is by Sara Pesich and Patty Yarnall, former employees of a now-closed store. They've dressed the display windows of the former Marsyl's Bridal Shoppe with gowns so that it appears active. The impact comes when people stop to investigate and discover ghosts.

But the high point is still the Murphy second floor, a raw space that inspires installation pieces that could seem like poor cousins in a formal gallery but here gain power from the site.

Students from Indiana University of Pennsylvania continue to invest admirable amounts of time and energy, with alumni returning from out of state to create new artworks. The festival's first international entry, Primoz Pugeli of Lubijana, Slovenia, is an exchange student at IUP. Taylor himself graduated from IUP in May, and had an entry in last year's show.

Several CMU artists have also installed works; New York artist Tara Beall, who made one of the festival's strongest works last year, is back; and a self-taught artist from Homewood, who goes by the name "Biko," created his first installation, "Hell on Earth." It comes, Biko says, from the tortured personal but is also a general "problem in our hoods that only the people who have dealt with and felt will [fully] understand."

Other work was still in process at press time, but a piece that shouldn't be missed is Jason Burgess' very fine room (two views) that has a delicate chambered nautilus-like beauty. Also Kim Eggleston's "Bed" and "Living" rooms, delightful plays on place.

Taylor and his father, John Sr., who is a carpenter, have renovated the large second-floor space to make it more friendly to the two-dimensional work that will hang there -- but cautiously. "A lot of the advice we've gotten from people is don't change a thing. Some people see it as messy -- we see it as character. Keep the character but at the same time allow for a little bit of professionalism." It seems to be a balance that permeates the festival's progress.

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