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Pittsburgh won’t soon forget the public art event that ended with a bang and raised money and awareness for a new dinosaur exhibit of epic proportions.


(right) Creation Rex strides out onto the Boulevard of the Allies from the façade of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. This permanent installation, art-directed by faculty member Stephen Butler with a team of artists, represents, “what we do here each day with our students,” says Butler. The dinosaur emerges from a fully animated Jurassic background holding a digital age device. Pre-purchased by the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
















































(right) Janet and Dominick Pagniello in the garage behind their Cookie Queen store, with their two purchased dinosaurs, The Rise of Fossil Fuels and Renewalsaur.
Photo: Bill Sauers

It had been 65 million years since dinosaurs were last seen, en masse, in Pittsburgh. But in the summer of 2003, they were everywhere—greeting visitors at Pittsburgh International Airport, entertaining lunchtime passersby throughout the streets of downtown Pittsburgh, and engaging curious shoppers at the city’s hot new retail complex, The Waterfront, in Homestead.

DinoMite Days, the public art event sponsored by Carnegie Museum of Natural History, did what it said it would do, and then some. It celebrated Pittsburgh’s international reputation for scientific innovation by spotlighting the Museum of Natural History’s world-class dinosaur collection. “This project was really the culmination of a century of celebrating Pittsburgh’s historical connection to dinosaurs,” says Bill DeWalt, director of Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

That celebration of dinosaurs began over a hundred years ago, when Carnegie scientists found a new species of dinosaur and named it after their benefactor. Diplodocus carnegii was the museum’s first dinosaur treasure, but far from the last. Today the museum boasts the world’s third largest collection of dinosaur fossils. To showcase them Carnegie Museum of Natural History announced plans in 2002 to create the world’s premier dinosaur exhibits, collectively called DinoMite Days. The $35 million project will nearly triple the space of the museum’s current Dinosaur Hall and, for the first time anywhere, place dinosaurs in the environments in which they lived.

The city, the region, and the state see great potential for the project, which they agree could become a first-day attraction for Pittsburgh. In November 2002, then-Governor Mark Schweiker gave the state’s endorsement for DinoMite Days with a $15 million grant; and, once in office, Governor Ed Rendell gave his seal of approval for the grant as well. Less than a year later, as the summer of DinoMite Days turned into fall, a number of private donors followed suit. In October 2003, Eden Hall Foundation announced a lead gift of $5 million—a gift that matches the largest the foundation has ever given—and The Heinz Foundations announced a gift of $4 million.

Nearly 100 other donors gave their support as well by purchasing DinoMite Days dinosaurs. They bid in-person and online to have the honor of taking home a piece of Pittsburgh history.

Nineteen DinoMite Days dinosaurs were pre-purchased, paid for by “sponsaurs” and benefactors who knew exactly whom they wanted to support with their purchase. Alphabetasaurus, paid for by the Grable Foundation and decorated by school children at Phillips Elementary School, celebrates the alphabet as the building block of knowledge, and was donated to Carnegie Library on the South Side. Ketchupasaurus was pre-purchased by the H.J. Heinz Corporation, and with its bright red color and bottle lid snout, says both “Pittsburgh” and “Heinz” at the same time. Philiposaurus, pre-purchased by PPG Industries and named after Philip Johnson, the architect of PPG Place, is full of glass tiles and mirrors and is destined to live at PPG Plaza.

Another 26 dinosaurs were auctioned at the DinoMite Days Gala and Live Auction. A truly grand black-tie event, the DinoMite Days Gala and Auction attracted some 850 people at $200 per ticket, and after the auction closed at 10 p.m., another crowd of 350 showed up for dancing and a dino-party at $40 per ticket. The David L. Lawrence Convention Center was transformed into a prehistoric place with props from Hollywood’s Jurassic Park studios. Stilt-birds and stilt-dinosaurs from Disney World’s theme parks strode elegantly above the crowds. “It was one of the most memorable social events of the year,” says Bill DeWalt, “and many people—from one-time party-goers to long-time museum donors—told me it was the best party they had ever attended in Pittsburgh.” DeWalt credits event co-chairs Susie Perelman and Heather Austin, as well as a large team of museum staff and volunteers, for the event’s success.

The next day, another 8,000 people attended DinoMite Days Family Day at the Convention Center. It was the public’s only chance to view all 100 dinosaurs in one place. “The crowds were amazing—proof, once again, that people are wild about dinosaurs,” says Ted Hermann, director of Marketing for Carnegie Museum of Natural History and one of the organizers of the DinoMite Days events.
Hermann adds that the museum was equally pleased with the community’s response to the sale of dinosaurs. “Because half the proceeds of each dinosaur sale went to the creation of DinoMite Days and half went to the charity of the buyer’s choice, it was a win-win for the entire Pittsburgh community,” Hermann says.

A final 53 DinoMite Days dinosaurs were sold online in three lots from October 2 through November 2, 2003. Online bidders used the website www.dinomitedays.org to view the dinosaurs and register their bids.
All told, the sale of DinoMite Days dinosaurs raised $200,000 for DinoMite Days and thousands more for local charities.

Owning History, Helping the Community
“ I always wanted to go on a dinosaur dig,” says Dominick Pagniello , an artist and small-business owner who lives in Mars, Pennsylvania. His everyday passion, however, is helping special-needs and disadvantaged children, which he does through Steel Renaissance, a non-profit group that trains children with special needs for future careers. He and his wife also own a cookie store called Cookie Queen where disadvantaged people learn baking skills

Pagniello purchased two DinoMite Days dinosaurs online: The Rise of Fossil Fuels and Renewalsaur, which was designed by two Carnegie Mellon artists who focused on the city’s social planning to renew itself.

For now, his two dinosaurs sit in his garage. In the long-term he wants to display Renewalsaur in his expanded cookie store, and St. Margaret’s Hospital plans to acquire The Rise of Fossil Fuels from him for public display. Also, his Cookie Queen store now sells a variety of custom-made, dinosaur-shaped, sugar-almond cookies.

Like so many people who grew up in the Pittsburgh area, Pagniello remembers vividly his childhood trips to the museum to see the dinosaurs. After working for years in the New York area, he returned to western Pennsylvania about a decade ago to develop his own business and, ultimately, to support his community. “I think we’re all here to make some kind of a difference,” Pagniello says. “In some small way, I hope I’m doing that.”

Joseph C. Guyaux, president of The PNC Financial Services Group Inc., says that his firm immediately recognized the community benefits of DinoMite Days. “It was a terrific way to benefit the entire region,” Guyaux says. “Not only did it help Carnegie Museum of Natural History, but it also brought attention to the city and resulted in additional support for charities throughout western Pennsylvania. That's why PNC bought nine dinosaurs and found ways for children and teenagers to decorate some of our dinosaurs and enjoy all of them.”

The benefits of DinoMite Days were not lost on the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau, either. According to Tinsy Lipchak, director of Cultural Tourism for the Greater Pittsburgh Visitors and Convention Bureau, DinoMite Days was the anchor attraction of her office’s summer “Kidsburgh” promotion, which works to bring families from neighboring cities and states to Pittsburgh during summer vacation: “Visitors absolutely loved the dinosaurs—many of them following the map and taking photographs with as many dinosaurs as they could find.”

The Bureau itself was a co-sponsor, along with Blattner Brunner Inc., of a dinosaur. The dinosaur was a Torosaurus called Primal Cuts because it is divided into several parts. It was displayed during the project in the Faith Gallo Garden downtown. The theme of Primal Cuts is that while a study of fragments can lead to understanding, it can also distract people from seeing the whole object—a theme appropriate to seeing the greater Pittsburgh region as a whole, and not judging it by just one of its parts.

“This was a truly remarkable event that was a win for the museum, for artists, for other non-profits, for the city and region, and especially for the thousands of people to whom the dinosaurs brought smiles and squeals of delight,” says Bill DeWalt. “We owe a lot to the Laurel Foundation and the many other sponsors of this project for making it happen. Many people have commented to me that this was the most creative and effective project this city has ever seen.”

Maybe the words of some enthusiastic visitors, sent in letters to the museum, sum it up best: “My family and I have been dinosaur hunting for the last four weekends. We would like to thank you for a wonderful time.” Another DinoMite Days fan said, simply, “Thank you for a spectacular summer.”

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Copyright (c) 2003 CARNEGIE magazine. All rights reserved.