By Rachel Wilkinson
A new late-night offering is making Carnegie Museum of Art a go-to venue for the college-aged crowd.
Inside the CMOA Store, Jy Hollowaty and his fiancé, Rob Thomas, cackle with glee as they cut up newspaper ads. The pair then pastes their clippings onto glossy exhibition posters. While Hollowaty arranges cutout letters of his name on a poster advertising an American modernist collection, Thomas glues pictures of pizza slices and DVDs onto a photomosaic.
Photo: Bryan Conley
“Is your collage just going to be your Christmas list?” Hollowaty jokes, looking at Thomas’ creation.
Mash-ups are in fact the theme of the night, and the couple, along with two friends, has come to Carnegie Museum of Art after hours for its Third Thursday: REMIX event. Put on in partnership with the Pittsburgh creative collective VIA, the experience is the third in a new monthly series launched this past January. Besides the poster- and postcard-collage station in the store, the mix of activities includes a photo booth that allows visitors to insert their faces into Museum of Art paintings, a screening of artist Lorna Mill’s Ways of Something, and a roster of pop-up musical performances in the museum’s galleries.
“If Carnegie Museums wants to be Pittsburgh’s museums, then we really have to be the community’s museum. And the way to be that is to actually have the community be here.”
- LAURA ZORCH MCDERMIT, THE MUSEUM’S MANAGER OF SOCIAL AND ENTREPRENEURIAL EXPERIENCES
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Hollowaty says of the “remix” theme. “But we’re having fun.”
The goal of Third Thursdays, says Laura Zorch McDermit, the museum’s manager of social and entrepreneurial experiences, is to create events that attract people like Thomas and Hollowaty. Residents of the North Side, it’s the pair’s first visit in years, and neither knew the museum had evening hours. They heard about Third Thursdays through some unconventional museum advertising: by winning tickets on Pittsburgh’s 96.1 KISS radio.
It’s essential for museum staff to think nontraditionally about reaching the region’s younger and more diverse population, says Zorch McDermit. Third Thursdays are just one offering in a suite of new social programs, including a sold-out yoga series, FEAST dinners in which a guest chef creates a meal inspired by a new exhibition, and an upcoming summer camp—think a paintbrush in one hand, a beer in the other—for adults.
“It’s important that people understand this museum is for them,” Zorch McDermit says. “If Carnegie Museums wants to be Pittsburgh’s museums, then we really have to be the community’s museum. And the way to be that is to actually have the community be here.”
Taking cues from other “after dark” adultsoriented events like those at Carnegie Science Center and Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Third Thursdays activate the museum from 8-11 p.m., include a cash bar, and offer a late-night café menu with foodie fare like chicken potpie biscuits and bacon mac-and-cheese tater tots. The museum didn’t want price to be a barrier, so admission is just $5 for students, $8 for museum members, and $10 for the public. The minimum age is 18, appealing to students at nearby universities. At the first two Third Thursdays, Zorch McDermit estimates half the attendees were college students.
Tonight is no different, with a young crowd donning all manner of creative attire: knee-high socks, capes, cowboy hats, and green face paint for St. Patrick’s Day.
“I’m with my tribe!” says Suzanne Trenney, an artist from Millvale, who sports a tutu, rope headband, and feather eyelashes. All of her sartorial selections pop as Trenney gets her picture taken and is “transported” into a Cubist backdrop at the #ARTFACE photo booth.
Museum of Art intern and University of Pittsburgh student Naomi Anderson is joined by three classmates. Though she’s studying art history, she is most excited “to hear all the different music.” Anderson and her friends are walking through the Scaife Galleries after seeing Good Dude Lojack, whose music is billed as “a signature blend of house meets computerized funk.” Lojack—wearing a Pirates cap—played the first of two pop-up gallery shows, where the foursome spurred other museumgoers to dance.
“It really is just such a different crowd you have at these events,” Anderson says approvingly.
She and her friends stop to hear docent Sue Cavanaugh talk about a portrait of Donna Ventusa, titled Woman in Black, by abstract expressionist John Graham. The artist, Cavanaugh explains, dabbled in witchcraft and the occult, and had a particular penchant for painting women with wounded necks. Prepared for her target audience, Cavanaugh concludes by saying, “Ladies, my advice to you is: if you see John Graham on an online dating website, run!” The group cracks up.
Cavanaugh has been a docent for six years and doesn’t often see groups of students at the museum outside of school field trips. “I just think it’s great to see young people coming into the museum for an event. And then, once they’re here, they wander around and see what the museum is all about,” she says.
When it comes to creating unique events, collaborating with community partners has been key. Third Thursdays’ first iteration in January was co-hosted with BOOM Concepts, a Garfieldbased creative hub, community organization, and art gallery. The sell-out event featured a silent disco and gallery tours led by local artists. In February, Hot Mass hosted a giant dance party in the Hall of Architecture, drawing a sell-out crowd of some 800 participants.
“When you’re a larger institution and you’re looking to expand, you have to make sure you’re sending the invite through the correct person as a cultural torchbearer,” says D.S. Kinsel, creative entrepreneur and co-founder of BOOM Concepts. “With Carnegie Museum working with BOOM Concepts, Hot Mass, and VIA, they are really intentional about reaching out to particularly underserved demographics when you’re thinking about a classical cultural experience.”
Kinsel says that while this mixing of the contemporary and the classical is novel and impactful, even more impressive are the people engaged by it.BOOM’s silent disco was organized by African-Americans and predominantly attended by African-Americans and women.
“When you’re talking about [Carnegie’s legacy] and you’re talking about institutions and institutional racism and structures of oppression, which is what a museum is built off of,” Kinsel says, “the ability for this generation to collaborate, infiltrate, hack—whatever language you want to use—that is mind-blowing to me.”
In this spirit of disruption, Derider, a riff-centric rock/punk band from Pittsburgh, plays in the Hall of Architecture to close out the night. The crowd is energetic and people are ready to dance. The band takes the stage framed by a 13th-century French cathedral and, soon, groups are holding hands, swaying, twirling among Romanesque columns.
Singer Margo Van Hoy described Derider’s show as “warm” and was surprised by the crowd’s vivacity. “We never have people dance!” she exclaims, noting the band is honored to play the museum.
“It’s something that brings together everything that’s wonderful about Pittsburgh,” Van Hoy says. “It’s local music. It’s different groups of people who get together. I love this event— I would’ve come anyway.”
Third Thursdays are sponsored by Citizens Bank, Great Lakes Brewing Company, Green Mountain Energy Company, and Walnut Capital.