Pittsburgh’s riverfront plays host to giant rubber duck

By Andrew Fishman / Staff Writer

Pittsburgh’s early autumn days are among its best. 

The leaves turn into gorgeous myriad colors and the river seems even more pristine than usual. This weekend will surely be no different as pedestrians walking across the bridges downtown this Friday will have a multitude of stunningly beautiful views available to them: PNC Park, the beautiful Downtown skyline and a 40-foot-tall rubber duck.

That’s right. Starting Friday, a supersized rubber duck will float along the riverfront in Downtown Pittsburgh. The project is being presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust as the kickoff celebration of the International Festival of Firsts.

“[The festival] is a four-week, multidisciplinary festival of contemporary performance and visual arts,” said Paul Organisak, vice president of programming for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. “All of the work presented must be a U.S. premiere, and when I first saw images of the Rubber Duck at the Sydney Festival, I knew it would be perfect for Pittsburgh with our rivers and incredible scenic vistas.”

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is a non-profit arts organization that strives to culturally revitalize Pittsburgh. The upcoming festival is just part of its overall mission.

“The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is a unique model of how public-private partnerships can reinvent a city with authenticity, innovation and creativity,” said Diana Roth, a representative of the trust. “Using the arts as an economic catalyst, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has holistically created a world-renowned Cultural District that is revitalizing the city, improving the regional economy and enhancing Pittsburgh’s quality of life.”

The duck is a design by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, who originally sent his idea to his home city of Amsterdam in 2007. Since then, it has traveled all over the world in varying sizes, including China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand — just to name a few. Pittsburgh marks the duck’s first trip to the U.S. 

This Friday from 5:30 to 10 p.m., the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is hosting the Rubber Duck Bridge Party, the kickoff event for the duck, on the Roberto Clemente Bridge. The event will include the duck itself, as well as food, art vendors and some special guests.

“The Rubber Duck Bridge Party will run in tandem with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Fall Gallery Crawl in the Cultural District — a free quarterly showcase of art and entertainment,” the Cultural Trust stated in a press release.

The invitation also spoke about the International Festival of Firsts and the rest of its events.

“This year’s [festival] features companies and artists representing a vast array of countries. … The Festival … offers an eclectic mix of theater, dance, puppetry, music and visual arts handpicked from around the world. Be first in line to experience art never before presented in the United States.”

The festival is running from Sept. 27 through Oct. 26.

The duck kicks off not only the International Festival of Firsts but also a big weekend for Pitt. It’s comforting that the duck will be overseeing our Homecoming game, as well as Morning Madness, both taking place this upcoming weekend just across the river from Downtown on the North Side.

The comforting notion of the rubber duck is the precise reason the project was created in the first place. Hofman wants to evoke people’s childhood memories when they see the giant duck. It’s a way of channeling a viewer’s nostalgia to bring them joy.

“To me, it’s an outstanding public-art and community-engagement project,” said Organisak. “Not only did Florentijn Hofman … choose one of the world’s most iconic, universal images, [but] the quality of the design and execution raise the entire experience to one which can be universally enjoyed. Who cannot help but smile while looking at a 40-foot Rubber Duck!”

Pitt students seemed to agree. When asked if the duck is really considered art to our generation, the general consensus was positive.

“What I like about the rubber duck, is not that it’s a giant rubber duck — although that is pretty amazing on its own  — but that by installing it in ports and harbors and rivers around the world, it shows the connectedness of humans. Everyone is amazed by a [40]-foot duck,” said Alexander Cupo, a sophomore at Pitt. “It turns our world essentially into a bathtub, where we can all be in awe of something childish and fun and share that experience together.”