Three Rivers Arts Festival celebrates 60 years


Emily Wolfe | Contributing Editor

Artwork on display at the Three Rivers Art Festival.

By Sarah Connor, Senior Staff Writer

Three multicolored giraffe statues stand at the center of the Wyndham Lawn in Gateway Center Plaza downtown, covered in sporadically placed patches of pink, turquoise, yellow, purple and green. These giraffes are pieces of an art project called Ocean Sole Africa — one of the many major attractions for the 2019 Three Rivers Arts Festival.

The artist behind Ocean Sole Africa, Jonathan Lo, collected littered flip-flops from the beaches and waters of the African coast, then later used them to create his nature-inspired art. Throughout this year’s Arts Festival, guests will also find sculptures of a turtle, rhinoceros and elephant in the plaza as part of Ocean Sole Africa.

Arts Fest is a yearly event that spans more than 10 days sponsored by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, but this is the first time Ocean Sole Africa has made an appearance at the festival. Since the festival began on June 7, the project has become a favorite of guests and staff members alike. For Sarah Aziz, the director of festival management for the Cultural Trust, Ocean Sole Africa helps to celebrate not just another Arts Fest, but the festival’s 60th year as well.

“I’m really excited to celebrate 60 years and I’m also really excited to bring Ocean Sole Africa here as well,” Aziz said. “I love all of the colorful animals we have on-site this year.”

As Aziz showed guests around the festival, families with children took photos with the colorful elephant, while groups of teens and young adults lined up at one of the food tents for fresh-squeezed lemonade and other sweet treats like funnel cake and fudge.

Though Ocean Sole Africa is a highlight of this year’s festival, it’s not the only cultural attraction the event has to offer. Visual artists from both local areas and out-of-town places set up tents and sell their work — guests can pick up anything from handmade necklaces to giant photography prints to hand-painted flower pots. Food trucks, concession stands, dance performances and live music are also staples for the annual festival.

“The music this year is great too,” Aziz said. “Kicking off with India Aire and finishing with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, two big, great acts, and then we have so many in between.”

The music performances take place at the Dollar Bank Main Stage, which is set up at Point State Park, where artist tents line the outskirts of the park and picnic tables and eager guests stand on the lawn in front of the stage. The Arts Fest has brought many big-name performers to the Main Stage in past years — acts such as Hippo Campus, Mavis Staples, Jake Bugg, Smash Mouth and Everything, Everything.

In addition to the popular national acts, many talented local musicians like Brittney Chantele, The Beagle Brothers and Guy Russo also performed at the Main Stage at this year’s Arts Fest, which also featured an acoustic stage at Gateway Center.

Many guests come to the festival to take in the full experience — music, food, art and sunny summer weather. This was seen the morning of Monday, June 10, as guests walked along the edges of Point State Park, swaying to the country music playing onstage, sipping on lemonade and peeking into artist booths. One booth which attracted a large amount of patrons belonged to local artist Emily McGaughey, who specializes in screen printing and illustration.

McGaughey sells magnets, pins, posters, stickers and other pieces of visual art that feature quirky objects or animals — often times with smiley faces drawn on. McGaughey said her favorite thing to draw is cats, but her products also feature Pittsburgh staples like bridges and pierogies, as well as dogs, coffee cups, tacos, bananas and leaves.

“This is my third Arts Fest, so I’m excited to be back,” McGaughey said. “Last year I was only here for two days, but this year I’m going to be here for seven days so that’s really exciting. It’s great business.”

McGaughey, who previously worked as a graphic designer before running her art business full-time, does most of her art by drawing on a tablet or iPad, then prints her work to be displayed on a magnet or other object. Her art is popular with a younger crowd, especially college students intrigued by her many laptop stickers and backpack pins for sale.

Arts Fest brings in more than just college students shopping for accessories to their school supplies, and that diverse audience is a reason why McGaughey keeps coming back.

“Seeing all the people here is my favorite part, and getting to show my work to so many people at once,” she said.

As a group of five young adults searched through the many products McGaughey had on display, Krista Jones, a senior marketing major at Pitt, picked up a pin with a smiling, over-easy egg printed on it.

“I love this. It’s too cute,” Jones said, as her friends agreed. “I love the variety of art at the festival today.”

Jones came out to the festival with a group of co-workers from her job at a coffee shop, one of whom was Chloe Olsen, a barista from Monroeville. Olsen sipped some lemonade as she walked from artist tents to food vendors and swayed to the music with her group of colleagues. The group took in a little bit of everything the festival had to offer — free live performances, local art, homemade food and a summer day in the downtown Pittsburgh sun.

“I don’t live in the City so coming out to the festival gives me a great reason to get out here,” Olsen said. “It’s something to look forward to every year.”