Carlo Zollinger | For The Pitt News
The many guests visiting the Carnegie Museum of Art last Saturday were drawn to the museum’s courtyard, where Nia, an African dance group, encouraged them to join their drum circle and show off their best moves.
Cassie Hollis, an audience member and resident of Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood, came to the Inside Out event series after spending the day with friends at the CMOA. She said she joined the dance circle with some encouragement from her friends and the performers.
“[Dancing with Nia] was so much fun — kind of embarrassing at first, but everyone was being so positive,” Hollis said. “I’ve never done anything like that before, so it was exciting to get to try something new.”
The museum is hosting Inside Out, a new event series in the CMOA courtyard, as a way to unite the Pittsburgh community after the struggles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Dana Bishop-Root, director of education and public programs at the museum, Inside Out was created as a way to utilize the outdoor space of the CMOA. She hoped that it would ease possible anxiety for guests as indoor spaces continue to open amid the pandemic.
“We were really thinking about how we could activate our outdoor area to create a safer space for people to feel comfortable,” Bishop-Root said. “We were also thinking about how we could get resources for our regional artists and arts communities.”
Inside Out is hosting a multitude of musical performances on Thursdays from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. throughout the summer until Sept. 4. Although guests are encouraged to purchase a ticket of admission to the museum before or after visiting the courtyard, anyone is welcome to enjoy the space free of charge.
Although there are no social distancing requirements strictly enforced, Inside Out attendees are expected to respect the comfort zones of the people they interact with.
Bishop-Root said she has been particularly excited because of the wide range of musicians — from theater dance groups to strong vocalists — Inside Out will be presenting to the community.
“For many musicians, [Inside Out] will be their first performance since the pandemic, so it’s an opportunity to kind of share with the community what they’ve been working on,” Bishop-Root said. “It’s also part of a longer term plan to really convey that the Museum extends outside of the building.”
Last Saturday the Legacy Arts Project, a Pittsburgh-based community arts organization, performed a series of African dances through its ensemble dance group, Nia.
According to Erin Perry, executive director of LAP, the organization has been offering dance classes since 2004 as a way for their community to heal from personal trauma and build self-confidence.
“[LAP] utilizes our connection with culture as a tool to our own healing and transformation so that when we understand through culture who we are, it strengthens our self-identity,” Perry said.
Perry became a member of Legacy Arts in 2005 when she began to regularly attend African diaspora dance classes. An active participant in the group’s performances throughout Pittsburgh, Perry was continuously seeking ways to support and help the LAP organization. The executive director at the time asked Perry to take her place in 2010.
Perry said since she was pregnant when she was asked to be executive director of LAP, she wasn’t able to hit the ground running with the organization until 2011. But since then, the organization has become an essential part of her life.
“LAP is a space where I’ve been able to cultivate myself as a human being,” Perry said. “Being a part of the leadership within the organization and working with people in the community have impacted the way that I see myself — [LAP] has been a space that I’ve been able to grow.”
During Saturday’s energetic performance at Inside Out, Nia attained an enormous amount of audience participation by calling them into their dance circle. Perry said though it was LAP’s first time performing at Inside Out, she was pleased with the audience’s reaction to the African diasporic dance.
“I think that it’s wonderful anytime we’re able to have shared experiences with elements of creativity — that is a blessing,” Perry said.
Nia is just one of many musical groups scheduled to perform at Inside Out throughout the summer. The event hosts some of Pittsburgh’s top DJs on Thursdays. Live performances are expected from a wide range of musical artists on Saturdays.
Bishop-Root said she wanted to use the strong relationship that CMOA has with the Pittsburgh community to spotlight a diverse selection of musical artists.
“We looked deeply at the ecosystem of the Pittsburgh region of artists and arts communities,” Bishop-Root said. “We really wanted to bring various small neighborhood arts organizations to the museum, because these neighborhood arts organizations are the ones that are doing the work every day of bringing art to the community.”
Besides providing guests with free musical entertainment, Inside Out offers guests the opportunity to admire the sculptures in the CMOA courtyard. Among the sculptures are works such as “Two Slender Lines” by George Rickey and “Night” by Aristide Maillol. Inside Out also includes children’s art tables and easels where kids can engage with making art.
According to Bishop-Root, one of the greatest achievements of the Inside Out event series this summer is that it brings unity to the community through art — something that many may not realize.
“People are starting to recognize that art isn’t just something that kind of exists in a stagnant way. Art is what we build together and it brings us together,” Bishop-Root said. “I feel happy and honored that people are willing to share their artwork, to be both audience and artist, and think of this space within Inside Out as their space.”