“High art” has thrived Pittsburgh thanks to the generous support of foundations and local corporations. Much of it is situated in what’s called the “Cultural District,” a 14-block area generally north of Liberty Avenue which — following the industrial downturn in the 1970s and 80s — became synonymous with adult theaters and other shadowy enterprises. In 1984 H.J. “Jack” Heinz strong-armed local business and civic leaders into forming the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which many say saved downtown from falling into irreparable blight.
Today the Cultural District’s six theaters offer 1,500 shows annually, and in recent years the number of art galleries, popular bars and restaurants have grown briskly, with quarterly “Gallery Crawls” and retail shops.
Organizations based here include the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Pittsburgh Opera, the Pittsburgh Public Theater, the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, the Pittsburgh Dance Council, Bricolage Production Company and the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company.
But there’s tons of other performing and visual arts around the city and the region. Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre stages noted Irish and world theatre productions, while Quantum Theatre sets intimate, sophisticated theatrical experiences in such settings as the famed Allegheny Cemetery, Hartwood Stables and a drained swimming pool. New plays are the focus of City Theatre in the South Side. Attack Theater’s contemporary dance-based performances are at once daring and accessible. The Pittsburgh Dance Alloy merged in 2011 with the Kelly Strayhorne Theater in East Liberty, which offers innovative works in dance, theater, music and live art.
Live performances, literary readings and more have been growing exponentially in recent years, as more and more artist/entrepreneurs struggling in larger cities realize that they can do their art and afford to live and even raise a family here.