Performance space, community hub, arts center, and now, incubator: with the launch of FUTUREMAKERS LABS, East Liberty’s Kelly Strayhorn Theater has a new a label to attach to its ever-growing portfolio of functions as one of the city’s preeminent cultural institutions.

The 12-week program, which runs from April to June, will provide creative entrepreneurs with the training and skills needed to transform their vision, however nascent, closer to reality. That includes mentorship, four weeks of workshop sessions and a two-day intensive retreat.

FUTURE MAKERS LABS Director D.S. Kinsel says that in his own experience as an artist, it has been much easier to find opportunities to evolve artistically than to learn the administrative skills necessary to put that talent on display.

“Being a good artist and having a successful show are two very different things.”

The criteria to join the program was left deliberately vague in hopes of attracting creatives who don’t necessarily think of themselves as artists or creative entrepreneurs, who need help refining a new or pre-exisiting vision.

“It could be a performance, or jewelry. There are a lot of things that take a creative and innovative approach but maybe fall outside what you consider an artist,” says Kinsel.

He uses the example of a dancer who wants to launch classes, or a fashion designer who needs space to design clothing racks. “Whatever the skill set, we are always looking for ways to help them generate income as well as tighten up the structure around the presentation around that product, project or service.”

The program is a natural extension of Penn Avenue Creative, a 12-week pilot program KST launched in 2015 “to ignite transformative thought, build systems of connectivity and catalyze networks of cultural sustainability along the Penn Avenue Corridor.”

“We learned that there are so many creative visionaries in our communities who need more opportunities to connect and build ideas so they can take full advantage of the resources on the avenue,” says Kelly Strayhorn executive director janera solomon.

Kinsel also stresses the element of equitable development in the program, and making sure that residents can utilize the infrastructure available in changing neighborhoods like East Liberty and Garfield to develop the skills necessary to become part of new and emerging systems that previously did not exist.

That conversation continued in 2016 with a daylong FUTUREMAKERS symposium that brought together neighborhood residents, creatives, artists and entrepreneurs to imagine how to create a vibrant and engaged community. Now, the new incubator will give that same community the training and physical space necessary to launch those new endeavors.

“To be ready for AlphaLab Gear or Ascender you have to start somewhere,” says solomon. “This gives you a place.”

The Heinz Endowments funded the Penn Avenue Creative program and it was led by Joy KMT. The Opportunity Fund has provided the funding for FUTUREMAKERS LABS

KST will host a pay-what-you-can FUTUREMAKERS Mixtape event April 7 at Alloy Studios (5530 Penn Ave) showcasing members of Pittsburgh’s music, film and performing arts scene. 

Brian Conway

Brian Conway is a writer and photographer whose articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and local publications. In his free time, he operates Tripsburgh. Brian lives in the South Side.