Candy Change Before I Die, photo courtesy of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

Last year, I took my children to the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Art Festival (TRAF) for the first time.  As we explored one of the nation’s largest and most celebrated free showcases of the performing and visual arts, I made an exciting discovery:  an art festival actually can be kid-friendly.

With TRAF  starting this Friday, June 6, and running through June 15, I’m happy to report that this year’s event promises to be just as much fun for families.  The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has done a superb job of incorporating events and activities that are geared toward children throughout the Festival.  Here are some of my highlights:

The Performing Arts

From the Grammy Award-winning bluegrass musician, Sam Bush, to the revolutionary theatrics of Pittsburgh’s own Bricolage, this year’s TRAF offers a full lineup of world-class music, dance, and theatre.  Here are some of my kid-friendly highlights:

Squonk’s Pneumatica/ Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
Squonk’s Pneumatica/ Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

Squonk’s “Pneumatica”

Squonk presents its new show, Pneumatica, an outdoor theater performance “made of air, powered by air, and about air.”  Using blowers and vortex fans, a 40-foot Lady Pneumatica inflatable will slowly come to life with her arms extended toward the sky, a wind turbine on her head, and steamy breath emanating from vertical accordian lungs played like a piano by Squonkers.  

Friday, June 13th-Sunday, June 15th; See link for times; Point State Park

“Pittsburgh Puppet Works” presented by WQED

Pittsburgh Puppet Works performs a puppet show inspired by the winning entries of the WQED’s “Write On Kids” Writer’s Contest.  This “charming play features farting walruses, spacy tomatoes, and grandparent-made fly pizza pies, all from the imaginations of K-3 graders!”

Saturday, June 14th-Sunday, June 15th; 12-12:45pm; Giant Eagle Creativity Zone

Alastair Moock: A Concert for Families

TRAF welcomes Alastair Moock, a nationally-renowned and Grammy-nominated folk musician, who blazed trails in the children’s folk genre after becoming a father.  His newest album was written with the help of his young daughter during extensive hospital stays after her leukemia diagnosis.  At TRAF, he presents an interactive concert where families can dance and sing along.

Saturday, June 14th-Sunday June 15th; 2-2:45pm; Giant Eagle Creativity Zone

Other kid-friendly performing arts events include Sand and Surf Dance PartyMusical Kids by WQEDAcoustiKids, PMT’s Extreme Teen Broadway, and the Hope Academy Teen Theater Company Performance.

The Visual Arts

This year’s arts fest  hosts a selection of visual art pieces guaranteed to inspire hearts, challenge perceptions, and expand horizons.  Many of these invite viewer participation in kid-friendly ways:

iNCLUDE: Pittsburgh’s “Color Me Pittsburgh”

This public art piece features a large free-standing map of Pittsburgh designed by local artists.  Children are invited to create a black and white “selfie” and then personalize their self-portrait with markers and colorful paper.  Then they can affix their portrait to their home neighborhood on the map.  This piece is intended to help children explore the concept of race as a social construct versus a defined reality.  It also encourages viewers to note self-portrait color differences between different Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

Saturday, June 14th-Sunday, June 15th; 12-6pm; Giant Eagle Creativity Zone

Before I Die by Candy Chang

Deemed “one of the most creative community projects ever” by The Atlantic, TRAF is proud to present this global art project to Pittsburgh.  Participants are invited to reflect on their lives and share their deepest personal aspirations in public space through writing (or drawing) them on a huge chalk wall.  “Before I Die” walls have been created in over 30 languages and over 65 countries, including many nations currently undergoing significant conflict.  Children are encouraged to contribute their perspectives as well.

Friday, June 6th-Sunday, June 15th; 12-9pm; Katz Plaza

“Weetropolis” with Lindsey Woge

Children are invited to join Lindsey Woge, a Teaching Artist at the sponsoring organization Gateway to the Arts in the creation of “Weetropolis,” a miniature city constructed of reclaimed materials.  Kids can choose a cardboard box, construct a component of the city (house, school, park, etc), and then add it to this collaborative public art installation.

Saturday, June 7th-Sunday, June 8th; 12-6pm; Giant Eagle Creativity Zone

Hannah Clark, Emerging Artist. Photo courtesy of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

Other kid-friendly visual arts include Diversion and Chutz-Pow: Superheroes of the Holocaust.

Creative Activities

The real heart of TRAF for families is in the assortment of hands-on activities sponsored by many local organizations.  These groups work very hard to create projects that directly engage children in innovative and educational ways.  Here are some of my highlights:

“Remake Learning” Activities with the Sprout Fund

The Sprout Fund is partnering with several local organizations to create educational projects about the environment and sustainable living.  Some highlights: making bean seed germination necklaces with Grow Pittsburgh, creating animal habitats using natural materials with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, seeing a full-scale windmill and then building a smaller model with the Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center, building hydroponic growing systems with the South Fayette School District, and many more.

Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse’s “Reuse-A-Palooza”

The Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse brings a gigantic collection of reclaimed craft materials to the festival for its “Reuse-A-Palooza,”  where children can learn about recycling/reuse while creating their own works of art.

Friday, June 6th-Sunday, June 15th; 12-6pm; Giant Eagle Creativity Zone

Zoo Beats

Zoo Beats is an interactive experience for 2 to 5-year olds designed by WYEPElectric Owl Studios, and the Sprout Fund.  Kids can experiment with sound creation and music-making in portable kiosks.

Friday, June 6th-Friday, June 13th, 12-6pm, Giant Eagle Creativity Zone

TRAF also offers interactive activities that specifically expose kids to different art media.  For example, children can take a turn at the potter’s wheel with the Union Project, learn about mosaic-building with the Pittsburgh Glass Center, try their hand at calligraphy with the Calligraphy Guild of Pittsburgh,  create jewelry with the Sweetwater Center for the Arts, and make paper with the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

Another “Must See”

The Miniature Marina

During TRAF, the Fountain at One Gateway Center is transformed into a Miniature Marina filled with small model sailboats. Children can use wooden pushing rods to sail their boats, while parents can relax on nearby park benches or shop in the adjoining Artist Market.

Friday, June 6th-Sunday, June 15th; 12-6pm; Hertz Gateway Center Plaza

Miniature Marina, photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

Last-Minute Tips

Here are a few other tips from a seasoned festival-goer/parent:

If you lose your bearings, head toward Point State Park where the Giant Eagle Creativity Zone is located.  This space contains most of the kid-friendly activities at the Festival.

If you are concerned about parking in Downtown Pittsburgh, consider alternative modes of transportation, such as the subway, bus, or your bikes. The Festival is even offering complimentary valet bike parking!

Your kids may surprise you.  Last year, my children really enjoyed some of the musical performances and visual art displays geared more toward adults. My suggestion? Expand your visit beyond the traditional”kid-friendly” parts of the Festival. Wander through the Artisan Market, listen to some bluegrass, build a collaborative art project, veg out on a park bench, run around Point State Park, dance. Feel proud that Pittsburgh offers such a unique and impressive showcase of its creative talent–for all ages.

Nadine Champsi

Doctor turned write-at-home-mom of two wonderful children. Founder of the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog. Editor of Kidsburgh. Contributing Editor at Next Pittsburgh. In love with the city of Pittsburgh and so...