Kelly Strayhorn Theater

As East Liberty continues to grow, the Kelly Strayhorn Theater will continue to grow with it.

The theater, which will celebrate its centennial later this year, will receive grants of about $1 million from the Heinz Endowments over the next three years.

“It’s really important for small and mid-size arts organizations because it can be a challenge to manage and grow,” says the Kelly Strayhorn’s Executive Director Janera Solomon. “Having that support the next three years will help support our infrastructure and build what we need to be more sustainable.”

One grant, about $900,000, will help finance the Kelly Strayhorn’s operating and infrastructure costs for the next three years. The other will go toward helping the theater develop and manage programs which will help support entrepreneurship and social activism in East Liberty. It’s an initiative Solomon says is currently called Penn Avenue Creative.

“We want to extend the vision of the arts district and bridge the gap between The Alloy Studios and the Kelly Strayhorn,” Solomon says. “We’re focused on programming and connecting with our audiences. At this point, I think it’s important — especially as we celebrate our centennial — that we continue that growth.”

When Solomon took over the Kelly Strayhorn in 2008, its annual operating costs were around $300,000. Now, the theater’s operating cost are around $1 million a year.

The Kelly Strayhorn, which opened as a movie theater in 1914, is home to dance and movement classes as well as original dance, music, theater, film and fashion events.

“We’re going to announce more in a few weeks but we’re planning to launch a new membership program geared toward artists and families in our neighborhood, and we have a pretty exciting season that includes some local and national premieres,” Solomon said, adding that the theater is also planning a major centennial celebration in the fall.

The grant is the second the Heinz Endowments have awarded the theater. In 2000, the foundation gave the Kelly Strayhorn $370,000.

Matthew Wein is a local writer, editor, blogger, storyteller and proud native Pittsburgher. Once described as "a man of things," he covers city design, spirits and craft beer for NEXT, where he keeps all of the editorial meetings light-hearted and interesting. His interests include sorting books, looking at old things and candles which smell like old-growth pine forests.