Elizabeth Barker is just six weeks into her new position as executive director of The Frick Pittsburgh and she’s already developed some keen insights about — and a new fondness for — our city. Elizabeth previously worked as a curator the Met, and as director of Amherst’s Mead Art Museum and the Boston Athenæum. She’s a native of Brunswick, Maine, and lives in Bakery Square with her Yellow Lab, Lottie.
What upcoming events are you excited to attend?
Even though I can barely carry a tune, I love listening to opera. The drama, the emotion, the music — I’ve been hooked from the first notes I heard as a teenager (“O mio babbino baro” in the soundtrack to “Room with a View”). Pittsburgh is terrific opera city, and I can’t wait to hear Pittsburgh Symphony’s “Fidelio,” Pittsburgh Opera’s “Alcina” and Chatham Baroque’s “Music from the Time of Louis XIV and XV.”
What is the best part of your job?
I love meeting new people and sharing experiences that excite them — introducing them to fresh ideas or works of art (or antique cars or nineteenth-century wallpapers) that they didn’t know were missing from their lives but were thrilled to discover them.
What is your big idea for Pittsburgh?
A bold, comprehensive, citywide public art initiative that would confirm our status as a destination city and enrich the lives of all our citizens — not just a succession of objects “plopped” onto open parcels of land, but a rotating program of inspiring interventions, perhaps using light to be visible from a distance, and accessible to everyone. If executed thoughtfully, such a project could increase cultural tourism, inspire innovative thinking in rising generations and strengthen human connections across communities.
Write three words to describe Pittsburgh
Beautiful. Down-to-earth. French fries.
Podcast you’re addicted to?
At the moment, I have three in rotation: Dolly Parton’s America, In the Dark and Shakespeare Unlimited. You’d be surprised by the amount of crossover.
What’s one thing you would love to change about Pittsburgh?
GPS maps of the city! I’ve never gotten as lost as often as I do here. Someone told me that our city’s maps are based on aerial photos that failed to take the terrain into account, and so show connections that don’t exist (between streets that are actually on, say, the top and bottom of the same hill). That would certainly explain some of my driving adventures.
It’s time to unwind. Where do you head?
I’d clip a leash on my dog Lottie, and head out with no destination in mind. The parks here are great, and I love exploring Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods. Each part of the city has its own look and vibe.
What’s been bugging you lately?
Antiheroes in popular culture. The real world is tough enough: I’m not tempted to spend my free time watching fictional cruelty on screen.
In Pittsburgh, I can’t live without my:
Reuben sandwich at Big Jim’s. They know not to skimp on the Russian dressing — or mess with the timeless look of the restaurant.
See who else is NEXT Up here.