VIA is hard to put in a box. And that’s just fine with Lauren Goshinski and Quinn Leonowicz, who founded the festival in 2010.

Goshinski and Leonowicz are DJs who are very much involved in Pittsburgh’s arts community. Goshinski grew up in Pittsburgh and longed for a festival in the city that reflects a sense of  the artistic community and culture that she was part of.

“Festival isn’t even a term we necessarily agree encapsulates everything.” Goshinski says. “We wanted to create a platform where all the things—from music to art—could come together. We are VIA. The festival is just one element of it.”

Goshinski adds, “VIA an opportunity to showcase rising talent . Young artists and musicians. People doing interesting things in the intersection of arts and technology. We also wanted to do it differently—not copy from another city. I don’t want to say we are the SXSW of Pittsburgh.”

And they did create something that is hard to encapsulate. VIA programming ranges from online events to the popular music festival held every year.

The online events have included an animated gif tournament where over 60 artists from all over the world participated. There are also smaller iterations of the larger festival called VIA Presents, in less traditional venues.

VIA is prolific and perhaps what is most outstanding is that the group is all-volunteer, with a core of about 12 people and an extended crew of many more. Leonowicz credits their success to this dedicated group. “The work that they do is pretty amazing. It’s not what you set out to do and when it happens, it happens by  surprise and makes you proud.”

The pair has a lot to be proud of. The festival has grown to showcase 50 artists with attendance that nears 5000.  For its fifth year, the festival has expanded to Chicago and has created a venue for exchange between the two cities.

Goshinski and Leonowicz. Photo by Paulina Wilkowska

What’s next for VIA?

“Every year, we start the conversation with “how do we create something fresh?” Goshinski says.  Expanding to Chicago was the answer to that question this year and Leonowicz adds that they would like to expand even more within Pittsburgh. “We are working toward making it a citywide festival. We are at ten venues right now, including a pop up venue at the Union Trust building.”

“Our overall goal is to find a space that is modular–that we can use as an art space. A food lab. A home base. We want a multi-sensory experience. We are looking to blurring lines in what people think of as a festival especially in terms of what can happen online.”

In April 2015, VIA is holding an online experience in 24 time zones with live streaming and real life events in each time zone.

Ambitious? Maybe so. but that is what VIA is about, according to Leonowicz. “That’s what we want to do. We want to integrate all different stimuli all at one time.”

Experience it yourself. The VIA festival is happening this weekend. Click here for more information.

Leah Lizarondo is a food advocate, writer and speaker. She is also the co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, an organization that seeks to eliminate food waste to make an impact on hunger and the environment. She is the Chief Veghacker, recipe creator and curator at The Brazen Kitchen, where she writes about food and food policy. She writes about the intersection of food, health, innovation and policy.