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Fun Things to Do at the 2018 Three Rivers Arts Festival

by Janet Jonus

The Three Rivers Arts Festival is an annual celebration of Art in all of its forms. FamilyFunPittsburgh’s  top Things to Do with Kids at the Festival are the Giant Eagle Creativity Zone, the Rideable Art near the Point State Park Tunnel, and the Fountain at Point State Park. The Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival runs from June 7th through June 16th.

Giant Eagle Creativity Zone

The Giant Eagle Creativity Zone is the only truly kid-centric place at the Arts Festival. The Zone is on the far side of Point State Park way down near the tunnel, a long walk down Penn Avenue and across the city-side grassy area past the Artist Market, the Food Court, and the Main Stage. The Creativity Zone is open daily from 1200PM – 600PM but most of the booths are only available on the weekends.

The Creativity Zone has two tents straddling the tunnel that separates the city-side grassy area (and the main Arts Festival area) from the Fountain-side of Point State Park. The coolest Thing to Do with Kids at the Arts Festival can be found in this Creativity Zone. The Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse has a large booth to the left of the tunnel. Kids will find bins of bits and pieces of donated materials. Kids pick up a tray, fill it with whatever strikes their fancy, and then they take it to one of the building tables and create whatever they want. All of the materials were donated to The Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse. Children can make artwork, trophies, crowns … anything their imagination comes up with. This was the most popular kid-friendly booth at the Festival and well worth the long walk. There are volunteers from the Center to help out and the best part is this booth is open from 1200PM-600PM every day of the Festival. (Many of the Creativity Zone booths are only open on the weekends.)

The other Kids Zone Tent is on the right side of the tunnel. This tent houses several activities from different organizations.

The Sweetwater Center for the Arts also has a booth here and it is open every day of the Festival too. There theme for this year’s Festival is “Make a Wish”. Kids and adults choose a colorful strip of paper to write down their wish. They then roll it up and place it into a frame with color-coded mesh. Eventually, there will be enough wishes to create a mosaic artwork. The FamilyFunKids loved this activity. Look for a FamilyFunHome feature to create your own wish mosaic. Sweetwater is at the Festival Kids Zone on June 8-9 and June 15-16.

The Children’s Theater Series is celebrating 50 years of the Series with a photo op, temporary tattoos, and magnets. Check out their booth on June 8-9 and June 15-16.

The Fort Pitt Museum has a large area right near the entrance to the tent. They always have a fun project inspired by history. The activities change but this weekend’s activity is making a “tin pinch” ornament out of an aluminum pie plate and string. The Fort Pit Museum is at the Festival on June 7-9 and June 14-16. On Friday the 14th, the Museum will have most of the space in the tent. They are planning on having extra activities including a historic clothing dress-up area.

Unisound is a new entry in the children’s Festival offerings. They have a music inspiration booth. Kids can try out some musical instruments including a trumpet, a viola, a violin, and some bongo drums. The booth is hosted by different music schools and teachers. Unisound is at the Festival on June 8 & 9 and June 15 & 16.

Union Garden returns to the Festival on June 8 and 9. The Union Garden table lets kids design and paint a clay flower but YOU CANNOT TAKE THE FLOWER WITH YOU! This is a warning for parents as the FamilyFunKids, and just about every kids near us, worked very hard on designing and painting a soft clay flower only to be told we could not keep it. The flower is taken by Union Project and fired in their kilns and then “planted” in their public garden. FamilyFunPittsburgh has witnessed this process for two straight years and it often ends with disappointment and tears. Union Project encourages families to come to their East End location to view the garden but unless you live in the area, which many families at the Festival do not, or you make a special trip, it is unlikely your child will ever see their work of art in all of its glory. FamilyFunKid wondered if we just took the soft clay flower, would be allowed to do it? We aren’t sure but if we do the activity again, we just may try. FamilyFunPittsburgh gets around Pittsburgh a lot (covering stories) but we have never seen our flowers. Just an FYI. Union Garden is at the Festival June 7-9.

The Pittsburgh Center for Media Arts has a bead-stringing activity. They are at the Festival June 7-9.

The Andy Warhol Museum will be at the Festival June 15 & 16 with handmade rubber stamps.

The Pittsburgh CLO will be at the Festival and celebrating the upcoming production of Peter Pan. Kids can create a Captain Hook’s hook or a Fairy Wand.

The Henna Artist

Henna by Nora, located near the tunnel at Point State Park on weekends, was a FamilyFunFavorite. Nora is an amazing artist who works in henna. Henna lasts for a week or two so it is a nice “souvenir”. Nora charges $5.00+ for her artwork and has dozens of designs to choose from but she is willing to work with you to get the design you want and can afford. Her intricate artwork takes a bit of time but the wait was worth it. (https://www.facebook.com/hennabynoramarie)

Face Painting, Balloon Artist, and Caricatures

There are two Face Painting Booths near the Giant Eagle Kids Zone. Both offer face painting for kids. Options cost $7-10 each. There is a Balloon Artist in this area too. There are several caricaturists in the Gateway Center area. They charge $10 for one person in black and white or $20 for one person in color. Additional people in the same caricature cost extra. All of these artists are cash only. Some of these artists are only available on weekends.

Spinning Tops – Los Trompos by Esrawe + Cadena

This year’s Festival features five large, colorful, interactive art structures. Each of these works of art are made from a metal frame and covered with colorful, woven fabric. The structures all spin. Kids can get on or inside of the Spinning Tops and take a ride. There are rules though. Kids cannot climb on the structures or damage them in any way. Kids must SIT on the rides, they cannot stand or lay down. Parents cannot spin the Spinning Top too fast. There is a volunteer monitoring the area.

Los Trompos can be found at the far end of the Food Court grassy area, near the Main Stage and next to the Giant Eagle Kids Zone. FamilyFunPittsburgh loved Los Trompos. Kids can play on the grass, and Los Trompos is like a mini-playground. Los Trompos is for toddlers, preschoolers, and smaller kids. One of the structures can accommodate an adult with a child inside.

The Anthropology of Motherhood

The Wyndham Grand Hotel has The Anthropology of Motherhood. This is not an art installation, it is a room set aside for breast and bottle feeding and the comfort of families with Babies and Toddlers. There is running water, access to bathrooms, and a play area for siblings. It is reserved exclusively for families of Babies and Toddlers. It is located to the left of the hotel lobby, up the ramp or the steps, and then to the left, through the glass double doors. It is a large, comfortable room with beautiful motherhood-themed artwork.

The Anthropology of Motherhood is open daily from 1200-900PM.

The Trust Arts Story Corners

The Trust Arts Education Center has story time at the Acoustic Stage near Gateway Center. Times are 1:15 and 3:15 PM on June 9th, 15th, and 16th.

Art

There are numerous public art installations around the Arts Festival. Galleries in the Cultural District and the Trust Arts Education Center house many of the Fine Art presentations of the Festival. To see them you will have to venture out of the Gateway Center – Point State Park area into the Cultural District.

There were three FamilyFun art installations within the Gateway Center area. Flip the Flop by Ocean Sole Africa upcycles used flip flops into whimsical works of rainbow art. There is an elephant and a turtle on Penn Avenue at the entrance to the Gateway Center vendor’s area and a family of four giraffes inside the vendor area. They were a FamilyFunFavorite.

Art Exhibitions are open1200-800PM every day. Public Art installations are open 1200-900PM daily.

Live Performances

There are three stages at the Arts Festival. The Stanwix Stage and the Acoustic Stage are in Gateway Center. The Main Stage is in Point State Park. Various artists perform throughout the Festival. Check out the schedule here https://traf.trustarts.org/traf_home/visit/schedule-pdf

Pop-up Performances occur throughout the Festival.

Live Performances run every day from 1200PM – 900PM.

The Artist Markets

Two hundred fifty independent artists are set up throughout Gateway Plaza and Point State Park. They sell everything from gear from your favorite sports teams to fine art. Older kids may find it fun to wander through the market, looking for the perfect souvenir.

The Artist’s Market is open1200-800PM daily.

The Fountain

The Fountain at Point State Park was a welcome respite from the noise and crowds at the Festival. It is a favorite place for FamilyFunPittsburgh to spend some time relaxing.

The Food Courts and Food Trucks

There are scattered food booths throughout the Gateway Center area. Offerings include lemonade, burgers, Rita’s Italian Ice, and other Festival Food. Food Trucks are based here as well. 

The Food Court in Point State Park is a major draw for many Festival-goers. The offerings are typical of Fair food with funnel cakes, sandwiches, and fries. The Burnt Ends Brisket at the Smoked Meats stand was the best food we tried. The herbed potatoes were canned potatoes with a butter sauce and nothing special. The Mac and Cheese (plain) at the Mac N Cheese stand had an odd flavor to it. Our FamilyFun kid who usually loves anything Mac and Cheese gave it a thumbs down. The same stand had empanadas which were of the typical frozen-food variety. The French Fries at the next stand were excellent. Just remember to season them before you leave the stand as they have no seasoning. The Chicken Strips were standard. The Sweet and Sour Chicken at the Chinese Food stand was good if bland. This was the only stand we went to that did not take Debit and Credit cards. There are a variety of foods to choose from. Some of the stands are cash-only and others take cards.

The Basics

The Arts Festival covers a sprawling area of Downtown Pittsburgh. It stretches from The August Wilson Center (at Liberty Ave and Tenth Street) down to Point State Park but the most of the Festival is centered around Gateway Center and Point State Park.  It is nearly a mile from one end of the Festival to the other.

Bathrooms are scarce at the Festival. The Art Galleries along Liberty Avenue have bathrooms but these are out of the way of the main Festival footprint. The only bathrooms at the Festival are a line of Port-a-Pots in Point State Park on the Fountain side of the tunnel at the very end of the Festival. These were heavily used and not too clean by 400PM on the day we were at the Festival. There did not seem to be any baby changing facilities near these portable toilets and these portable toilets were not close to Gateway Center or even the Food Court in Point State Park. The lack of toilets was a common complaint of families we spoke to as portable toilets aren’t really the best option for younger children.

The Festival is easily accessible by public transportation. The T stops at Gateway Center and Wood Street both serve the Festival. The Wood Street stop lets you out in the heart of the Cultural District and the art galleries. The Gateway stop is literally in the middle of the Festival itself. Some streets near Gateway Center are closed during the Festival affecting bus stops. Parking is in downtown lots and can be costly. We met several families who parked at Station Square and road the T to the Festival. You can do the same by parking on the North Shore and riding the T over to Gateway Center (the T ride from the North Shore is free. The ride from Station Square is $2.50 per person each way with a Connect Card. Children 5 and under ride for free.)

While everyone can enjoy the Three River Arts Festival, the large footprint of the Festival, the limited number of dedicated Children’s Activities, and the dearth of bathrooms makes it less appealing for many families. On the up side, the Festival is free for all activities so a family can go and enjoy themselves for a few hours and only spend money on transportation or parking. FamilyFunPittsburgh recommends the Festival for Kids, Tweens and Teens.