At its best, the Three Rivers Arts Festival offers a leisurely summer stroll among hundreds of booths featuring hand-crafted works of art. Live music plays in the background. A breeze gently blows. You find parking without having to call anybody a jagoff.
At its worst, you’re standing in the rain eating cold chicken-on-a-stick while waiting in line for a smelly port-a-potty and hoping the vendors can re-open their booths after the rain.
We here at The Incline want to make sure your experience is more in the former category. So we’ve put together this guide to hacking the arts festival — how to beat traffic, what to eat, where to find legit restrooms, and, of course, what art to see.
As for the always-rainy weather, well … we can’t do much about that, but we do have some tips for how to make the best of it.
What to call it: Talk like a yinzer
People around here call it The Arts Festival, not Arts Fest (that one is in State College, thank you very much). If you want to be really proper, you could call it the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, but that’s really not necessary (unless you work at Dollar Bank, probably). On Twitter, people call it #TRAF2018, but saying TRAF aloud sounds like some kind of infection, so let’s save that for the internet.
How to get there: Beat the traffic
If you’re able and up for a walk, park at one of the many lots on the North Shore and walk across the Clemente Bridge. Or, park on the North Shore and take the T (it’s free!) from Allegheny or North Shore stations, and then get off at Gateway station. You’ll beat the traffic and get a cheaper rate.
If you have to park Downtown, you’ll find less expensive prices the farther you get from the Point. Try looking for a spot in the Mellon Square garage near the Omni William Penn Hotel and walk a few blocks to the festival. Or, again use the T (still free!) to your advantage. Get on at Steel Plaza and off at Gateway.
If you plan to buy a lot of artwork — especially large, heavy artwork — it’s worth paying an upcharge and park as near to the Point as possible, so you don’t have to lug your pieces too far to the car.
What to wear: Bring an umbrella
It’s Pittsburgh weather, so that means anything goes and yes, there will likely be rain at some point during the festival. As the Pittsburgh lore goes — even though it’s an urban legend — it always rains during the Arts Festival. So of course, rain is expected Friday to Sunday and again on Thursday, June 7, per The Weather Channel. Be sure to check the forecast before you go.
Don’t assume that rain = no festival. All events are rain or shine unless the weather becomes a safety hazard. If you think that might be the case, check the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust website, Twitter or Facebook.
What to see: Plan in advance
There’s a lot to see and do, so a little prep time is always good.
First, the basics
- The festival is noon to 8 p.m. daily from Friday to June 10, Downtown.
- It’s all free, so no need to worry about buying tickets.
- Come for music, performances, both indoor and outdoor art, an artist market, activities, food and more
- The festival goes from Point State Park to 10th Street between the Allegheny River and Liberty Avenue. See the map here.
- Yes, you can bring your dog — as long as you bring it on a leash. Dogs are not allowed in the artist market or indoor venues.
- Use this guide to plan your shopping in the artist market and this one to mark the art displays and performances, both inside and outside, that you can’t miss. Or if you’d rather have everything together, there’s a PDF for that, too:
What to hear: Sort by genre and day
If you haven’t already looked at the schedule of events, the list of musical performances is long and includes a wide array of genres. However, here are a few that you don’t want to miss:
- Legendary R&B/soul singer Mavis Staples; 7:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, June 1 on the Dollar Bank Main Stage (Point State Park)
- Local alt-country singer and Who’s Next: Music honoree Jordan McLaughlin; 4 to 5 p.m. Saturday June 2 on the Acoustic Stage Presented by People’s Natural Gas (Gateway Center)
- Indie rock family band Essential Machine; 6 to 7 p.m. Saturday June 2 on the Dollar Bank Main Stage (Point State Park)
- Eclectic pop, soul and folk performer Joy Ike; 5 to 6 p.m. Sunday, June 3 on the Dollar Bank Main Stage (Point State Park)
- Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; 7:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday, June 3 on the Dollar Bank Main Stage (Point State Park)
- Cello Fury, a.k.a. a cello rock group of three cellists and a drummer; 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 5 on the Dollar Bank Main Stage (Point State Park)
What to do when it rains (or swelters): Get inside
Being outside in the summer is fun — until it’s not. Avoid the thunderstorms and the heat and head inside for art exhibits and performances.
Galleries and art spaces across Downtown including — Future Tenant, SPACE, Wood Street Galleries, 707 Gallery and 937 Liberty Gallery — will have exhibits open during the festival, but if you want to go to one spot for multiple displays and performances head to:
August Wilson Center, 980 Liberty Ave.
- “Lest We Forget” explores depictions of African Americans in all types of art.
- “Darkness Giving Life” draws inspiration from contemporary art in the Art Lending Collection at the Braddock Carnegie Library.
- “Abstract Minded: Works by Six Contemporary African Artists,” uses abstraction to connect with African visual culture and start a broader conversation about art
- “Communal Future” showcases messages of love and devotion through bright colors and playful materials.
Trust Arts Education Center, 805 Liberty Ave.
- The 2018 Juried Visual Art Exhibition features artists from the Pittsburgh region.
- Trust Arts Education Visual Art Exhibit art inspired by the artists 10-day Arts and Culture Study Seminar in Israel with Classrooms Without Borders.
What to eat: Skip the festival fare
Sure, there is something alluring about funnel cake, its greasy aroma calling out like a siren song from a tent on the Point State Park lawn. But if you head a few steps into Downtown, you can find plenty of much better, much healthier options for for sit-down dining or take-out.
A few of our faves:
- For pizza: Proper Brick Oven & Tap Room
- For salads: Bae Bae’s Kitchen; Freshii (closed Saturday and Sunday)
- For sandwiches: Bluebird Kitchen (closed Saturday and Sunday); there’s always Primanti Bros.
- For hot prepared foods: Market Street Grocery
- For tacos: Tako; Las Velas
- For coffee: Nicholas Coffee (closed Sunday); The Coffee Bar at Market Street Grocery
- For frozen treats: Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream; The Milk Shake Factory
- For drinks: The Warren; Fl. 2
Also, the arts festival is again offering Food Truck days, so keep an eye out for food truck options if you happen to visit on a weekend. And if you happen to visit on a Thursday afternoon, stop by the Market Square farmer’s market for fresh fruits and veggies, along with prepared foods.
Where’s the bathroom?: Find an actual flush toilet
Port-a-johns abound in Point State Park. But if you’re looking for an actual flush toilet, you have a few options: The park bathrooms near the Point State Park fountain; inside most Cultural District galleries; or at one a coffeeshop/restaurant Downtown.
Though it’s super close, it’s not worth bothering to wander through the Wyndham Hotel to look for the bathrooms — they’ve been locked to the public for the last few years.
Where else should I go?: Make the most of your visit
While you’re Downtown, stop by a few of Pittsburgh’s most beloved spots, which never seem to lose their luster even if you’ve visited dozens of times.