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Winter weather takes toll on cultural activities in Western Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Manfred Honeck and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 11:21 p.m.

Before Joshua Bell rosined his bow for his performance with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the snow began to fall.

It was falling four hours later when he played his multimillion-dollar Stradivarius on stage Downtown.

By that time, 739 of 1,766 ticket holders skipped the March 2 concert, far more than the usual 100 to 120 no-shows for such a performance.

“When the weather is bad the day of a performance, it hurts our walk-up (business),” said Mike Sexauer, vice president of marketing for the symphony. “If it's bad and it prevents our subscribers from attending, then I worry they'll be frustrated and not renew their subscriptions.”

The symphony is so worried about the impact of winter weather on its audience that it is considering whether to reschedule its 2015-16 classical season, which normally runs from October to June, so that it starts earlier and ends later. Sexauer said the change is likely.

The average temperature was five to six degrees colder than usual for January and February, according to the National Weather Service in Moon. It snowed 17.9 inches in January and 16.1 inches in February, about six inches more than the norm.

The harsh winter had a chilling effect on attendance at events and classes that nonprofit groups across Western Pennsylvania offered, although many groups said they adjusted to keep from getting snowed under financially.

The Westmoreland Museum of American Art closed to the public for two days — because of a state of emergency over lack of road salt and because of a snowfall. The museum rarely closes for even one day a year, said Judith O'Toole, director and CEO of the museum.

Museum officials said the bad weather did not affect finances because the museum temporarily moved in August to a former furniture store in Unity while it expands in Greensburg.

“Because we're essentially camping out, it hasn't had a significant impact,” said O'Toole.

Pittsburgh Public Theater processed 1,400 ticket exchanges during the run of “Company.” That's at least 25 percent more than it would usually do.

“Congregation,” an interactive video and sound installation in Market Square, closed for two nights because temperatures were below 18 degrees, too cold for its heat sensors. Still, 7,500 persons took part in the exhibit, which ended on Monday.

“Some people could complain about the weather. We decided to embrace it,” said Renee Piechocki, director of the city's Office of Public Art.

Hoyt Center for the Arts in New Castle closed for three days because of the winter and closed early on three or four days. The closings affected its gallery, school classes and after-school program. Executive Director Kimberly Koller-Jones estimates bad weather curbed attendance, normally 1,750 a month, by 30 percent.

Officials at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh said 69,700 people visited in January, 6 percent less than expected. And 131,000 visited in February, 8 percent less than anticipated. The Carnegie Museums consist of the Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, the Carnegie Science Center and the Andy Warhol Museum.

Bolstered by the 2013 Carnegie International, attendance in January and February to the two Oakland museums was 2 percent below expectations but higher than the same time in 2013.

Over the past four years, average attendance at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium has been 8,500 for January and 16,000 for February. In 2014, attendance was 7,000 in January and 12,500 in February. The zoo closed four times in January because of the weather and three times in February.

That's no record, though. In January 2010, the zoo closed for 20 days because of heavy snowfall.

The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington avoids winter altogether. The museum, partly indoors and partly outdoors, closes for the first three months of the year.

Bill Zlatos is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7828 or

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