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Kelly Strayhorn Theater gets $1 million grant

| Friday, May 23, 2014, 11:30 a.m.
The Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty after dark.
Kelly Strayhorn Theater
The Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty after dark.

The Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty has secured a $1.05 million grant from the Heinz Endowments to help it increase attendance, create membership and fellowship programs, expand its infrastructure and broaden its base of donors at all levels.

“It's a great vote of confidence,” said Janera Solomon, the theater's executive director. “It's something that's really important for a community-based organization to get the kind of cultural capital that comes with being supported in this major way by the Heinz Endowments. It signals to our community that we're doing something important, and that actually helps us do our work better.”

Kelly Strayhorn presents exceptionally diverse programming, including world premieres, film festivals and community activities. It also supports the work of emerging artists through residencies and performances, including choreographer Kyle Abraham, a 2013 recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship.

The Heinz grant includes different projects, said Justin Laing, Heinz Endowments senior program officer for arts and culture.

“The majority is for operating support,” Laing said. “That's because of our excitement about the programming that the Kelly Strayhorn is doing in a variety of different communities. It connects to arts education and dance. Just the number of rentals you see going in there shows the role Janera and the theater are taking in the revitalization of East Liberty.

“What we really like about them is the inclusivity of what they're doing,” he said. “Janera is including people who live there, people coming there and people want might want to come there — and is putting art in the crux of that conversation.”

Solomon points to the way East Liberty continues to change. “Back in 2008, when we started, people were coming but were cautious,” Solomon said. “They'd ask, ‘How far is the parking from the theater?'

“Now, the neighborhood has gotten a reputation as a great destination,” she said. “There's life on the street and great restaurants. It's a hot spot, and it's a great opportunity for us to be part of that transformation in a significant way.”

Solomon said the Kelly Strayhorn's adventurous programming has been achieved by a small, dedicated staff, and that the grant will enable an expansion of staff and programming.

“The other major part of the award is to support the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in bringing in African-American artists interested in social practice, connecting directly to neighborhoods and communities and to incubate them, perhaps even to locate to Penn Ave.,” Laing said.

Named for dancer Gene Kelly and composer Billy Strayhorn, the theater will celebrate its 100-year anniversary in the fall.

Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

Summer programming

The Kelly Strayhorn Theater's East Liberty Live! 2014 will offer more than 20 shows, including music, dance, film and family events — the theater's largest line-up of summer programming.

Many events involve community partnerships, including Chamber Music Pittsburgh's Just Summer concert series, June 17, 19 and 24; Iron Cross Ministries' Gospel Xplosion, Aug. 2; and (Greer) Reed Dance, Aug. 2.

Beats-N-Eats will be midday dance parties on June 11, July 9 and Aug. 13, with lunch and drink menus, a specially crafted playlist and dancing. The theater will host a Let's Move Family Dance party July 12.

Summer Classics, presented in association with North Way Christian Community, celebrates the Kelly Strayhorn's movie theater history with family-friendly programming July 29 and Aug. 19.

Kelly Strayhorn will continue its support of emerging artists with residencies and works-in-progress performances. The Creative Community Residence Program will present “Wiegenlied” (Lullaby) by TanzTheater Andre Koslowski on June 20, “johnbrown” by Dean Moss/Gamophyte on June 27 and “Testify: A Black Womanhood Series — Poem 2” by Joy KMT on July 11.

Details: 412-363-3000 or kelly-strayhorn.org

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