Insider’s Guide to the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts

Experience regional, U.S., and world premieres from international artists in the heart of the Cultural District this fall.

There's no need to lament the end of festival season just because Labor Day has come and gone. This fall, the launch of the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts, a project of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, will have you feeling those festival vibes all the way through Veterans' Day. 

There's a lot to take in, so we've created the ultimate guide to help you plan your festival experience.

What is Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts?

Starting with the Gallery Crawl in the Cultural District on Friday, September 21 and continuing for eight weeks, Downtown Pittsburgh will transform into a hub of never-before-seen visual art, theater, dance, and music.  Enjoy premieres by 30 international artists and companies from 20 countries, including new works by homegrown Pittsburghers. 

Opening Night

Mark your calendar for Friday, September 21. Along with the fall Gallery Crawl in the Cultural District, you'll want to head Downtown for premieres of two major spectacle pieces: Beyond and Manifold.  Beyond is an immersive audiovisual installation by Barcelona-based research studio Playmodes that explores relationships between space, time, and perception. Manifold is a projection mapping piece by Filip Roca that will transform the Benedum Center facade with 3D animation techniques, particle and liquid simulations, and audio generative images.  An original score written by Chinese composer Wang Lu and performed by an ensemble of Pittsburgh musicians will accompany Manifold. 

But that's not all.  Duck into the nearest Downtown alleyway on September 21 and you'll find live music, pop-up performances, installations, and food trucks waiting for you.  Meander the streets and peruse the artisan booths at the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts World Market. Or, head inside one of the Cultural District galleries—Wood Street, SPACE, 707 Penn, and 937 Liberty Avenue—to discover even more visual art premieres. 

Planning for Eight Weeks of Festival Fun

While September 21 promises to be a momentous kick-off to the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts, you'll want to pace yourself for the full eight weeks ahead. That's because the Cultural District will be electrified with everything from stunning aerial acrobatics (Cirque Éloize HOTEL, September 25-30, Benedum Center) to Korean drumming (Tago, October 18, Byham Theater).

Adventurous theatergoers will relish participating in immersive theatrical experiences like Quantum Theatre's Chatterton (September 14-October 28, Trinity Cathedral), Blind Cinema (September 22, Harris Theater), Mrs. Krishnan's Party (October 17-21, Trust Arts Education Center), and Joan Didion's The White Album (October 4-7, August Wilson Center). 

Dance and Kid-Friendly Performing Arts

Dance aficionados won't want to miss Rio de Janeiro choreographer Deborah Colker's Cão sem Plumas (October 13, Byham Theater), Haitian dance company Ayikodans' Cri des Nago(October 26-28, August Wilson Center), or Chinese choreographer Yabin Wang's Moon Opera (November 3, Byham Theater). 

Even families can enjoy a few kid-friendly premieres in the lineup. Middle and high schoolers will love award-winning Pittsburgh comedian Gab Bonesso's new interactive musical comedy performance, Gab Squad (October 3-6, Trust Arts Education Center). For younger kids ages 7 and up, the suspenseful yet familiar tale of Androcles The Lion (November 2-10, Trust Arts Education Center), retold through the eyes of Danish Teatre Gruppe 38 and Carte Blanche, is a must-see. 

And that's truly just scratching the surface. Visit TrustArts.org/Firsts for a full lineup of events.  Keep in mind that while you'll have multiple opportunities to experience some premieres, others are one-time-only events, so be sure to plan ahead!

Free or Ticketed?

The Festival includes a mix of free and ticketed programming. All visual art exhibitions and public art pieces are free and open to the public, including the Gallery Crawl in the Cultural District, Manifold, and Beyond.

The remaining programming is ticketed. Check individual event listings at TrustArts.org/Firsts for pricing.

Parking and Transportation

No matter which part of the Festival you're planning to experience, leave worries about parking behind. Use the ParkPGH app for real-time updates on space availability in Downtown garages.

Downtown Pittsburgh is bike-friendly! Travel on your own bike and hitch it to one of the beautifully-designed artist bike racks in the Cultural District, or rent one from Healthy Ride. There are many public transportation options available, so make sure you come on down and experience some art!