The history of Pittsburgh began with centuries of Native American civilization in the modern Pittsburgh region, known as "Dionde:gâ'" in the Seneca Language. With evidence of native settlements dating back to 12,000 B.C.E. over time indigenous peoples including the Adena, Hopewell, Monongahela, Leni Lenape, Shawnee, Osage, and Seneca all called the three rivers land home.It is important to recognize the patterns of Colonial erasure and injustice perpetrated against Native Communities in the region and across the country. Today, the Seneca Nation and organizations like The Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center support Native American communities in and around the region.
Pittsburgh was often a pivotal location during 18th and early 19th century warfare due to its location at the intersection of 3 rivers (now called the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio), history well documented at the Fort Pitt Museum at Point State Park a short walk from the conference hotel. By 1911, the Pittsburgh region produced over 50% of the steel used to build the physical infrastructures of our contemporary society. During the growth of steel in the region, 1880 - 1920, Pittsburgh became a hub for immigrants (including Andrew Carnegie himself). Many of the 90 neighborhoods of greater Pittsburgh carry the names, architecture and people of those eras.
From 1916 - 1940, Pittsburgh was a hub of The Great Migration, as millions of African Americans relocated to northern cities. The cultural center during the era was in the Hill District, best theatrically conveyed in August Wilson’s plays. Pittsburgh also became a jazz hub, with Pittsburgh natives Billy Strayhorn and Earl Hines as well as other jazz musicians frequenting the Hill. And, for sports enthusiasts, Two of the Negro League's greatest baseball rivals, the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays, often competed in the Hill District. The teams dominated the Negro National League in the 1930s and 1940s.
As wars, social change, systemic racism and globalization changed everyone’s lives, the impact on the rust belt was particularly hard felt. Pittsburgh’s population dropped from over 670,000 in the city to 300,000 with a significant drop in the 1970s from the demolition of the Hill District and White Flight to the suburbs.
Pittsburgh is, however, noted as a symbol and model for economic recovery. Moving from an economy based in manufacturing to one grounded in “meds,” “eds,” and technology. And is finding footing for greater social and environmental justice in the 21st century. This transformation has not been evenly distributed and while numerous articles have touted Pittsburgh as one of the country’s “most liveable” cities, community members often respond with “most liveable for whom?”
Pittsburgh’s history is laden with social strife and inequity, but also wealth and welcomeness. The robber barons of the 18th century created financial and physical assets (foundations, parks, museums, etc) that continue to fuel Pittsburgh’s arts and education sectors today. The robust immigration boom of the turn of the 20th century created infrastructure and resources for those joining our communities today. And the infrastructure of steel can be seen with our 445 bridges for cars, pedestrians and trains (more than Venice). Of course, those bridges are often a result of the astounding number of hills (with steeper inclines than San Francisco in places).
Pittsburgh isn't shy about celebrating the work of its legendary artists at institutions like the Andy Warhol Museum and the August Wilson African American Cultural Center. And with more than 1,000 arts and cultural organizations, world-class performing and visual arts venues, and a prolific filmmaking industry, the city is adding to its legacy of artistic excellence each day – and fostering a new generation of artists and arts patrons in the process.
Lucas Peterson writes of “a city that has transformed itself into a vibrant cultural and artistic hub, all while remaining true to its Rust Belt roots” in his New York Times column. In fact, The arts and entertainment sector plays a huge role in driving Pittsburgh’s economic vitality, accounting for nearly $1.2 billion in annual total economic impact on Allegheny County pre-pandemic.
Check out a searchable list of Pittsburgh arts and entertainment organizations large and small, courtesy of Pittsburgh Artist Resources and arts and cultural events on Artsburgh (both ventures of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council).
Side note: Pittsburgh has emerged as one of the most prolific filmmaking centers in the U.S. Check out this cool compilation of clips from the many films and television shows that have been shot here.