Co-CREATING at the 2017 CREATE Festival: Why Pittsburgh is a Great Place for Artists and Entrepreneurs

The CREATE Festival is gearing up for another exciting year in 2017. One of the first announcements for the festival this year, is the inclusion of a “demo day” for the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s pilot Co-CREATE Business Ignition Program. The cohort of 6 creative entrepreneurs will show their stuff throughout festival day at IdeaFest, the Innovation Salon, and the Creative Industries Awards party -- all taking place on Thursday, June 1, 207.

Each year, the festival features a full-day line-up of art, tech, workshops, panels, performances, awards, parties and opportunities to experience the newest trends in creativity and innovation. At CREATE you will find a mashup of inspiration, connectivity, and interactivity, while showcasing the the year’s most innovative work in the Creative Industries.

The festival is presented by the Pittsburgh Technology Council in partnership with the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, and supported by Dollar Bank and Comcast.


Some of the Co-CREATING you will find at the festival: a crafting party with Pop Craft; one-of-a-kind, hand crafted hats by milliner, Gina Mazzotta;  and CREATE Featured Artists of the Year, Lori Hepner and Ashley Cecil, exhibiting their current work along with special works of art to be presented to the festival award winners.

We wanted to talk with our Co-CREATORS to find out their thoughts on being a creative entrepreneur in Pittsburgh:

Christine Bethea, GA/GI Festival

Why Pittsburgh? While born here, I have lived all over the world as the member of a military family and my decision was to embrace Pittsburgh, which I view as paradox, was a clear choice to tackle a creative challenge. To be in the mix of a time when this city is growing and changing, almost in spite of itself, allows for some very interesting opportunities and successes which might be impossible any other place in the country.  It calls for a pioneering spirit that I have. As do many other people of diverse ages and races who are staying, returning or moving into the city; up for the challenge. I think Pittsburgh is very lucky to have us.

What space are you filling in the Pittsburgh Creative Industry? I will work to increase communication between the corporate sector and arts community. My intention is to create unique opportunities that expand corporate outreach and visibility through artists and the arts.

Ashley Cecil, Artist

Why Pittsburgh? Having moved here in 2011 from London, I tried to make my career as an artist not specific to Pittsburgh. Becoming a mother in 2013 changed that. Participating in artist residencies was a goal of mine, but since most traditional residency programs are not conducive to being a parent, I had to figure out a way to do it close to home. It turns out that Pittsburgh is the perfect place for a flora and fauna painter to work, and so I created my own artist residencies at institutions such as the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. I haven’t looked back (or elsewhere since). This is exactly where I’m meant to be.

What space are you filling in the Pittsburgh Creative Industry? Art that communicates scientific concepts about our natural world (although I’m certainly not the only one in Pittsburgh working in the intersection of art and science). Working with and around scientists during my residencies has given me a seemingly endless amount of content to work from. A couple of the broader themes I’ve been draw to include how our swelling human population impacts the ecosystems we depend on, and drawing parallels between trends in nature and our own behavior. In some cases, my artwork can be translated into products that tangibly address these topics. For example, patterns fabricated as bird-safe window films that mitigate bird-window collisions.

Lori Hepner, Artist

Why Pittsburgh? I decided to start my studio in Pittsburgh primarily because the real estate market was affordable as I was starting my career as a visual artist. In Pittsburgh, I was able to buy property at the age of 26. I rooted myself into Brighton Heights, a somewhat hidden city neighborhood on the Northside. I can be downtown in 7 minutes which is great when it’s time for the Gallery Crawl!

What space are you filling in the Pittsburgh Creative Industry? My niche here is that of a hybrid digital artist where I am connecting high tech, but ephemeral mediums, computer programmed light, with the bodily actions that it takes to move myself through fragile landscapes of the world. Pittsburgh is now a hot spot for societal digital innovation (robots & driverless cars) and I can create my work within a mini-future that will exist here first. It’s my hope to pair artistic work alongside some of these innovations and to have some visual influence in these evolving landscapes.

Gina Mazzotta, Milliner

Why Pittsburgh? I was working for Saks Fifth Avenue before they closed their doors in March 2012. While working for Saks, I learned about the clientele that attended the annual Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Hat Luncheon and that every spring, we (as visual merchandisers) put an emphasis on the hat collection and sold through it fairly quickly. When Saks closed, those women were clueless on where to get a hat for their spring luncheons and events. I saw it as an opportunity to build a clientele, and through keeping contact with my co-workers who moved on to other retail positions, I was able to do just that. Pittsburgh is also a niche market for custom hats. I looked at it as a possibility to stand out and become well-known in a smaller city as opposed to being one of hundreds competing in a bigger city like NYC.

What space are you filling in the Pittsburgh Creative Industry? That I know of, I am only one of two active milliners in the city. I am designing and creating custom made hats and headwear that are essentially pieces of art and it’s not something that is readily available in Pittsburgh.  

Heather and Dave Wechter, tribepool

Why Pittsburgh? Dave and I have lived in many cities and have happily chosen Pittsburgh as our home. The Pittsburgh community has made working to create tribepool an incredibly positive experience.  We are in a town with world class universities which have provided us not only the option of staffing tribepool with educated talent, but also a community of educated and diverse party of mentors. Compared to other cities, Pittsburgh has a reasonable cost of living that allows us to focus our resources on developing tribepool, and not depleting our savings. Another great attribute is how Pittsburghers roots for one another.  Even when we compete with others for grants and funding, we cheer for those Pittsburgh companies and individuals that are making a positive impact. We have found that others in Pittsburgh's creative industries are willing to connect with us and offer help, advice, and time.

For many years, Pittsburgh provided a wonderful environment in which to raise our family. Through the years of our involvement in this community, we have developed an understanding of the merits and the challenges of Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh region is a host to many amazing organizations and events but, unfortunately, our mass transportation system is fractured and not able to support transportation needs of our community. Our hope is that tribepool will provide better access to our museums programs, concert events, sporting events, and our community events.

This appreciation motivates us in our creation of tribepool.  We love Pittsburgh for the culture, diversity, friendliness, comfort, pride, and opportunities it offers. Pittsburgh is perfect for us!

What space are you filling in the Pittsburgh Creative Industry? We are so grateful to the Pittsburgh Technology Council for including us in this year's  Co-CREATE Program. Participating in the program has included multiple opportunities to consider creative approaches to modeling our carpooling platform. The rapport we have been able to build with our fellow Co-CREATORS, and the access to a diverse group of mentors has helped us to consider multiple creative means of delivering tribepool's service options.


Monica Yope, Pop Craft

Why Pittsburgh?Pittsburgh is an exciting place to be.  I did grow up here (South Hills), went to Pitt for college, and stayed for work and now to start my business, Pop Craft.  So, seeing where this city has come from makes it even more apparent that all of the changes it’s going through are special, and I want to be able to contribute to positive change in my city.  

Pittsburgh has a strong identity that is a part of me, as it is with every other Pittsburgher.  We have traditions rooted in different cultural backgrounds that cause us to consume pierogis in mass, and bake hundreds of cookies for weddings.  We have a museum dedicated to Pop Art.  We are a city of do-ers who use their hands to make things.  We have pride in our blue collar heritage.  We are tough but friendly, educated but down to earth, and have uncommon passions for common things like football and ketchup.  Our strong identity is the foundation on which we are able to welcome the changes that will keep building our city, like growth in industries like tech and health care.

In summary, I love this town and want to contribute to making it better however I can, but especially through making it a more creative and enjoyable place to live.

What space are you filling in the Pittsburgh Creative Industry? Pop Craft is a pop-up craft workshop business where you can get creative at a bar, event, or private craft party.  Pop Craft workshops are held friendly locations like bars so people feel comfortable being creative, and can have a great experience making things.  When people have a reason to gather as a group, Pop Craft parties make their time together more memorable.  Many people like to make things, but life gets in the way preventing them from being creating.  Pop Craft removes the barriers, give you a ton of encouragement, inspiration, quality materials, and relaxed settings to get your creativity on.  Pop Craft is here to give Pittsburghers with a creative itch a way to express themselves in fun social settings.

Co-CREATORs will be at the festival from noon-9pm on June 1, at the August Wilson Center, which is free and open to the public without tickets from noon-5pm. See for full details.




Introducing Co-CREATE 2016

We are very excited to announce the Co-CREATE Business Ignition Program. The Pittsburgh Technology Council is launching this pilot creative industries acceleration program with support from Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.



Kim Chestney, Founding Director of Co-CREATE, has been working to make this program a reality for close to 10 years. As a part of the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s Creative Industries Network she feels, “The Creative Industries are such an invaluable part of a city’s ecosystem. Creative cities are vibrant, and innovative. And they are the places people want to live and work. The Creative Industries Network has a mission to support that ecosystem through entrepreneurial empowerment, creative innovation and connectivity,”

Co-CREATE was developed after the team spent over a year meeting with various incubators in thriving creative cities around the nation, including San Jose, Detroit, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, San Francisco, to learn from their best practices.

Jim Denova, of the Benedum Foundation, believes that, ”The Co-Create program is an innovative way to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit of artists and artisans. It is a critical component of the Creative Industries Network which the Tech Council launched under Kim Chestney’s leadership. The growth of the Network, and its national recognition, clearly demonstrate that the intersection of art and technology, if properly supported, can lead to new business ideas and contribute to the economies of cities, neighborhoods, and small towns  -- wherever working artists call home.”

This program will follow 7 entrepreneurs over the course of 12 months. Their journeys of starting and managing their own business will differ from one another, but the Co-CREATE program will strive to help them each in the areas that are most needed. Each Co-Creator will have access to coworking space, grant opportunities, educational meetings, and contacts that they normally wouldn’t be able to get in front of.  

Who are these Pittsburgh entrepreneurs embarking on this journey with us?

Announcing the CREATE 2016 Featured Artist of the Year, Jesse Best

The Pittsburgh Technology Council and the CREATE Festival are thrilled to announce the 2016 CREATE Featured Artist of the Year, Jesse Best, in partnership with the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival.

Mr. Best will be the headline artist at this year’s CREATE Festival and Innovation Salon, downtown Pittsburgh, on Thursday, June 9, 2016. His work will also be featured at the Three River’s Arts Festival, and gifted to the collections of Pittsburgh’s ten Creators-of-the-Year, who will be announced at the CREATE party on the evening of June 9, at the Fairmont Hotel.

Sky Disk, by Jesse Best, the CREATE 2016 Awards

Jesse Best’s Infinite Sky Disk Series: The Cosmos Collides with Abstract Painting
A special series of Sky Disks, created for CREATE 2016, represents the concept of holding the universe, and all of its possibilities, in a compact and portable piece of art. By looking up at the stars and enjoying the vastness of it all, it allows us to put our problems on Earth into perspective. Anything is possible, especially within the ever changing world of technology. These disks are a reminder to always look forward with excitement and wonderment about what the future holds. 

Jesse Best is a contemporary American painter living in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. His style reflects a material driven process with a focus on acrylic, spray paint, wood and resin. His blend of painterly brush work, combined with a graphic sensibility, has granted him a unique style and voice in the art world. His work has been featured as part of the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s Art + Technology Initiative since its inception in 2008. View more of his work at:

CREATE 2016, is the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s national Creative Industries Festival, celebrating the intersection of creativity and innovation. Part of the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, CREATE features a full-day line-up of art, tech, workshops, panels, performances, awards and opportunities to engage in the newest trends in creativity and innovation. CREATE is a mashup of networking, interactivity and inspiration, honoring the year’s most innovative art and technology people and projects.   



close up of jesse best's sky discs, create 2016

close up of jesse best's sky discs, create 2016

What People Are Saying about CREATE 2015

“It’s a national art and technology festival with over 40 interactive events and programs,” Create Festival Director Kim Chestney. “A convening of some of the nation’s most esteemed creative industry leaders and, most importantly, a showcase of nearly 50 of the most innovative tech projects this year.”
CBS, Pittsburgh

"I SO enjoyed Pittsburgh. The conference was full of interesting people and content, the arts organizations I visited were world class, and the city's culture of philanthropy and deep support for the arts was very refreshing. " ~Jaime Austin, Zero1 Garage, San Jose

"CREATE definitely has the potential of becoming the SXSW of the cross section of Visual Art and Innovative Technology." ~Emmanuel Fritz, Bass Structures, Milwaukee

"I had a great time and enjoyed meeting new people and new friends. It was a very well put conference, and the food was amazing!" ~Astrid Toha, Artist, Providence

"Thanks so much for inviting me to be part of this unbelievable feat of organization and vision. I met some fabulous people and got so much great food for thought." Sandi Carroll, Actress/Producer, Baltimore  

Inaugural CREATE Festival Promises to Excite

Innovative CREate event to be part of annual Three Rivers Arts Festival
Pairing art, technology mission of CREATE festival in Pittsburgh

Check out highlights from CREATE 2015!

CREATE Festival and the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival Announce Unprecedented Partnership for 2015 Festival

Innovative CREate event to be part of annual Three Rivers Arts Festival

This year's Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, a 10-day Pittsburgh tradition in its 56th year, will feature a new “Create” festival, along with other new features and the standard annual favorites. Create 2015, from June 10 to 12, brings together innovators from around the country to inspire each other and come up with new ideas. Create offers a lineup of arts and tech workshops, panels and performances with topics ranging from robotics, fine art, film and television to animation, held in rooms at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown. Create is a project of the Creative Industries Network as an initiative of the Pittsburgh Technology Council. READ THE FULL STORY ON THE TRIBUNE REVIEW.