Written by Susan Zavage Grivnow
At the restored Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in Pittsburgh, an audience claps and whoops in response to a show that’s being held onstage. Rappers and spoken-word artists spin a colorful game-wheel that’s labeled with challenges to test who has the best “skillz.” The show’s concept was invented in Pittsburgh, and the local community has come out to support and enjoy the entertainment.
Janera Solomon (A&S ’98) sits in the audience, enjoying the scene. She’s the theater’s executive director, and her goal is to bring the community into the theater—into its seats and into its programming, too.
Solomon joined the Kelly-Strayhorn in 2008 after flourishing in a variety of arts management jobs with Lord Cultural Resources in Toronto, the Museum of African American Music in Newark,N.J., and the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, among other venues. Her arts-management education began in childhood, when she helped her father with his Solomon Steelpan Company by selling and promoting steelpan instruments and music in the Pittsburgh region. “A performance should make the audience stop what they’re doing—even if it’s not exactly to their taste,” he always told her. Today, she’s still involved in the local company.
Onstage at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, one of the game-show players is challenged to rap about “Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch.” While he freestyles, Solomon looks on with approval. She knows that the audience is completely engaged. Tonight, for a few hours, they’ve stopped whatever else they were doing to enjoy the show.