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Community Spotlight: Kelly Strayhorn Theater

By September 24, 2021March 3rd, 2023Blog, Community Spotlight
Two black women with braids look at colorful and geometric art on a gallery wall.

By Gita Michulka, Contributing Writer   |   Image: Community members visit the new Gallery KST to see the exhibition by Women of Visions. Photo by  Lindsay B. Garvin.

Community Spotlight

The Community Spotlight series features Rivers of Steel’s partner organizations whose work contributes to the vibrancy of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.

Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s Gallery KST Unveiled

For the first time in two years, guests have been welcomed back inside the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in a joyous revival of the arts, dance, music, and performances the venue has hosted for decades.

When guests walk through the front doors now, they are immediately immersed in a new arts and performance space, the Gallery KST.

Thanks in part to funding provided by a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation, Environmental Stewardship Fund, administered by Rivers of Steel, Kelly Strayhorn Theater has spent the previous year updating and enhancing their former lobby space. These renovations allow the theater to host additional artist showcases that greatly augment visitor experiences.

Four people of color walk through a white walled gallery showing paintings and sculpture.

The Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s new Gallery KST.  Photo by Lindsay B. Garvin.

Kelly Strayhorn Theater—A Neighborhood Icon

An icon of the neighborhood since 1914, Kelly Strayhorn Theater (then Regent Theatre) was originally one of the nation’s first nickelodeons. Over the century since it first opened, it has remained a haven for artists and the arts, though the theater itself has shifted and evolved through leadership, mission, and name changes.

What makes Kelly Strayhorn Theater unique, though, is the way the organization celebrates their interaction with the community. It isn’t just about selling tickets; programming is chosen with a goal of forging connections with patrons as well as neighborhood businesses and service organizations, a priority that can continue to grow with the new Gallery KST.

“Kelly Strayhorn Theater is more than a performing arts theater in a historic space,” says Joseph Hall, KST executive director. “Our vision is to uplift our community by being a brave space to create for BIPOC, LGBTQIA folks, and historically resilient communities. We want the theater to be a place that makes everyone feel at home, both on stage, in the audience, and while in our lobby.”

A Community Space

The inaugural exhibit for the renovated Gallery space is MAGNIFICENT MOTOWN! Art Inspired by the Music, in partnership with Women of Visions in celebration of their 40th anniversary. Inspired by the revolutionary musical genre, this exhibit showcases interpreted titles of Motown songs as physical artworks.

Through a connection with Women of Visions, the Gallery has also welcomed ORIGINS Marketplace, a multifaceted effort driven by Bridgeway Capital’s Creative Business Accelerator that supports initiatives aimed at advancing Black voices and aesthetics in the regional arts and cultural economy / ecosystem.

With pandemic closures shuttering nearby businesses and community spaces, the staff at Kelly Strayhorn Theater have been keenly aware of the need for a safe, cultural hub in East Liberty. The Gallery KST will serve as a space for the community with open hours outside of performances, where visitors can explore showcases that include photography, paintings, mixed media, and sculptures.

Gallert wall partitions intersect the lobby space of a old style theater with tin ceilings, ornate wall panels, and a mosaic tile floor.

“With the uncertainty of the pandemic, our community’s health and safety come first for us at KST,” notes Marketing Manager Kelsy Black. “Moving forward into our 2021-2022 season, we will continue to closely follow the CDC and Allegheny County Health Department’s guidelines to make sure that all of us can enjoy the performing arts without fear or unease. All our performances, workshops, and classes will be masked and physically distanced because to us, you can’t have a great show without an audience who feels safe and at home.”

A full season line-up, along with the theater’s most up-to-date Covid policy, is available at

Additional funding for this project was provided by Bridgeway Capital and The Pittsburgh Foundation.

About the Mini-Grant Program

Rivers of Steel’s Mini-Grant Program assists heritage-related sites and organizations as well as municipalities within the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area to develop new and innovative programs, partnerships, exhibits, tours, and other initiatives. Funded projects support heritage tourism, enhance preservation efforts, involve the stewardship of natural resources, encourage outdoor recreation, and include collaborative partnerships. Through these efforts, Rivers of Steel seeks to identify, conserve, promote, and interpret the industrial and cultural heritage that defines southwestern Pennsylvania.

The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area is one of twelve supported by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). Funding is provided via DCNR’s Community Conservation Partnerships Program and the Environmental Stewardship Fund to Rivers of Steel, which administers the Mini-Grant Program. The Kelly Strayhorn Theater is one of six organizations who received Mini-Grant funding through this program in 2021.

The application for Round 26 funding is through September 30, 2021. Click here for more information on how to apply for funding. 

All photos of the Gallery KST are by Lindsay B. Garvin.

Gita Michulka is a Pittsburgh-based marketing and communications consultant with over 15 years experience promoting our region’s arts, recreation, and nonprofit assets.  

If you’d like to know more about Women of Visions, the artist collective that is mentioned in this story, check out this profile article featuring them from our Heritage Highlights series.