Art Olympics

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Tom Sarver’s Art Olympics features high-energy live art making action in a gameshow inspired event. The show combines the action and spontaneity of sports with the creativity and vision of art making. Over the course of two hours, teams of artists compete to make winning sculptural works out of piles of junk. Teams are judged by a panel of community members and arts professionals. Criteria for judging includes creative use of materials and adherence to the team artist statements. Teams often engage the audience in unexpected ways as the performance element is a key factor in the competition. As teams work in designated zones, audience members can get up close to see the art making action. A halftime show involves selected members of the audience competing in an art making challenge.


March 17th, 2007 – The first Pittsburgh Art Olympics was a 2.5 hour contest at the Mattress Factory Museum of Art titled Installation Olympic Theatre.  Judges for the contest were Bill O’Driscoll, Heather Pesanti, John Morris and Owen Smith. Tavia La Follette led the winning team (with teammates Atticus Adams, Stephanie Mayer-Staley and Larry Bogad). Ben Kinsley led a team with Kazuki Eguchi, John Peña and Robin Hewlett. Teresa Foley led a third team with Jesse McLean, Carolyn Lambert and Thad Kellstadt. The successful first Art Olympics set the stage for a series of events funded by The Sprout Fund.


First Art Olympics at Mattress Factory, 2007, Larry Rippel Photography.

August 5th, 2007 – Hothouse, The Sprout Fund’s showcase of funded projects, East Liberty, Pittsburgh.

October 6th, 2007 – The second Art Olympics took place at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side of Pittsburgh. Team leader Douglas Loewen traveled from Morgantown, West Virginia to compete against two Pittsburgh teams (with teammates Emily Walley, David Hale and Evan Thomas). Loewen’s team won the competition with a strong push in the final twenty minutes of the competition. Judges were Mickey McManus, Thommy Conroy, Karen Hartman and Heather Mallak. Morgan Cahn led a team including Caldwell Linkerbelle, Ange Gagnon and Teresa Martuccio. Christopher Kardambikis led a team including Nicholas Hohman, John Brodski and M.J. Sadeghi.


Art Olympics at New Hazlett Theater, 2007, Larry Rippel Photography.

April 5, 2008 – The third main event, Art Olympic Theatre III, took place at the Union Project, a church building in the East End of Pittsburgh that was in the process of being transformed into a community arts space. At the time of the event the main hall of the building was sloped, adding an extra challenge for the teams. Anton Lieberman led a team from Philadelphia. Theater artist Kerri LaCharite and multimedia artist Shaun Slifer also led teams. Judges for the event included Jasdeep Khaira, Kathryn Heidemann and Pat Clark. The packed show featured music from deejay Mary Mac. A rocket ship was built, a fast food production line (complete with deep frying) was created, a political rally ensued, and an improvised art and music studio provided lessons to audience members. In the end, LaCharite’s team prevailed.


Art Olympics at Union Project, 2008, Larry Rippel Photography.

May 3, 2008 – Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Pittsburgh Biennial.

June 21, 2008, Main event at Market Square, Three Rivers Arts Festival, Pittsburgh.


Art Olympics at Market Square, Three Rivers Arts Festival, 2008, Larry Rippel Photography.

December 9th, 2011 – A condensed version of Art Olympics was featured at The Sprout Fund’s ten year anniversary event at the August Wilson Center, Downtown Pittsburgh. Carnegie Museum curator Dan Byers, artist Gabe Felice and public art consultant Renee Piechocki faced off in a puppet making competition. It was action-packed ten minutes of tearing, cutting, pasting and tying. By audience decision, the winner was Gabe Felice.

February 23rd, 2013 – Mattress Factory Museum of Art, 35th Anniversary Celebration.


Art Olympics at Mattress Factory 35th Anniversary Celebration, 2013.

August 29th, 2015 – With a resurgence of interest in Art Olympics, the event returned as the Art Olympic Festival for the inaugural season of Follow Grounds residencies at the Neu Kirche Contemporary Art Center. Happening in a vacant lot in the East Deutschtown neighborhood of Pittsburgh, the festival-style event featured a live marching band, a new community mural and art making activities for all. Judges for the event were Christiane Leach, Wayne Younger, Maritza Mosquera and Erika Johnson. Judged as making the best use of materials provided, team leader Craig Freeman won the competition along with teammates Elizabeth Rudnick, Nathan Curtis and David Zak. Hyla Willis led a team along with Ryan A. Murray, Felipe Garcia-Huidobro and Hannah G. Thompson.  D.S. Kinsel of Boom Concepts led a team with Daryl Collier, Anqwenique Wingfield and Julie Mallis. The event was funded in part through community support with ioby crowdfunding.


Art Olympic Festival, East Allegheny, 2015, Larry Rippel Photography.

September 17th, 2016 – The tenth and final episode of Art Olympics happened at the Re:New Festival in Downtown Pittsburgh. The event was sponsored by Goodwill Industries, who supplied giant bins of junk to each team. Team leader Sam Turich was joined by Alisha Wormsley, Derek Reese and Gab Cody. Team leader Ryder Henry (winning team) also featured Kate Bechak, Jen Bechak and Nick Falwell. Team leader Audra Clayton worked with Ryan McCormick, Christopher Wright and Kara Zuzu. Judges will included art critic Graham Shearing, Gwen Bowman of Pittsburgh Puppet Works, artist Travis Mitzel and Diana Shark of Goodwill Industries. Emcees for the event are Tom Sarver and Mike Cuccaro, with deejay Dave Zak.

Art Olympic, Team Answers

Art Olympics at RE:New Festival, Downtown Pittsburgh, 2016, Larry Rippel Photography.