History of Art and Architecture

Ben Ogrodnik Colloquium

Wednesday, November 2, 2016 - 12:00pm

202 Frick Fine Arts Building

In 1975, Jonas Mekas, film critic at the Village Voice and de facto leader of the New American Cinema movement, proclaimed that Pittsburgh curator Sally Dixon had transformed independent film culture forever. He wrote, “I don’t think I’ll exaggerate by saying that Carnegie’s Film Department under the guidance of Sally Dixon (it was her creation) has been, for the last five years, the country’s most active and productive film center. The country is studying her work, her ways of running the Film Department, and is learning from her.” But what exactly did Sally Dixon teach the country? And why-- for a brief moment in the 1970s-- was Pittsburgh seen as a new center of film activity?

In response, my talk retraces Dixon’s career at the Film Section, Carnegie Museum of Art, during 1969-1975. Drawing on archival sources and oral history interviews with Dixon’s contemporaries, I focus on her idea of the Independent Film Maker Series. For years, this Series drew major artists into Pittsburgh, including Stan Brakhage, Hollis Frampton, Tony Conrad, Yvonne Rainer, and others. I also examine Dixon’s Film and Video Maker’s Travel Sheet, a mailing list used to extend filmmaker tours, organize events, find paying work for artists, and more. I conclude that Dixon’s great lessons were her advocacy for film as a creative medium and her expansive vision of how emerging “major media” centers, like the Film Section in Pittsburgh, could better serve artists.