PITTSBURGH – First lady Michelle Obama is taking on a new role as international hostess when she welcomes the spouses of world leaders headed to this river city for a two-day economic summit.
While the presidents and prime ministers spend Thursday evening and Friday chewing over the world’s problems, Mrs. Obama will entertain their spouses by introducing them to Pittsburgh as well as to some of her own interests, including art and architecture, arts education, and sustainable farming and eating locally grown food.
Events are scheduled for a working farm owned by Teresa Heinz Kerry, a performing arts school and a museum dedicated to Andy Warhol, the 20th century pop artist and Pittsburgh native.
The spousal program kicks off Thursday with dinner at the farm in Fox Chapel, just outside the city, owned by Heinz Kerry, a noted local philanthropist who is married to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. The farm raises livestock and grows fruits and vegetables; some of it will be served at the private dinner.
In Washington, Mrs. Obama has been promoting locally grown food and healthier eating with a popular fruit and vegetable garden on the White House lawn, and she recently helped open a farmers’ market near the mansion.
For Friday, Mrs. Obama — who has held jazz, country music and poetry events at the White House and is an advocate for art and music education — has lined up a tour of Pittsburgh Creative & Performing Arts. The magnet school in the city’s downtown cultural district has more than 800 full-time sixth- through 12th-grade students who study dance, instrumental and vocal music, writing, acting and other creative arts.
The spouses will drop in to various classrooms as students rehearse for coming performances. They also will be treated to a show organized by Mrs. Obama featuring performances by students and such notable musical artists as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, country superstar Trisha Yearwood and singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles.
Warhol time capsule to be opened
After visiting the performing arts school, the group heads to the Andy Warhol Museum for a private tour and luncheon. They will see some of the collection’s most prominent pieces, and will be encouraged to silk-screen one of Warhol’s images of a flower onto a tote bag they can take home.
The spouses also will be invited to open one of the hundreds of time capsules Warhol is known for.
Mrs. Obama visited Pittsburgh during the presidential campaign and thought it was a hidden beauty, said Susan Sher, the first lady’s chief of staff. She wants to use the chosen venues in a city known for its bridges “as a backdrop to build bridges” and encourage the spouses to get to know each other better.
She also chose sites unique to Pittsburgh and consistent with issues she supports.
“Whenever you’re taking a foreign guest to a major American city, you want to highlight what that city is known for,” said Anita McBride, who was chief of staff to Laura Bush.
First turn as host
Mrs. Obama is no stranger to mixing with her foreign counterparts on the international scene. She met some of these women when she accompanied President Barack Obama on trips to England, France, Russia and Italy, where Obama attended an economic summit in the earthquake-ravaged city of L’Aquila earlier this year.
But this is her first turn as their host; the summit marks the first time the G-20 spouses have met on U.S. soil.
As important as it is for the leaders to meet regularly, their spouses shouldn’t be forgotten, says Letitia Baldrige, who was Jacqueline Kennedy’s social secretary.
It’s important to “wow the wives” of any foreign visitors “because they take those stories back home,” she said.