Controversy stirs amid downtown Christmas Market

Owen Donohue | Staff Writer


The People’s Gas Holiday Market in downtown Pittsburgh marks its seventh year this winter. Over 30 full-time and visiting vendors have set up shop in Market Square in small wooden stalls, inspired by German Christkindlmarkts, or Christmas Markets. Local and regional vendors show off clothes, art, food, crafts and other goods — many of which are produced locally — from Nov. 16th to Dec. 23rd.

“I love coming here because I can find something for almost everyone in my family,” said Jane McIntosh, a Pittsburgh native. “Or just get some good food,” she added, eyeing the Helmut’s Strudl booth, which offers Bratwurst, hot chocolate and its namesake Austrian Strudel.

Allison Glancey, a designer who runs strawberryluna, had a positive outlook on business this season. “I design all of the work on this half, and all of this is my partner’s,” she said, gesturing to the prints and art products in the stall. Like many other vendors, the pair have worked at the Holiday Market for several years.

“Last year, there were three of us in [the stall],” Glancey said. “So it was like, ‘here are my five things!’”

This year, Glancey and her husband have a stall to their own and display dozens of their original designs on prints, mugs, candles, bags and prints.

The Holiday Market also features entertainment, which varies daily and includes “performance groups, school and community choirs, bands, local musicians and more,” according to the event’s website. A karaoke contest runs every Monday and Tuesday evening. Finalists have a chance to win a grand prize of $1,000. Performers entertain the crowds on a stage bearing the name of the Colcom Foundation, which sponsors the event through the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

Underneath the glowing lights and festive tunes, however, lies controversy. The Colcom Foundation, which advocates for environmental causes as well as population control, is seen as a supporter of white supremacy by some. As the city still recovers from the Tree of Life shooting, whose perpetrator was inspired by anti-immigrant rhetoric, local advocates argue that Colcom should not be sponsoring the Holiday Market.

According to the Colcom website, “The primary mission of Colcom Foundation is to foster a sustainable environment to ensure quality of life for all Americans by addressing major causes and consequences of overpopulation and its adverse effects on natural resources.”

According to public tax documents, in 2016, the Colcom Foundation donated $19 million to anti-immigrant groups. The three largest beneficiaries were the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and Numbers USA, according to tax forms. The three organizations are again listed as beneficiaries on the Colcom website for 2018.

“[Colcom] is complicit in all the violence that is happening to immigrants in the borderland,” said Christina Acuña Castillo, a spokesperson for Casa San Jose, an organization which supports Latino immigrants in Pittsburgh.

A coalition of organizations — including Casa San Jose, Pittsburgh United, the Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, the Thomas Martin Center and others, makes clear demands.

“Our three main goals are to remove all Colcom funds from the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, remove the Colcom sign from the center stage … and for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership to issue a public apology for accepting Colcom funds,” Acuña Castillo said.

FAIR, which received over $7 million from Colcom in 2018, was founded by John Tanton, an advocate of eugenics.

According to the New York Times, Tanton has said, “One of my prime concerns is about the decline of folks who look like you and me … for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” Tanton was also a key initial investor in CIS.

The coalition’s long term goal is “to have the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership divest 100 percent from the Colcom Foundation because the Colcom Foundation funds a lot of their work,” according to Acuña Castillo.

Meetings between coalition representatives and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership are taking place this week, says Acuña Castillo, and answers to the demands Friday.

To the public, she suggested, “Be intentional at where you spend your time and where you spend your money.”