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Monday, October 7, 2013

“All You Can Art Day” at Braddock Library

Posted By on Mon, Oct 7, 2013 at 1:35 PM

Yesterday’s delightful, if somewhat unlikely, expression of the 2013 Carnegie International did at least two things really well.

One, it blended a festive community event — an open-house brunch and library open house — with the launch of one of the International’s more intriguing offerings: Locally based art collective Transformazium’s new art-lending library, featuring works by Carnegie International artists, local artists and others. You can even borrow puppets there.

If the art-lending experiment works, it will be largely because Transformazium and other volunteers and neighbors have worked hard to make the library a real community center, not just a place to borrow books and get online.

In any case, those efforts paid off yesterday in a diverse crowd of hundreds that included both Braddock residents and folks from the Pittsburgh art scene who’d seldom been to Braddock before. (The Carnegie Museum of Art ran a couple buses from the Oakland museum to the library.)

The women of Transformazium — Ruthie Stringer, Dana Bishop-Root and Leslie Stem — hosted, with help from the Sprout Fund.

Second, the 11 a.m.-3 p.m. event was a great way to show off the library itself. Andrew Carnegie’s very first public library was built in 1889, a few blocks from his first steel mill — U.S. Steel’s still-functioning Edgar Thomson Works.

The library’s long history included, in the 1970s and ’80s, a stint on the demolition list — a fate avoided only through the dedication of community volunteers.

Little by little, the library is bouncing back. Its collection of books and DVDs isn’t huge, but that’s only part of the story. Just as Carnegie’s own vision was for a community center that included a swimming pool, music hall, bowling alley, billiards hall and bathhouse, so does the reconfigured facility boast a ceramic studios and a screen-printing shop open to the neighborhood.

The print shop — set up adjacent to the building’s third-floor basketball court — is a Transformazium project, and another addition to the youth and community program established in recent years by the library’s many volunteers.

The expanse and promise of the huge library building was emphasized on a tour led yesterday by Hannah Scruggs, an Americorps worker who works at the library.

The tour included the decommissioned swimming pool, which the library hopes to remake as a black-box performance space and café. I was also surprised by the airy Rotary Room — a clubby meeting hall with a huge marble fireplace and leather-upholstered furniture, and even boasting the library’s original bronze statue of Hermes. Finally, there was the music hall — now sawdust-covered from an ambitious, also volunteer-driven effort to refurbish the wooden floor, redo the seating, and again use the grand space for concerts and shows.

The tour deposited you back out into the library’s present-day reception area, where tables were laden with tasty catered snacks, and sunlight and warm October air flooded through the thrown-open antique windows. Steps away, two grills were going, with ribs and veg kabobs. There was even live music, from a jazz saxophonist and a small brass combo.

Keep an eye on the Braddock Carnegie Library, where community volunteers, groups like Transformazium, backers like the Sprout Fund and more seem already to be working wonders in a town hit especially hard by the collapse of heavy industry.

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