Heads Up

Monday, March 14, 2016

Retooled City Books re-opens tomorrow on Pittsburgh’s North Side

Posted By on Mon, Mar 14, 2016 at 5:26 PM

  • Photo by Bill O'Driscoll
One of Pittsburgh’s more venerable bookshops is being reborn, somewhat scaled-down and in a new neighborhood.

Arlan Hess, who purchased the name, inventory and some of the shelving from the South Side’s shuttered City Books, is reopening it tomorrow on the North Side.

The Galveston Avenue storefront (right next to the Modern Café) will also have a modest grand opening celebration this Saturday, during its regular hours of noon-5 p.m. (Cupcakes are promised.)

Hess, of Mount Lebanon, for years taught literature and creative writing at Washington & Jefferson College, but was ready for a change. When she saw that City Books was closing, in late 2014, after a three-decade run on East Carson Street, she “jumped at it.”

Hess says she purchased City Books’ stock – some 20,000 books – this past April from founder and owner Ed Gelblum. (Gelblum died the following month.)

Her final month teaching was May. When a plan to reopen the store in Brookline fell through, she found the Galveston Avenue space on Craigslist. And she liked Allegheny West, with its proximity to the Mexican War Streets, CCAC and City of Asylum/Pittsburgh (which actually plans to open its own bookstore in its new Alphabet City space, on North Avenue, in the near future).

Reached by phone today, Hess says that she and her husband had been working seven days a week to ready the store for tomorrow’s soft open. It might well be Pittsburgh's lone used bookstore north of the Allegheny.

The original City Books was for years a cultural anchor on the South Side. In the 1980s and '90s, it was known for hosting literary readings and live music as well as for its jam-packed two floors of books. The new City Books is rather more compact. At 600 square feet, says Hess, “It’s a little teeny pocket bookstore.” The shelves have room for about 4,000 books, she says. (The rest are in storage.)

But many customers will find the shop more user-friendly. Hess says she has reconfigured the selection, paring down Gelblum’s extensive philosophy offerings, for instance, and adding children’s and young-adult books.

Though new to the book business, she’s been studying it. She plans to revive the store’s online presence (a big part of the book trade nowadays, even for indie shops) and to host small literary readings.

City Books is located at 908 Galveston Ave. It will be open seven days a week, from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and noon-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Learn more here.

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Pittsburgh’s East End Book Exchange still seeking buyers

Posted By on Fri, Mar 11, 2016 at 5:14 PM

  • Photo courtesy of John Burroughs

Owner and founder Lesley Rains has announced that her five-year-old store in Bloomfield is up for sale. But she emphasizes that she’s not selling because it’s doing poorly.

“The store is fine,” she told CP in an interview today. “We’re not in debt. We’re profitable.” She’s also just signed a new three-year lease for the space on Liberty Avenue.

However, she does feel like the store, which stocks both new and used titles, could do better were it owned by someone with the investment wherewithal and, frankly, the energy to take it further. That person, she says, is not her.

“I’ve kind of plateaued … and it’s time to find some new energy and some new vision.”

If the response to her sales announcement is any indication, those things might be out there: Rains tells CP she was getting calls “within hours” of making the announcement, and as of this afternoon had already had four meetings with interested parties, with four more scheduled.

That level of interest speaks partly to the surprising local resurgence of indie bookstores (which this week included the announcement of the re-opening, in a new location and under new management, of the venerable City Books, more on which in a future post).

But it also reflects EEBX’s status as a popular venue for readings and other events by both local and touring writers. Rains said that function has been “indispensable," both in terms of marketing the store and in boosting sales. Sometimes, she says, a reading will double or triple her sales on a given day.

Rains is still seeking potential buyers; in her March 3 announcement, she said she would “entertain serious offers from business-savvy booklovers who, ideally, will stay true to the store's identity as a literary community spot.”

Interested parties should contact her at lesley@eastendbookexchange.com or call 412-224-2847.

In the interim, the store will operate as usual.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Afronaut(a) seeks films for upcoming video magazine

Posted By on Wed, Mar 2, 2016 at 3:09 PM

Afronaut(a), a local series for "sci-fi and supernatural-influenced" films, is calling for submissions representing a diverse array of racial, sexual and national identities for its new video magazine Underground.

The Afronaut(a) 3.0 salon series brings thought-provoking film and video to Pittsburgh. - ALISHA B. WORMSLEY
  • Alisha B. Wormsley
  • The Afronaut(a) 3.0 salon series brings thought-provoking film and video to Pittsburgh.
The video magazine will include selected films and videos along with brief artist interviews. The magazine will be released as a DVD in September 2016, accompanied by a screening during the Greater Pittsburgh Art Council's Media Festival.

Afronaut(a), the brainchild of Pittsburgh-based interdisciplinary artist Alisha B. Wormsley, is inclusive of artists of all likenesses, and submissions are welcomed in disciplines ranging from narrative, experimental and documentary to stop-motion animation. Maximum running time for each film is 15 minutes.

To apply, send your resume, a short bio, an artist statement of about 250 words and a Vimeo link to your work. Applications should be sent to afronautafilms@gmail.com by June 1.

Selected artists will receive a stipend along with three copies of the magazine.

Currently, Afronaut(a) is in its third season and is exploring the theme of Afrofuturism. Afronaut(a) 3.0 is a salon series designed to "spark conversation and incite cinematic exploration." This season's films come from artists around the globe — including archival films and classic features from Ethiopia, Kenya and the United Kingdom. 

Afronaut(a) 3.0 continues through April 3 at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater.

For more information about Afronaut(a)'s video magazine, the call for submissions can be found on the Greater Pittsburgh Art Council's website.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

Louise LeCavalier dance performance tonight cancelled

Posted By on Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 9:57 AM

A sudden illness has caused the cancellation of what was to be the Pittsburgh premiere for this internationally acclaimed Canadian choreographer and dancer Louise LeCavalier. 

The Pittsburgh Dance Council announced the cancellation this morning of Lecavalier's Fou Glorieux, which was scheduled at the Byham Theater tonight.

 “We apologize for any inconvenience that this has caused and thank you for your support of Dance Council events,” said the Dance Council, in a statement.

The release continued: "The event will not be rescheduled at this time and all ticket buyers will receive a full refund.

"For more information, call the Theater Square Box Office at (412) 456-6666."

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

TEDxPittsburgh Issues Call for Speakers for May Event

Posted By on Wed, Feb 24, 2016 at 4:53 PM

TEDxPittsburgh, a locally organized series meant to spark discussion and change, is seeking nominations for speakers for its next event.

The event will be held Sun., May 22, at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, in Oakland. The theme is Activate: Ideas in Motion.

According to a press release, the event seeks “speakers who have taken a spark of inspiration and ignited others to change. Speakers that take service, innovation and community-building to a higher level. The people that have overcome challenges in their field activating a ripple effect that puts ideas into action, making life better for others.”

You can nominate a speaker here. Nominations are open until Mon., Feb. 29. (And yes, you are allowed to nominate yourself.)

For examples of speakers at last year’s TEDxPittsburgh, see here.

TED (for “Technology, Education, Design”) is a three-decade-old nonprofit group that holds two annual conferences featuring both internationally known and less well-known thinkers, entrepreneurs, authors, activists and scientists; the talks of 18 minutes or less are widely disseminated online. TED's slogan is “Ideas Worth Spreading.”

TEDx is a spin-off that press materials define as “a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience.” Pittsburgh has already hosted several TEDx events.

TEDx events, according to the press release, “showcase the ideas, individuals and innovations that are redefining the region.” TEDx Pittsburgh promises “an eclectic mix of local talks and videos previously recorded at TED conferences with the community.”

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Pittsburgh Opera’s “27”

Posted By on Tue, Feb 23, 2016 at 5:21 PM

The Pittsburgh premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon’s opera about Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in Paris memorably evokes some important 20th-century artists and their times.

Adelaide Boedecker (left) and Laurel Semerdjian in Pittsburgh Opera's "27" - PHOTO COURTESY OF DAVID BACHMAN PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Photo courtesy of David Bachman Photography
  • Adelaide Boedecker (left) and Laurel Semerdjian in Pittsburgh Opera's "27"
This Pittsburgh Opera Second Stage production — a series typically reserved for smaller-scale contemporary works — sets up in the troupe’s headquarters, in the Strip District. The versatile space is vividly done up like Stein’s famed artists’ salon at 27 Rue de Fleurus.

With just five performers accompanied by two pianists, the feel of this 100-minute show is intimate. That’s appropriate, as Gordon’s score and Royce Vavrek’s libretto is less an attempt to recreate the grand scale of its time period – from about 1905 to Stein’s death, in 1946 – than to explore Gertrude’s famed relationship with Toklas, her life-long partner. So it’s as much about Alice’s encouragement of Gertrude as it is about Gertrude’s own well-documented support for, say, Picasso and his art.

Justly, then, a highlight of 27 is Alice’s gorgeous song likening Gertrude’s genius to bells. As Alice, soprano Adelaide Boedecker is in fine voice, just like the other four cast members, all five of them Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artists. Adam Bonanni, Brian Vu and Matthew Scollin alternate their way through a variety of salon visitors over the decades, including Picasso, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Matisse, Man Ray, Leo Stein and various soldiers from two world wars.

Still, as Gertrude, Laurel Semerdjian nearly steals the show with her rich, warm mezzo-soprano voice. (Credit Gordon here, too: as opera legend Mildred Miller was overheard to say after Saturday’s show, “Finally someone’s writing for mezzos!”)

Throughout 27, Gordon’s melodies for the sung dialogue are more sophisticated than they are catchy in pop terms. Still, you might just go home humming the lilting refrain that runs, “the genius is in at 27 rue de Fleurus.” The lyrics play frequently with Stein’s literary style and her fascination with repetition: “Gertrude Stein is safe, is safe, is safe,” goes one refrain.

Other highlights include a burlesque of the parade of shallow wives and mistresses whom Alice is tasked with entertaining while Gertrude consorts with the artists themselves, and Scollin’s angry aria as Hemingway when he rejects Stein’s authority; the song's refrain is a barked “Bullshit!” It’s a decidedly contrary take on Stein’s obsession with the notion of “genius,” and the role she feels she can play in creating it in her more willing proteges.

The show (which premiered in 2014, at Opera Theatre of St. Louis) is also notable for candidly addressing Stein’s collaborationist activities during World War II, when she translated speeches for the Vichy government, though 27 does put this in the context of her need to survive as a lesbian and a Jew in Nazi-occupied Paris.

27, by the way, has two tangential Pittsburgh ties: Stein was born in Allegheny City (now part of Pittsburgh’s North Side) in 1874; and Gordon studied at Carnegie Mellon University in the 1970s.

Three performances of 27 remain, beginning with tonight’s, at 7 p.m. The final showings are 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sun., Feb. 28.

Tickets are $42 and are available here.

Pittsburgh Opera is located at 2425 Liberty Ave.

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Documentary (T)ERROR, about counter-terrorism investigations in Pittsburgh, screens on TV tonight

Posted By on Mon, Feb 22, 2016 at 3:06 PM

A scene from (T)ERROR
  • A scene from (T)ERROR

A new documentary about domestic counterterrorism investigations, (T)ERROR, screens tonight on PBS' Independent Lens (10 p.m. WQED).

(T)ERROR is a timely film from Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe, which addresses broad issues like freedom of religion, freedom of speech, profiling and domestic surveillance through one specific case. In 2011, Saeed “Shariff” Torres, a 63-year-old former Black Panther-turned-counterterrorism paid informant, is tasked by the FBI to ferret out, befriend and aid with the conviction of a "person of interest" in Pittsburgh, namely Khalifah Ali Al-Akili, of Wilkinsburg.

A bit of a braggart, Torres gives the filmmakers remarkable access, inviting them into his scheming to nail Al-Akili. Torres toggles between finding some thrill in the work and wishing he worked at a fancy cupcake bakery. Things get interesting when Al-Akili gets wind of the FBI investigation, and also invites the filmmakers to document his pushback.

On the surface, it's a real-life thriller, but real chills come from the firsthand accounts and on-the-wall documentation of how problematic this sort of investigation is — one more rooted in pursuing criminalized ideologies than actual crimes — as well as the inherent risks of using paid informants.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Two unconventional car-themed openings tomorrow for Pittsburgh artist Jason Sauer

Posted By on Thu, Feb 11, 2016 at 12:05 PM

Jason Sauer, Pittsburgh’s best-known artist who’s also a demolition-derby driver, debuts two shows drawing on his automotive interests, both at nontraditional venues. And they’re timed so you can catch both of them.

  • Art by Jason sauer
At 7 p.m., head to the Sewickley Starbucks for six new paintings by Sauer that honor the birthplace of Porsche, which, as Sauer puts it, “was conceived as a tractor in a barn in Germany.” The paintings were made with PPG paint on Alcoa aluminum plate, and sport handmade wooden frames. The free event at 425 Beaver St., runs through 9:30 p.m. and includes Starbucks refreshments.

At 10 p.m., Sauer will be at Brillobox (just up Penn Avenue from his own Most Wanted Fine Art gallery) to debut his latest sculpture made from demo-derby parts. This one, he says, “has a Monster Jam theme … and it’s painted white, because it is being 3D mapped” and then projected in the space. The projection is a collabo with ProjectileObjects.

The Brillobox event has an admission price ($10) because it’s actually more than an art opening: It’s a whole Monster Truck-themed evening also featuring U.K. dubstep legend Hatcha, from South London, with support from local lazercrunk DJs Cutups and Keebs. More info on the musical portion of the evening is here.

The Brillobox event is 21-and-over and runs till 2 a.m. For presale tickets, look here

Brillobox is located at 4104 Penn Ave., in Bloomfield.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Pittsburgh's National Aviary gets baby sloth

Posted By on Wed, Feb 10, 2016 at 11:44 AM

On Monday, the North Side received a new resident: a baby Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth. The National Aviary’s newest, distinctly flightless tenant is expected to be a boon for the Aviary. While the slow and steady bundle of cuteness doesn’t have a name yet, he is set for a public reveal on Friday.
Baby Sloth
Baby Sloth Baby Sloth Baby Sloth Baby Sloth Baby Sloth Baby Sloth Baby Sloth Baby Sloth

Baby Sloth

Click to View 16 slides

He will live in a habitat that can be seen through a glass pane near the western entrance to the Aviary. The three-month-old sloth will be a short ways down the hall from Wookie, the Aviary’s senior sloth. Wookie is doing “very well,” according to Dr. Pilar Fish, the Aviary’s director of veterinary medicine. The new sloth will serve a different purpose from the Aviary’s 15-year-old resident.

After a 30-day quarantine period has ended, the sloth will become an educational exhibit. If you’re able to stifle your strong emotional response a la Kristen Bell, you can come get some face time with the sloth. A note: The quarantine is not because the sloth is a biochemical hazard, it’s merely to make sure that the little guy is healthy. There are no known diseases that can be communicated between sloths and humans.

Video by Aaron Warnick

“They’re not really susceptible to infections in general,” says Fish. “They’re one of the hardiest animals out there.”

The quarantine serves a dual purpose. While it is important to be sure that the sloth is healthy, it also gives the sloth’s trainers an opportunity to condition him for visitors.

“He’s going to get lots of treats, lots of food, lots of positive interaction,” Cathy Schlott, the Aviary’s curator of behavioral management, says. “We never make our animals do things here, we always ask them … we’re letting him know that if he wants to come out, that he’ll get lots of treats.”

Though the sloth is adorable to photograph regardless, the meal during City Paper’s visit provided some crucial conditioning that will ensure that he will be in a good mood when visitors with cameras visit. (You’re welcome, Pittsburgh.)

“Having this baby sloth is different … He’s in a pediatric program for his health and his training ,” Fish says. “You’ll be able to get very close to him and have one-of-a-kind one-on-one interactions with him.”

The Aviary is taking reservations for interactive encounters with the sloth when his quarantine period ends on March 25.

Along with the anticipated traffic that the new sloth will bring, the Aviary has found another way for the young sloth to pay his rent. His lack of a name is not from indecisiveness or waiting to see what fits. The Aviary will auction off the rights to name the sloth. Details on this process will be announced in the coming weeks, but a spokesperson confirmed that proceeds will directly benefit the Aviary.

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Author Jelani Cobb speaks tomorrow on “Race and Justice”

Posted By on Wed, Feb 10, 2016 at 10:53 AM

Cobb, one of our top public intellectuals on race, is the featured Martin Luther King speaker at Carnegie Mellon University.

The associate professor of history at the University of Connecticut (and director of the Africana Studies Institute there) is a staff writer for The New Yorker, where his articles  have included “The Anger in Ferguson,” “Murders in Charleston” and “What We Talk About When We Talk About Reparations.”

Last year, Cobb won the Sidney Hillman Prize for Opinion & Analysis Journalism. The jury wrote, in part, “Cobb met the challenge of describing the turmoil in Ferguson in a way that cut through the frantic chaos of 'breaking news' and deepened readers' understanding of what they were seeing, hearing, and feeling. Ferguson was not an aberration, he showed, but a microcosm of race relations in the United States — organically connected to the complicated legacy of segregation and the unpaid debts of slavery itself.”

Cobb's books include Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress and To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic.

Cobb’s talk at CMU is titled “The Half Life of Freedom: Race & Justice in American Today.”

The talk, which is free, begins at 4:30 p.m. Thu., Feb. 11, in Porter Hall 100. (Here's an interactive map of CMU's campus.)

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