Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Programming announced for Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Arts Festival

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 11:31 AM

People dancing across the face of Fifth Avenue Place, several stories high: It's sure to be a highlight of this year's Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, June 2-11 in and around Point State Park.

Blue Lapis Light performs on a building side
  • Blue Lapis Light performs on a building side
Performers from Austin, Texas-based aerial dance company Blue Lapis Light will be the ones rappeling down the Highmark Building in evening performances June 2 and 3.

That show comes courtesy of the Pittsburgh Dance Council, and was announced this past Saturday. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust-organized festival's musical headliners were announced in March; arts-fest executive director Sarah Aziz provided the rest of the programming in a press event Downtown this morning.

Along with the familiar artists' market, the festival features several temporary public artworks. These include Indian artist Shilo Shiv Sulemon's "Tidal," an interactive "geo-feedback" work in which visitors can activate lights that mimic the flow of Pittsburgh's three rivers. There's also the Umbrella Sky Project, from Portugal, an installation of colorful umbrellas near the festival's acoustic stage, and Riverlife's "to be determined: Take a Seat!," for which the local nonprofit provides 25 movable chairs equipped with GPS along the riverfront, to be used simply for sitting — and to help determine where more permanent seating might be located.

A Blue Lapis Light dancer
  • A Blue Lapis Light dancer
While all the Trust's galleries are showcased during the festival, festival-specific gallery shows include the return of DRAP-Art, the Barcelona-based festival featuring art made from trash (that made a successful visit to Pittsburgh last year) and the annual juried show for regional artists, this year with works chosen by Lee Parker, John Peña and Lenore Thomas.

The festival will also again run in conjunction with the day-long, arts-and-tech-themed CREATE Festival, June 1 at the August Wilson Center.

Other news: There will now be not just one but two Giant Eagle Creative Zones, for kids' activities, in Point State Park and Gateway Center. Likewise, The Anthropology of Motherhood, a quiet space for parents with young children, adds a Gateway Center location to its original Point State Park spot.

The music headliners include the Rebirth Brass Band, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Dawes and Pittsburgh-based acts The Commonheart and Beats + Bars. A multitude of mostly local acts populate other stages and time slots.

All festival events and exhibits remain free to attend.

Complete festival info is here.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Amazing Books to expand to Pittsburgh’s South Side, add writing classes

Posted By on Thu, Apr 20, 2017 at 1:48 PM

Writing classes in all genres are part of the business plan for Amazing Books & Records to bring a full-time bookstore to the South Side for the first time in years.

Schwartz Living Market, on the South Side - CP PHOTO BY BILL O'DRISCOLL
  • CP Photo by Bill O'Driscoll
  • Schwartz Living Market, on the South Side
Amazing Books owner Eric Ackland has signed a lease for the Schwartz Living Market space on East Carson Street and plans to begin bookselling operations there by June 1. A coffeeshop and café are to follow, Ackland tells CP, followed by a roster of writing workshops, modeled on New York’s Gotham Writers Workshop and Boston’s Grub Street.

Ackland tells CP that he believes that the classes in his Steel Quill Writers Workshop, taught by professional writers, could very well become his business’s largest source of revenue. The workshops would cover fiction, screenplays, copywriting, technical writing, blogging and more, he says.

Meanwhile, the new 4,600-square-foot space would allow Amazing Books to display more of its inventory of used books than is possible at either of its current locations, Downtown and in Squirrel Hill. “It’s large and it’s beautiful,” he says of the new space. Ackland also envisions carrying a small selection of new books, as well as greeting cards. The other two locations will remain open for now, he says.

The building’s owner, Elisa Beck, sounds similarly enthused. The building, roughly a triple-wide storefront, formerly housed Schwartz Market, a neighborhood grocery that opened in 1938 and closed in 2011. Beck has been working to turn the spacious two-story structure into a hub for ideas to create a greener society, and renovating it into a “living building,” one that makes all its energy and processes its own stormwater and wastewater, among other qualities.

For a few years, the building housed a marketplace for vendors of healthy-living products, and more recently an artists’ co-op. The plan for Amazing Books in the space is “just really exciting,” she says, and in line with her vision. (Those interested to learn more can contact her at schwartzlivingmarket@gmail.com.)

Ackland’s expansion comes at a time when, even in the era of e-books and online book-retailers, brick-and-mortar bookshops in Pittsburgh are experiencing a rebirth. And he says that his current stores are profitable (thanks in part to online sales, which Ackland says make up “close to a third” of Amazing’s business).

However, the new store would face some challenges. The loss of bookshops on the South Side during the early 2000s probably wasn’t a coincidence: Neither the rise of bar culture nor the changing local demographic necessarily bodes well for walk-up sales, for instance. An attempted third location in Oakland “bombed,” says Ackland.

Another issue: Ackland, a devout Jew, closes his stores at sundown every Friday and all day every Saturday, the week's busiest shopping day. That scheduling is “our Achilles heel,” he acknowledges.
“It is definitely hard, but we’re really proud of it.”

But Ackland says he thinks the Carson Street location, in a high-profile, high-foot-traffic neighborhood, can work. “It’s a neighborhood that’s supported bookstores before,” he says, recalling Elljay’s (since relocated to Dormont and renamed) and the original City Books, which ran part-time hours for years before closing in 2014. (Last year, City Books reopened under new ownership on the North Side.)

Ackland adds that the Schwartz location comes with off-street parking off Carson, a rare amenity in the neighborhood. And the building comes equipped with a kitchen, ready for the cafe and other potential food service.

Ackland says he is trying to raise $25,000 to fund the move and renovations to the new space. He plans to do that largely through a new membership drive. Amazing Books memberships start at $52 and come with discount benefits.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Affordable-housing advocates want Pittsburgh to buy Penn Plaza to maintain affordable units

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2017 at 2:44 PM

Affordable-housing advocates rally on Smithfield Street in Downtown, Pittsburgh. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Affordable-housing advocates rally on Smithfield Street in Downtown, Pittsburgh.
In June 2015, when LG Realty Advisors placed 90-day eviction notices on the doors of the 312 units that made up Penn Plaza apartments in East Liberty, many believed this was just another instance of low-income renters being pushed out of their neighborhood because redevelopment was coming.

Instead, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto met with Penn Plaza residents, and more than 100 of them formed a tenant council to advocate for their rights. Soon after, a deal was reached that got move-out costs for the tenants and affordable-housing commitments from the city, in turn for allowing the developers, LG, to move forward with their plans.

But things started to go south for the developers after that. A fight over the public park next to Penn Plaza went in favor of the public, and the Pittsburgh Planning Commission voted 9-0 against the developers' plans because they said LG failed to collaborate with the community. Also, the major business tenant of the proposed Penn Plaza redevelopment, Whole Foods Market, pulled out.

Now, the affordable-housing advocates who have been rallying around the Penn Plaza saga, Homes For All Pittsburgh, want the city of Pittsburgh to purchase the remaining Penn Plaza building to preserve it as affordable housing and allow the tenants to own the building, like a co-op. The building, 5600 Penn Ave., is set to be demolished soon (the other building 5704 Penn Ave. was demolished in 2016).

Today, about 20 people held a rally on Smithfield Street, Downtown, demanding that Penn Plaza be sold to the city.

Pittsburgh, through the Pittsburgh Housing Authority, actually tried to purchase Penn Plaza back in 2015, but LG declined. Helen Gerhardt, of Homes for All, believes it is time to reconsider that plan.

"The city has an obligation to provide fair and affordable housing," says Gerhardt. "We want someone to own Penn Plaza who has that obligation."

Gerhardt says that in addition to providing affordable rents for low-income residents, tenant-owned buildings can have positive effects on residents, as they tend to provide some onsite jobs and social services that can help lift residents out of poverty. She cites success on the North Side, where the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing was able to purchase scattered sites and keep them affordable and tenant-owned. Gerhardt says Homes For All will continue to call out LG until it sells the building to the city.

Gerhardt also added she is grateful that the city and Pittsburgh City Council have taken steps to address affordable-housing issues, but says substantial affordable-housing legislation must come soon. She says she has spoken with developers who are on board with inclusionary zoning requirements, where developers set aside a certain percentage of units that maintain affordability. City council is currently considering creating a Housing Opportunity Fund, which would provide $10 million a year to pay for affordable-housing projects and provide more leverage for state and federal housing grants.

Gerhardt says more and more low-income Pittsburghers are being pushed out of their neighborhoods due to rising rents and its "absolutely" time for council to act on these proposals.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Author of "Guns, Germs and Steel" and "Collapse" speaks tomorrow in Downtown Pittsburgh

Posted By on Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 3:35 PM

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond returns for a free talk at Point Park University.

Jared Diamond
  • Jared Diamond
The talk, titled "The History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years," will address "the root causes of societal collapse due to environmental and governmental structure concerns, and how societies ultimately choose to fail or succeed," according to a statement from Point Park.

Sounds a lot like Diamond's 2005 book Collapse — and, in a nation whose new leader seems intent on ignoring the science of climate change and rolling back other environmental protections, still alarmingly relevant.

Diamond last spoke in Pittsburgh in 2013, following publication of his book The World Until Yesterday, about what we can learn from traditional societies. Here's my interview with him previewing that talk.

Diamond's best-known book remains Guns, Germs and Steel, in which he ambitiously attempts to explain why societies evolved in different ways, and why some people over the millennia ended up conquerors and others the conquered. (It had largely to do with the native flora and fauna where their societies began.)

The author is hosted here by Point Park's Environmental Journalism program.

"Jared Diamond offers a big-picture perspective of how the environment and society are historically related," said Environmental Journalism program director Christopher Rolinson. "It gives our students an opportunity to ponder our actions — what we're doing to the planet, and how it's going to affect us in the future."

Diamond, a professor of geography at UCLA, has won numerous awards including a MacArthur "genius" grant and the National Medal of Science.

His talk begins at 7 p.m. and takes place in the University Ballroom on the second floor of Lawrence Hall, at 201 Wood St. The talk is free but it's advisable to get tickets here.

Here's the event's Facebook page.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Politicians and local leaders hold discussion on state anti-labor, anti-immigrant legislation

Posted By on Fri, Apr 14, 2017 at 1:19 PM

Politicians and local leaders discuss Pennsylvania state bills attacking immigrants, health care and organized labor. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Politicians and local leaders discuss Pennsylvania state bills attacking immigrants, health care and organized labor.
Big news stories about how President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are introducing rules and laws meant to attack immigrants, organized labor and health care seem to be dropping weekly. While those stories get most of the public’s attention, for Pittsburghers and Pennsylvanians, it may be more prudent to watch the similar action happening at the state level in Harrisburg.

Republican, and even some Democratic lawmakers at the state capitol are also introducing bills attacking labor unions, immigrants and public health. And because of the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the federal government tends to avoid overreaching its authority on a multitude of state laws. So, the lesson from an April 14 roundtable discussion with local politicians, union members and immigrant-rights advocates: pay attention to Harrisburg.

“We came here to talk about some issues at the state level that need immediate attention,” said state Rep. Ed Gainey (D-Lincoln-Lemington) during the discussion at Smithfield Street Church of Christ in Downtown. “There are bills in Harrisburg that we need to fight against in order to protect working families.”

Some of the pieces of legislation the panel is objecting to are SB 10, a bill aimed at defunding so-called “sanctuary cities”; SB 300, a state effort to defund services at Planned Parenthood; and a series of “right-to-work” bills. (Right-to-work legislation, like SB 166 and SB 167, would allow non-union members to avoid paying into unions in unionized workplaces. Labor advocates say these laws undercut workers' right to organize.)

“These are really dangerous times ahead, where people are trying to strip our rights,” said Pittsburgh City Council President Bruce Kraus (D-South Side) to the crowd of about 20 in attendance.

Steve Kelly is member of the Service Employees International Union and a local custodian. He said at the roundtable that if right-to-work laws are put in place, it could “totally destroy” workers’ ability to collectively bargain.

“I can’t tell you how scared it makes me,” said Kelly.

Jeimy Sanchez-Ruiz of immigrant-rights group Casa San José said Pittsburgh's Latino-immigrant community is also frightened by bills like SB 10. Sanchez-Ruiz says SB 10, which would force local police officers to fully communicate and cooperate with federal immigration officials, would increase police racial profiling.

“We should not be afraid of our own police,” said Sanchez-Ruiz. She added that bills like these could push immigrants, even those who are legal residents and U.S. citizens, further into the shadows in fear that their families might be separated through deportation.

Gainey said to combat these bills in Harrisburg, Pittsburghers must react with organization.
“We as people have to continue to organize and protest, but also bring new voices to Harrisburg,” said Gainey.

Immigrant-rights advocates protesting outside of state Rep. Tony DeLuca's office in Penn Hills - PHOTO COURTESY OF THOMAS MERTON CENTER
  • Photo courtesy of Thomas Merton Center
  • Immigrant-rights advocates protesting outside of state Rep. Tony DeLuca's office in Penn Hills
And some of that organizing is already working. State reps. Dom Costa (D-Stanton Heights) and Tony DeLuca (D-Penn Hills) have both recently changed their stances on SB 10, vowing now to vote against the state’s anti-sanctuary city bill, thanks to protests and pressure from local immigrant-rights groups.

A group of immigrant-rights advocates from Casa San José and the Thomas Merton Center protested at DeLuca’s office on April 13; then staffers told the protesters that the state representative would change his vote on SB 10. (DeLuca still supports HB 459, a bill that would impose penalties on business that hire undocumented workers, which advocates argue could further encourage employers to keep all workers off the books, thus exposing employees, including the undocumented, to sub-standard wages and working conditions. Activists are pressuring DeLuca to change his stance on that bill too.)

Members of the April 14 roundtable told attendees they should participate in a May 1, May Day march for immigrant-rights to showcase their opposition to all of the bills discussed. Kelly of SEIU spoke about the importance of organized labor joining the causes of protecting healthcare and immigrant-rights.

“My heart breaks for what is happening to immigrants,” said Kelly. “I will be there [at the march] with you. I will be there with all of the workers.”

The May Day March will take place on May 1 at 3 p.m.at the intersection of Hot Metal and South Water streets in the South Side. And a related festival, open to the public, with food and music, will occur at Pittsburgh Federation Of Teachers Hall from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Pittsburgh Steelers Owner Dan Rooney dies at age 84; Twitter reactions

Posted By on Thu, Apr 13, 2017 at 5:28 PM


Dan Rooney, the longtime owner and chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers has died today at age 84, the team announced. On both it's website and social media, the Steelers posted the above simple image.

Rooney became team president in 1975 but had been taking on a bigger role with the franchise since graduating from Duquesne University in 1955. He led the team to six Super Bowls but had a greater impact on the league and the country. Rooney led the charge to ensure that minority applicants were given a fair shot at head-coaching and senior management vacancies.

Reaction to Rooney's death was swift. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued the following statement:

"Few men have contributed as much to the National Football League as Dan Rooney. A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he was one of the finest men in the history of our game and it was a privilege to work alongside him for so many years. Dan’s dedication to the game, to the players and coaches, to his beloved Pittsburgh, and to Steelers fans everywhere was unparalleled. He was a role model and trusted colleague to commissioners since Bert Bell, countless NFL owners, and so many others in and out of the NFL. A voice of reason on a wide range of topics, including diversity and labor relations, Dan always had the league’s best interests at heart. For my part, Dan’s friendship and counsel were both inspiring and irreplaceable. My heart goes out to Patricia, Art, and the entire Rooney family on the loss of this extraordinary man."

Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf wrote:

“Pennsylvania has lost a true icon and one of our most revered citizens, civic leaders and public servants. Dan Rooney was truly loyal and dedicated to the tremendous organization he built and the city and country that he loved to serve. On behalf of every Pennsylvanian, Frances and I express our deepest condolences to the Rooney family, Dan’s friends and colleagues, and every member of Steeler Nation. He will be missed but his legacy will live-on forever in the hearts of the countless players, fans and citizens whom were lucky enough to experience his passion and grace.”

From Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto:

"Pittsburgh, and our nation, owes immeasurable gratitude to Ambassador Rooney.
Thank you for your service to our country. Thank you for your devotion to your family and the Steeler nation. Thank you for all you have done for Pittsburgh."

We'll have more on Dan Rooney in next week's issue. Below is a roundup of reaction from social media.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

“Cocktails & Camaraderie” event at Pittsburgh’s Soldiers & Sailors Tomorrow

Posted By on Wed, Apr 12, 2017 at 12:07 PM

Vintage cocktails have been a thing for a while, but Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum adds further history to the mix with its Museum Comes Alive events.

A previous Museum Comes Alive - PHOTO COURTESY OF SOLDIERS & SAILORS
  • Photo courtesy of Soldiers & Sailors
  • A previous Museum Comes Alive
These are happy hours supplemented by information about what life was like for soldiers during different wars. Tomorrow’s program includes period-appropriate music, rarely displayed military artifacts from the museum’s collection and live actors (from Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh) in costume as soldiers interacting with guests.

The conflicts highlighted tomorrow are the Civil War, World War I and the Vietnam War.

The cash bar includes vintage cocktails from those eras, as well as craft beers from locally based ShuBrew. Complimentary appetizers will also be available.

The 21-and-over event is sponsored by Steel City Vets, a nonprofit supporting post-9/11 veterans.

Cocktails & Camaraderie runs from 6-8 p.m. Thu., April 13. Admission is $5 in advance and $10 at the door. Tickets are available here.

Proceeds benefit Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum.

The museum is located at 4141 Fifth Ave., in Oakland.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pittsburgh City Paper editorial cartoonist Jen Sorensen named Pulitzer Finalist

Posted By on Tue, Apr 11, 2017 at 1:40 PM

Jen Sorensen
  • Jen Sorensen
One of Sorensen's Pulitzer-nominated cartoons from 2016
  • One of Sorensen's Pulitzer-nominated cartoons from 2016

Jen Sorensen, Pittsburgh City Paper's weekly syndicated editorial cartoonist, has been named a 2017 Pulitzer Prize Finalist in Editorial Cartooning. She was chosen for "a thoughtful and powerful selection of work appearing in a variety of U.S. publications and often challenging the viewer to look beyond the obvious," according to the announcement, where you can also view her nominated work.

It's no surprise to us at City Paper. Sorensen's award-winning cartoons, found each week in our news section, were one of the few things that helped get us through last year's painful election season. We highlighted some of our favorite comic strips on Election Day 2016 here.

City Paper has been running Sorensen's strips since 2015, when we did a Q&A with the artist as a launch to the feature. One notable question from that interview that still seems timely:

CP: Though it might decrease demand for your political strip, do you wish anything would just change about American society?

Sorensen: Yes, absolutely. I would much rather that we live in a just and fair society, and then I could go back to drawing more cartoons about hipsters. That would be great.

As long as we have to deal with the current government, let's at least be glad we have artists like Sorensen to document the struggle.

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Janitors calling for $15/hour demonstrate on Pittsburgh Pirates opening day

Posted By on Fri, Apr 7, 2017 at 4:48 PM

  • Photo courtesy of SEIU
  • Banner at PNC Park
Snow, rain and low temperatures weren't the only things casting a pall over today's Pittsburgh Pirates home opener at PNC Park. For months PNC Park janitors have been in contract negotiations with the Pirates organization, and today they hung a banner in the park reading "Spend Some Buc$ on the Janitors at PNC Park."

The janitors, who are members of 32BJ Service Employees International Union, are demanding $15 an hour in the negotiations. Janitors at PNC Park currently earn $12.37 an hour.

“We helped PNC Park become one of the nation’s top ballparks. It didn’t earn this accomplishment on its own. We work hard ensuring the stadium is maintained for thousands of fans that come to support the team each season. We have families and responsibilities, too. We are rooting for the team, but the Pirates organization needs to realize there are no winners if its employees aren’t earning a living wage,” said Clarence Thompkins, a porter at PNC Park, in a statement.

The Pirates are offering employees a 40-cent raise over the next five years. But according to a release from SEIU, the average wage of a Downtown commercial office cleaners is nearly $17 an hour.

“Unfortunately, the Pirates are notorious for their low player payroll, and now they want to lowball the cleaners as well and hold these men and women back from supporting their families and their communities. Taxpayer money goes to support PNC Park. Public subsidies shouldn’t support poverty jobs,” said Sam Williamson, Western Pennsylvania District leader 32BJ SEIU.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the $12.37-per-hour rate and the proposed increase put Pirates janitors in line with the mean hourly wage for janitors and cleaners around the country at $12.99 per hour.

The janitors' prior contract with the pirates expired in February. The Pirates have so far not responded to a request for comment.


Brian Warecki, Pirates vice president of communications and broadcasting, issued the following statement to Pittsburgh City Paper:

“We have and will continue to negotiate in good faith with the representatives of this group of under 20 employees. Out of respect for our collective efforts and the ongoing negotiations, it is not appropriate to comment publicly on any details at this time.”

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Pittsburgh's City of Asylum seeks help on last push for federal matching funds

Posted By on Thu, Apr 6, 2017 at 3:59 PM

As noted last month in CP, not only the National Endowment for the Arts but also the National Endowment for the Humanties is being targeted for complete defunding by the Trump Admistration. And one local nonprofit that stands to lose out if the NEH is cut or cut back is City of Asylum, which shelters writers persecuted in their home countries and provides a year-round slate of free literary readings, concerts and more.

In particular, the news of possible NEH cuts caught City of Asylum in the midst of an effort to raise $100,000 in matching funds. The original deadline was April 2018; however, this past January the group was advised that if it wants to be sure to get the NEH funding, it should raise the matching funds by April 20 — a deadline now just two weeks away.

As of earlier this week, City of Asylum had raised about $65,000 toward that $100,000 goal, including $45,000 from individual donors (the rest was from foundations). The group estimates that to reach that goal, it needs another $10,000 to $15,000 in individual gifts.

Here's a story CP ran in 2004, about City of Asylum's first writer-in-residence, Chinese dissident poet Huang Xiang.

You can donate here.

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