Peripatetic Passions in Korea and Vietnam

Wednesday, 05 August 2015 02:37 PM Written by

Five people in a restaurant in Korea, dressed in business clothes for a business luncheon. One man seated at the left, two women standing behind and two seated at the right in a group portrait.
As Research & Policy Director for the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, I have a passion for how public policies can help artists and cultural organizations serve the public via direct funding, tax incentives, education regulations, and intellectual property protections, among others.  

Another one of my passions is international travel. So when my wife Susan and I planned a June vacation to South Korea and Vietnam, I decided to combine my passions and meet with fellow cultural policy wonks in both countries. Why, not.

As Susan and I do more traveling, we're finding that intentionally meeting people with shared interests, and then staying in touch afterwards, is a great way to "extend" our trips well beyond photos and souvenirs.  For Susan, as President of the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh, we met with Tran Tuyet Lan, Director of Craft Link, a non–profit Fair Trade organization in Hanoi that helps traditional craft producers to revive their cultures, earn a fair wage, and market their work worldwide.  Very impressive organization.  

Now, to be honest, our trip wasn't all such high-minded faire. As one friend said, It was very "Bourdainey" (as in Anthony Bourdain). Yes, lots of eating--from "Jungsik," the noted restaurant in the Gangam district of Seoul featuring "new Korean" cuisine to touring the food stalls of Hanoi to finding locals' favorite versions of Pho (rice noodle soup with beef) and Bun Thit Nuong (vermicelli with grilled pork) to whipping around the streets of Saigon on the back of Vespas seeking fresh seafood and Banh Mi sandwiches. (I guess food is a passion too).  

Another "Bourdainey" feature of our travels was an extended "layover" in Seoul.  We originally were just passing through on our way to Hanoi, but elected to hang out for a few days and visit with three of my former students from the Master of Arts Management program at Carnegie Mellon University, where I'm an adjunct faculty--Sophia Ahn, and Bomin Angela Choi,Yejin Kang--who are now living and working in Seoul.  Lovely chance to catch up (and eat).  

Eight people standing in a group portrait on the steps of an educational building, in Vietnam.

Sophia and Yejin were also part of the meeting I set up with noted cultural policy scholar Dr. Kiwon Hong, director of the Cultural Administration program at Sookmyung Women's University, and arts research consultants Dr. Chae Boyeon  and Jee-Hye Suh.  Fascinating discussion.  South Korea is dealing with how to "professionalize" its arts sector, how to expand public dollars for the arts beyond relying on a percentage of movie admissions, and how best to fund the humanities.  I hope to return in 2016 for the International Conference on Cultural Policy Research, which Dr. Hong is hosting for the first time in Asia.  

On to Hanoi where I met with officials and researchers at the state-run Vietnam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies. I heard about their 15-year plan to develop creative industries in Vietnam with UNESCO support.  They were very interested in American approaches to arts administration and cultural policy training, fundraising, and creative placemaking.  Since the visit I've sent along many a link to resources in the States and Europe on these and related topics.  

Finally, in Saigon, I visited with the Foreign Office head of the Ho Chi Minh Conservatory of Music, who acknowledged that Vietnamese parents, like those in America, worry about whether their music major offspring can find jobs after graduation.  I've sent him research from Indiana University's Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, which shows that arts graduates, contrary to many media reports, do quite well on a range of financial and quality-of-life measures, especially those who are resourceful entrepreneurs.  

Mixing personal and professional passions is a great way to travel.  We certainly learned that in South Korea and Vietnam.  Now, where to apply this approach next?  Bon voyage.    

David B. Pankratz is Research and Policy Director at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

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Neu Kirche projections

Pittsburgh has been enjoying a rhythm of renaissance as it continues to attract boomerangers and transplants that inspire new ideas fused with that unbreakable Pittsburgh spirit. New ideas include the attraction of artists and creative workers to neighborhoods in transition. While the press has continuously praised us for neighborhood and economic progress and even President Obama comments on Pittsburgh as a role model for revitalization, any city experiencing changes can fall prey to power players seeking to command the vibrancy of our neighborhoods, which is deadly to the arts.

Art’s role is more about breaking boundaries, even sometimes causing discomfort. With a tenacity focused on exploding boundaries in an inclusive, neighborhood way, Neu Kirche Contemporary Art Center has planted new roots in a stained-glass filled historic church in East Deutschtown and just celebrated its one-year anniversary.

Neu Kirche functions not as an exclusive arts organization - it is a community center in its truest form, in a neighborhood lacking basic services. This is refreshing, contrasting art groups all over the globe who use the trendy phrase “community engagement” in an effort to join the social responsibility movement but barely practice it beyond their mission statement. Neu Kirche walks the walk.

A smile-inducing example of Neu Kirche’s commitment to authentic community work is their face-to-face interaction with neighbors, resulting in hands-on art collaborations. Neu City’s July Resident Artist, Georgina Brett, spent a recent afternoon with nearby residents asking them to create imprints of their hands in clay that will later be displayed around her garden project. Outdoor initiatives involve surrounding homeowners, who lend their empty lots for these exploratory public works: gardens, sculptures, performances, illumination.

three middle school aged children playing with a sculptural ball on a pole, in a garden

While restoring its church building headquarters on Madison Avenue and improving surrounding lots of East Deutschtown, a neighborhood cut off from amenities by a major highway, Neu Kirche is determinedly striving to bring uplifting programs and opportunities lacking in a community both rooted in heritage and also plagued by blight. I know how difficult it can be to produce new programs in a rapidly evolving location while trying to maintain a balance of tradition and contemporary practices but Neu Kirche isn’t deterred and is in fact, showing success both with neighbors and with artists.

Their Bach PGH program offers artist residencies for women artists from New Zealand, reciprocating by sending Pittsburgh artists to New Zealand. This offers a solution to the lack of international influence available here and focuses a portion of the spotlight on artistic environments beyond our region. Neu Kirche will offer their regular programming throughout August including youth and adult yoga in addition to an Open Artist Critique & Conversation (8/12), closing reception for Verklären (8/14) and they will be a stop on the Office of Public Art’s Public Art Bike Tour (8/27).

This progressive approach also extends to their gallery space. It doesn’t quite hit the high-end commercial mark but does offer a level of professionalism to the pursuit of creative exploration within a neighborhood context.

As well as public programs such as gallery talks and receptions, Neu Kirche offers artist-driven discussions of self-evaluation during their Artist Critiques – artists bring their work and discuss in a professional development, salon style session.

As Neu Kirche roots itself in community practice, a portion of their work focuses on youth programs. Oreen Cohen, Community Programs Coordinator, has genuinely befriended (and the whole staff, really) the neighborhood youth. Oreen recently told me about the evenings she has spent at the nearby defunct basketball court hanging out and listening. These conversations are turning into hands-on art projects such as teaching welding as a means to get the basketball court back in action.

In addition to all of theses initiatives there are others and I hope their admirable number of endeavors does not weigh them down because they increase the already incredible breadth of what Pittsburgh has to offer. Whether you are a part of the creative community here in Pittsburgh or perhaps feel slightly intimidated I encourage you to attend one of Neu Kirche’s events. They are truly more like celebrations, the direction in which our fine city is no doubt headed.  

Christine Smith writes the blog, Treading Art including a weekly-curated events listing, the Weekend Treadings.   


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There's Something About Braddock, Part 4

Wednesday, 15 July 2015 11:44 AM Written by

 Grey and dark blue corner of a contemporary building with orange numbers stating 501, black lamppost and sidewalk to the right

When John Fetterman became mayor of Braddock in 2006, the arts were a crucial part of his strategy for the revitalization of the town.

“When you’re dealing with a community that’s a fantastic community but has suffered so severely the way Braddock has the arts just make sense,” said Fetterman. “Artists are known for seeing things differently. When you have a community where 90% of population is gone, folks that can help re-imagine are one of the things that are needed.”

One of the first things the town did was to secure a long-term lease for a building on Braddock Avenue. They offered free space to anyone that wanted to move to Braddock. “That was kind of a real revolutionary idea,” he said. “Would anybody come out to Braddock at 8 o’clock or 9 o’clock at night to make art in this vacant building?”

According to the mayor, the response was overwhelming and both artists and musicians flocked to work out of that building. “That was really the first example of arts programming in Braddock that really brought people out to the community,” he said.

When the town lost that lease, a new space was found in an old Catholic school that during the summer hosts gallery openings each month and offers old classrooms that can be rented as art studios.

More permanent artists living/work spaces are being made available. “We are about to start construction on the building where we had the artists come in 2006,” reported Fetterman. “It’s being converted into loft-style apartments that are going to be very conducive and inspired by like-minded people who are looking for a more raw space to live and work out of.“ In addition, artists are purchasing homes in town for as low as $5,000 and moving right in to create their own work spaces.

In addition to recent productions by Barebones Productions and Bricolage Production Company, the mayor mentioned arts activities in Braddock that included two plays by Quantum Theatre (one of which took place in the library’s old swimming pool), concerts sponsored by Levi’s that sold out in a matter of minutes, and a Flux event that brought several thousand people to town. He also name-checked the UnSmoke Systems Artspace and Braddock Avenue Books as examples of the wide-ranging arts activities in the town. “We have really tried to make arts a part of the revitalization efforts,” he said.

“I count the arts as culinary arts, too,” he continued. Speaking about the Brew Gentlemen Beer Company, he said: “You have guys there who are beer technicians. These guys are experts in what they do and they create some of the best beer that’s being made anywhere let alone just in Western Pennsylvania. That’s an incredible opportunity and they bring out a ton of people.”

Together with the plans for the new Kevin Sousa restaurant Superior Motors, Fetterman said, “Bringing in those types of individuals that can appreciate and see value in Braddock, that’s the reason why I’m such a staunch believer in how the arts are such an important and necessary part of any revitalization strategy.”

There has also been a recent surge in filmmaking efforts in town, though notably filmmaker and Braddock native Tony Buba’s “Lightning Over Braddock” came out in 1988. “The joke is Braddock is Hollywood on the Mon,” he said. The movie “Out of the Furnace” with Christian Bale and Woody Harrelson was filmed in Braddock and the recent “Me and Earl and The Dying Girl,” which won awards at Sundance was also filmed in town. “I would say that’s part of the arts as well” the mayor said, “bringing that level of awareness of a very unique and special place.”

“We’re an open, tolerant community that encourages people to come in and move their theater company here, move their small craft operation here, whether they want to be part of the production like Quantum or Bricolage,” the mayor concluded. “You can participate in Braddock at any level you’re comfortable with. That’s the thing that really drives us and Braddock.” 


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Privilege, Access, and the Arts

Thursday, 02 July 2015 11:38 AM Written by

Photographic portrait of man laughing, with a short beard and glasses and dressed in a blue suit with a white shirt and bowtie.This past June, I had the opportunity to present at the first Cultural Equity Preconference at the 2015 American for the Arts (AFTA) gathering in Chicago, IL. Over 100 people spent three rigorous days thinking about art, diversity, and their own communities. Each presentation created space for me to consider, reflect, and question. From chats over lunch about gay zombie theater to bus rides investigating the urgent need to include dialogue about ability and accessibility in social justice movements, every interaction was steeped in expansive conversations.

During my time at the conference, I was dangerously close to feeling like I don’t get to engage in conversations like this in Pittsburgh. However, that simply isn’t true. Here in Steeltown, I am a theater artist and youth worker wearing many hats and constantly thinking about, and hopefully impacting, who engages in art. I facilitate youth programming at The Andy Warhol Museum, create original performance with queer and allied teens at Dreams of Hope, and generate socially engaged theater with Hatch Arts Collective. So really, it seems that I can’t talk about anything other than diversity and art.

That said, there was a lot happening in Chicago that made the dialogue feel unique. Being at the AFTA pre-conference afforded me the opportunity to be surrounded by dozens of folks constantly thinking about privilege, access, and the arts. And unlike much of my time in Pittsburgh, the conference provided me with 72 continuous hours when I wasn’t the only queer person of color in the room. I didn’t have people turning to me every time someone asked a question about diasporic arts or LGBTQ+ experience. Instead, there were many voices in the room that could respond. We weren’t in danger of “single stories” (as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's would say) curating the experience of entire communities.  

There is an immense pressure put on minority folks amidst overwhelmingly straight white groups to not only sum up the experience of minorities, but to validate or explain decisions made that directly impact minority and marginalized communities. Chicago provided me with time away from that pressure to have a chance to breathe and realize how revolutionary it is for multiple folks from minority communities (pluralism) to be at the table.

Reflecting on my time at AFTA has led me to be even more passionate about finding and facilitating spaces in Pittsburgh where multiple voices from minority experiences are empowered. The Transformative Arts Process (TAP) at the Heinz Endowments is thinking about cultural equity quite diligently.

TAP “is focused on building the field of those working in and through the arts in African American and distressed neighborhoods.” An advisory board has been assembled to bring this mission to life. The makeup of the advisory board alone sets this work apart from so many initiatives I’ve been a part of. Nearly everyone on the board works or lives in the communities TAP is hoping to impact, more than 80% of the board members are people of color, some identify as queer, and a third of the group is currently in high school. This works.

Individuals are not being asked to represent the entirety of marginalized experiences. This is key to developing culturally equitable communities and authentic arts programming. The communities at large must be at the table, and not as tokenized representatives from specific communities. No accident that during AFTA, TAP’s work in Pittsburgh caught the attention of leaders from across the country. I hope leaders in Pittsburgh also take notice.

Attending the American for the Arts Conference was an incredible opportunity. Being surrounded by national leaders was inspiring, motivating, and rejuvenating. It also fueled my commitment for the work happening here in Pittsburgh. I am grateful to have moment to reflect and celebrate, and now am ready to get back to work. 



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There's Something About Braddock, Part 3

Thursday, 02 July 2015 11:25 AM Written by


Exterior brick wall with bright sign of images of steelworkers pouring metal with the word "Braddock" underneath, a window with curtains to the right.

“The arts community is the first one that broke that barrier and said it’s okay to be in Braddock,” said Pennsylvania State Representative Paul Costa.

Costa has served in the State House since 1999 but had to move his offices twice due to redistricting. His most recent move was to Braddock Avenue. The new location would be closer to the center of his district but would also, in his view, help Braddock. “If people saw that we were taking a chance that they would maybe also take a chance and help revitalize the town,” he commented. “Things are working out fantastic. It couldn’t be better.”

According to Costa, Braddock in the 1950s was thriving from the steel mills, and was also the busiest shopping area next to Downtown Pittsburgh. But then the mills started shutting down, the malls came in, and Braddock was devastated.  “For the longest time, the reputation of Braddock was horrible,” he said.

“Over the last several years that is changing,” he reported. “I think the Brew Gentlemen have had a major impact in changing the perception. Prior to that it was the artists coming into the Braddock area due to Mayor Fetterman -- he was drawing them in. Braddock was a poor community and now young people are coming into this town not caring about that perception.”

In addition, recent theater productions like those from Barebones and Bricolage are helping the economy by bringing people to Braddock. Costa: “Not only are the actors and the theater bringing people in, they’re sticking around going to the Brew Gentlemen or whatever the case may be. And hopefully when Kevin Sousa’s Superior Motors restaurant opens up there will be more of that.”

“It’s changing” said Costa. “You see more and more people walking the streets. There’s a lot more activities going on in Braddock and I believe it was started by the artists.”

Asa Foster is creative director and one of the founders of the Brew Gentlemen Beer Company in Braddock mentioned by Rep. Costa.  Foster’s company was part of the food and beverage part of the Barebones company’s “American Falls” production.

“The Barebones folks posted a small advertisement in their program about joining the cast at the brewery after the show,” he said. “So we pretty much became the beer for the patrons who wanted to come after the show and check out the taproom and meet the cast and crew.”

Having been in Braddock as the resurgence began to take place, Foster has seen what the arts are doing in town.

“I would say the arts contribute more to the cultural economy of the town than the fiscal economy,” he said. “I think a lot of what arts groups like Barebones does for Braddock is that they bring people who would not have otherwise wanted to come to Braddock and brings them to town.

“So these arts institutions -- what they do is more than generate revenue,” continued Foster. “What they do is the very necessary task of changing the mindset of this being a rough area.”


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There's Something About Braddock, Part 2

Wednesday, 17 June 2015 12:28 PM Written by

 SAINTS aerialist 2 edited-1

“We wanted to go in and find a new story, the stories that aren’t being told,” said Jeffrey Carpenter,  Artistic Director of the Pittsburgh-based theatre company Bricolage, when asked why their most recent production took place as a bus and walking tour in Braddock. “It’s been a really exciting process in that regard and finding all of the different layers that we didn‘t even know were there.”

The company’s most recent production Saints Tour (with the tag line “there’s something in the dirt”) closed earlier this month after a sold-out run.

For writer Molly Rice’s experience-driven play, which has been performed in other cities prior to Pittsburgh, a decision needed to be made about which local community would work, here in our region. “My reaction was Braddock,” said Carpenter, “and that’s for a variety of reasons -- just the fact that Braddock has these unbelievable vistas, geographically it lent itself to this.”

“When we think of saints we’re sort of borrowing a tradition,” he said. “But this project is really about the everyday saints in our lives -- the ones that often go overlooked. It’s not religious-based though there is definitely a spiritual component.” 

SAINTS Bria on the bus 2 edited-1

Carpenter also mentioned that writer Rice borrowed the idea from old medieval plays in which troupes would travel from community to community, transforming it for a modern audience. “There are a lot of metaphors in this piece and Braddock in general and we felt it was really perfect for the tour.”

The Saints Tour project grew out of the evolutionary process of Bricolage -- which is all about creating a sense of involvement for an audience.  “This led directly to a new genre called immersive theater, which is a style of theatre where we put the audience in the center from which everything else spins,” he explained.

“This particular project is unique in that it is a project for and by the community in which it is presented,” continued Carpenter. “We worked for a year and a half and went out there on a weekly basis to meet people, develop relationships, and work with community partners to create this immersive project.”
SAINTS Tami and the kids edited-1

In developing the project, Bricolage worked with local visual artists, a performing-arts education organization based in Braddock, and a youth group that works with Americorps volunteers. Members of the community also performed in the show. “The project has just been an incredible testament to the community,” he emphasized.

Over 400 residents went on the tour, and according to Carpenter, their reactions were very interesting. In addition, the project ended every night with a community meal, made by Tami Dixon, Bricolage’s Producing Artistic Director, in which the residents were able to share stories and memories of growing up and living in Braddock.

“It’s been a really wonderful way to engage with the community, to know the people there,” Carpenter said. “It’s been a really wonderful partnership.”
SAINTS at the community dinner with artists edited-1

Photographs by Jen Saffron, top to bottom: Aerialist Kristin Garbino completes her scene in the Allegheny Cemetery in North Braddock; Actor Bria Walker as the Tour Guide on the Saints Tour bus; Children play with actor Tami Dixon in Gardweeno, a community garden for youth; Players on the Saints Tour enjoy a community meal in back of Unsmoke Systems on Braddock Avenue with tour goers and Braddock residents.


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There's Something About Braddock, Part 1

Wednesday, 10 June 2015 10:59 AM Written by

 barebones edited-1

“There’s something in the dirt down there,” said Patrick Jordan, Artistic Director of Barebones Productions, regarding his theater company’s decision to open a new performance space in Braddock.

Barebones is just one of the Pittsburgh-based arts groups that are finding Braddock to be a welcome place to create new works, including Bricolage Production Company’s Saints Tour and the creation of live/work space for artists along Braddock Avenue, a project of Allegheny County’s economic development arm and Braddock Mayor John Fetterman.

Barebones Productions started in 2003 to produce, in Jordan’s words, works by “certain playwrights and plays that were being overlooked in Pittsburgh.”  Early productions were staged in a storage room under a bowling alley: “You could hear balls rolling overhead,” he said. “And the stage manager had a power strip with three plugs.”

“We found whatever spaces we worked in: warehouses, fire houses, old bars, whatever we could get our hands on.” 

Since 2007, Barebones has been theater-company-in-residence at the New Hazlett Theater and performed several shows there.  “We’ll still be using the Hazlett for larger-scale productions,” because the company’s new space in Braddock only fits about 50 or 60 people.

The new space, the Black Box, will be used by the company to stage productions and conduct training classes. “The goal is to open it up to the Braddock community as well,” reported Jordan, by presenting films and spoken word events.

The company’s recent production (which closed on May 31st)was the local premier of “American Falls” by playwright Miki Johnson. “It’s a contemporary take on ‘Our Town’,” Jordan noted. “It takes place in a small town and most of the actors perform monologues addressed to the audience. It’s a very creative structure for a play.”

The population of American Falls in Idaho is about 4,000 “and the fact we’re doing it in Braddock with a population of 2,000 is an interesting situation,” he said.

Barebones is currently working under an occupancy permit because of all of the work that needs to be done with their new home. They have started a capital campaign to fund the construction of walls and bathrooms. “We’re well on a way and have made some serious investments in the building already,” he said.

Jordan brought in a power washer and a dumpster -- and discovered that the floor was a different color than what he thought it was. He likes that the raw nature of the space fits the raw nature of his company.

But why open a new theater space in Braddock?

“I’ve been interested in Braddock for several years,” Jordan said. “I’ve been spending a lot of time down there and my heart’s down there.  And the opportunity came up for the space”

In addition to the new Barebones home, Chef Kevin Sousa is opening a restaurant in the front of the building.  “People can come down and have a first-class meal and see some really good theater.” 

On Friday and Saturdays during the run of the “American Falls“ production, Sousa prepared small plates of the kind of dishes he will serve at his restaurant. And for people who were over 21 there was beer from the Brew Gentleman, brewed in Braddock.

Barebones is working hard to put it all together with locally made food, locally made beer, and locally made theater. “That’s what we’re after,” he said. “We’re just trying to carve out our little corner of the world and trying to get people to get down there and see some great stuff on this side of the city.”

Photography by Heather Mull. 
This is Part 1 of a three part series on the arts in Braddock, PA.


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Pretty Young Ladies Make a Pretty Big Difference

Thursday, 21 May 2015 03:51 PM Written by

PYL Dance Team


We wanted to share with you news on how the Father Ryan Arts Center has become a focal point for community expression, support and healing.

During the past year, we've been hosting two youth dance teams – Pretty Young Ladies and Dancing Soldiers 412 – led by dedicated volunteer artists and parents. They've been rehearsing and performing at the Father Ryan Arts Center, throughout the area and even in Atlanta and Chicago. The two teams are engaging at-risk youth with compelling activities that promote teamwork and personal development. We've seen remarkable parent engagement in these two talented teams. The teams' successes have attracted other groups, building a dance community for youth centered at the Father Ryan Arts Center.

This week, we were moved when the teams' engagement reached a new level. Pretty Young Ladies' leadership had a personal connection with Kelvin Lovelace, the 14-year-old who was shot and killed on May 17 in East Hills. The dance teams responded to this tragedy by putting together - in just three days - a benefit performance to help the Lovelace family with funeral expenses. The Justice for Kelvin Lovelace Benefit was held last night at Ryan Arts and raised $1,100 for the family.

WPXI covered the performance, which can be viewed, here.

We've been focused on making sure the Father Ryan Arts Center serves the needs of the entire community so we're pleased that Ryan Arts could plan a catalytic role in a time of crisis. We're gratified to see the arts begin to play a larger role in this community.

All the best,

Greg Quinlan
Executive Director
Focus on Renewal
701 Chartiers Avenue
McKees Rocks, PA 15136
(412) 331-1685 Ext. 306
(412) 771-2943 Fax
(412) 600-5606 Cell


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Last week, I visited Kopp Glass in Swissvale, a company that has been in operation and humbly booming for more than one hundred years. Originally known as the Pittsburgh Lamp, Brass, and Glass Company, these days Kopp is to aviation glass what Heinz is to ketchup. Not nearly as visible as its ketchup counterpart, Kopp is tucked away about a mile from Rankin’s Carrie Furnaces on a short stretch of historic brick boulevard, cropped short by the emergence of the busway and modern developments.

Kopp Glass building edited-1The entire Kopp plant and especially the main building is a beauty, earning credentials as a national historic site, with a fresh paint job and an American flag big enough to wrap around a city bus. The year “1899” prominently figures into the façade of the main building, asserting its history.

Standing in front of the building, I spun around to look up the hill toward Columbia Avenue.  I imagined my French ancestors working at this glass factory all day and then walking up that hill to their house on Columbia Ave. My great grandpa and his older brother Joe were both skilled glassblowers from near Lyon, France. By 1900 both of them decided that it was time to get out of France and go someplace nice- like Pittsburgh.

Back then there were glass factories in Long Island, Eastern and Western PA, Ohio. Once my ancestors got to Pittsburgh, they found themselves working for the up and coming Nicholas Kopp. Nicholas Kopp was a glassblower who accidentally discovered red selenium glass, the first type of glass that could emit a high quality red light. Another Pittsburgh claim! The discovery turned out to be his serendipity and started the company on a path to more scientific processes and more lucrative business partnerships. The need for glass and the kind of glassware that would be in demand was about to change dramatically with the growing popularity of electric light and America’s industrialization. So, my artistic ancestors started making less decorative and more scientific glass.

At Kopp Glass, I met the Vice President of Sales and Marketing who was as generous and accommodating as could be, offering an overview of the company and showed me some of their wares. Kopp makes some amazing glass like prismatic lenses, night vision filters, colored glass, railroad lights, air field landing lights, EMI resistant glass for aircraft that deflects lightning (which I believe is Asgardian tech), and they still make hand blown glass.

Our conversation switched to a banker box containing notebooks, photos, and documents linked to my ancestors. Anecdotal pieces of my family history were verified and holes in stories began to fill in as I looked at the contents of the box. The most remarkable items were the handwritten notebooks filled with skilled glass blowers’ recipes for different colors of glass. Those 100 year old notebooks contained homespun instructions and measurements passed on in a mix of French, German, and English jargon from even older sources. 

Kopp Glass photo - people edited-1

Kopp himself had spent time recording glass recipes dictated to him by an old, blind master glass artist in Germany. Turns out my cousin Constant came home from WWI and figured out how to translate the collected recipes into the correct chemical names and measurements. He also created a code system so the old timers could follow the batch instructions. That was all so long ago I wasn’t expecting to feel close to it, but it felt very familiar when the handwriting in the notebooks looked just like my Great Uncle John’s.

My great grandpa’s older brother Joe married Nicholas Kopp’s sister, Adele Kopp, which made him a shareholder, raising his status in the company. Meanwhile, my great grandpa, Pete, married my French peasant great grandmother and had a lower position in the company. Apparently, the class division caused a rift between the brothers and my great grandpa forever carried around the bitterness of being on the losing side of sibling rivalry. Such an artist! Great Grandpa Pete’s older brother’s descendants, my cousins I suppose, still have shares in the company. (Note to self: Marry the boss’ sister.)   

Kopp Glass globes edited-1

I feel like a lucky time traveler to have visited Kopp, learning more about my family’s history with the company. We also talked ideas of how Kopp might be able to support or even collaborate with today's Pittsburgh Arts Non-Profit scene and I connected them with a conservator who can help them find a better place to store their historical documents - other than a banker box.

My job is to promote Pittsburgh’s arts scene and to highlight opportunities for the arts. So maybe it is fitting that my own family ended up here because of opportunities for artists 100 years ago. To complete the loop I want to point out that Kopp is hiring in almost every department right now. They just hired a glass Phd actually. You can learn all about current opportunities at Kopp on their website, here.        



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Taco Salad and Democracy in Harrisburg

Monday, 11 May 2015 02:33 PM Written by

State Capitol with people walking

Tuesday is taco salad day at the Pennsylvania State Capitol cafeteria. I hear they're really tasty. Maybe I'll get a chance to try one tomorrow (May 12) when staff from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council (including me) lead a SWPA delegation to Harrisburg for the annual Arts & Culture Legislative Visits Day. We'll be joining nearly 100 arts & culture advocates from across the Commonwealth, as well as advocates representing interest areas from firearms rights to ALS treatment to environmental regulations - lots of politically active groups turn out when the PA General Assembly is in session, and Tuesday is one of those days.

Yes, democracy in action, a chance to interact directly with our elected representatives. But I suspect some of us may be drawn there, at least in part, by the taco salads.

But, we'll have to see about cramming in tomorrow's lunch, because our schedule's looking pretty full. After all, for the arts & culture, it's an exciting time in Harrisburg, with a new Governor, many new elected representatives and committee chairs, budget debates, and a range of hot-button issues affecting the nonprofit arts industry, for example: 1) the prospect of lifting tax exemptions from admissions to museums and historic sites to generate new tax revenues, and 2) Senate Bill 4, on who is to decide the tax-exempt status of non-profit organizations - the judicial or legislative branch?

Our delegation will be meeting with these legislators and/or their staffs this year:
Sen. Jay Costa, District 43
Sen. Wayne Fontana, District 42
Sen. Matt Smith, District 37
Sen. Randy Vulakovich, District 38
Rep. Paul Costa, District 34
Rep. Dan Deasy, District 27
Rep. Dan Frankel, District 23
Rep. Mark Mustio, District 44
Rep. Adam Ravenstahl, District 20
Rep. Jake Wheatley, District 19

Now, actually finding the offices in time for the appointments can be a challenge. On the Senate side, there's actually an elevator. For the rest of it, we're schlepping.

Once there, these meetings are often about relationship-building. The elected officials like to hear about the activities of arts & culture organizations in their districts and how they are serving the public. GPAC will have information on hand about grants to each district from Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the PA Museums and Historical Commissions, counts of creative industry businesses by district, and reports on the economic impacts of the arts & culture in the SW PA region. We always try to include at least one constituent from the official's district who can share their personal stories of the arts in their community.

But make no mistake, there are "asks" to be made and objectives to be achieved during these visits – it's not just about the taco salads. This year we will seek commitments, for example, to:

  • Increase Pennsylvania Council on the Arts per capita funding from its current ranking of 26th nationwide to $1.66 per capita
  • Re-establish the Governor's School for the Arts
  • Increase the cap on the PA Film Production Tax Credit Program

One new "ask" stems from GPAC and statewide partners such as the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and Citizens for the Arts in PA to develop aspirational policy goals based, in part, on review of other states' policy innovations. This new ask is "to pass legislation that provides tax incentives and technical assistant to create arts & culture districts in PA."

Our rationale: "Cultural districts are a proven success in drawing residents and visitors, creating a destination that supports local businesses and attracts residents. They build upon existing infrastructure, such as historic building and performing arts venues, around which new investment occurs. Cultural district designations and tax credits create a tipping point for the redevelopment of population centers as focal points for community engagement."

Rep. Dan Deasy will likely be putting forth legislation about cultural districts in this session, so we particularly look forward to meeting with him. GPAC will keep in touch about the results of these meetings and will share opportunities for you to get involved going forward.

David B. Pankratz is the Research & Policy Director at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council





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