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.”