Thursday, April 30, 2015

River of Words Oral History Project: Gwendolyn Moorer, "Baseball," "Amore," and Public Art's Relationship to Quality of Life

I had the opportunity to speak with Gwen Moorer on February 22nd. Gwen, who is on the City of Asylum board, as well as the Y board on the North Side, had some powerful insights about the relationship between public art and cultivating quality of life, that sense that a neighborhood is fulfilling. Of her words she said: "As a result of having "baseball" on my house, now, when people ask me where I live I tell them my neighborhood, and with people in the neighborhood I say "I'm the baseball house." But in addition to that, of course you know, as a result of our, I guess, the interaction and the sociology within the neighborhood, a lot of people sit on their stoops. I don't sit on my stoop a lot but I have a small garden in front of my house where there was a tree, but I made it a nice little flower garden and people walk by a lot, and when they walk by that are like "Oh! I like the 'baseball' why did you pick 'baseball'" People may just walk by and say "Hello, how are you?" now they strike up conversations. And its all different kinds of people. Its just like, I can't even begin to tell you the diversity of people who have spoken about it."
Transcript follows.

Thanks, Gwen!
"Baseball." Image courtesy of AceRo/City of Asylum.

CB: OK so the dates is February 22nd and I am here with Gwen Moorer as part of the River of Words Oral History Project. Thanks so much for being here with me today.

GM: Thank you.

CB: I wanted to start with some demographic data. One of the things that I am interested in is learning about the diversity of the folks who have served as hosts for the words. So can we start with your address, your age, your marital status, your race or ethnicity, and I can prompt you about these little details.

GM: My name is Gwendolyn Moorer I live at 1215 Arch Street Pittsburgh PA 15212. I am 62 years old. I am divorced, and I am African-American.

CB: How long have you lived in the North Side?

GM: I bought my house in 1978.

CB: How long have you lived in Pittsburgh?

GM: Since 1971.

CB: OK. Great. Does your house fall within the Mexican War Street Historic District?

GM: No.

CB: OK. I want to turn now to the River of Words project. Can you tell me about how you became involved with it and what your experience was like?

GM: I am on the board of City of Asylum and I try to participate in as many of the community activities as possible. When I heard about the River of Words project I was really enthusiastic about participating. I also, in a previous position, I work for the City of Pittsburgh, I worked with the manager of art for city art, who works for the city. I really like the idea of public art, and I also like the dimension it adds to the quality of life. I think it is really beautification of the neighborhood: I like trees, I like gardens, and I think art just kind of rounds out that whole-- it adds to the beauty, it adds to the conversation. I am one of the community gardeners and have been a community gardener since about '82, and I notice how the conversation, how different folks come through the garden and have conversations: rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight, female or male, it really fosters communication amongst the neighbors and I assume that that same thing would occur with the River of Words project. And it did.

CB: Ok. Can you tell me about some of those conversations that you saw started from the River of Words.

GM: Well, a lot of people asked questions. I have two houses. My house that I live in has the word "Baseball" and my house is pumpkin brick trimmed in royal blue, and the baseball word matches my royal blue perfectly, so I thought that was kind of serendipitous. And I have another house that has the word "Amore" on it, which is love. And baseball is my favorite sport, which is why I picked the word baseball, and "Amore" I like because love, to me, is all there is really in the world. Its the beginning, its the end, its everything. As a result of having "baseball" on my house, now, when people ask me where I live I tell them my neighborhood, and with people in the neighborhood I say "I'm the baseball house." But in addition to that, of course you know, as a result of our, I guess, the interaction and the sociology within the neighborhood, a lot of people sit on their stoops. I don't sit on my stoop a lot but I have a small garden in front of my house where there was a tree, but I made it a nice little flower garden and people walk by a lot, and when they walk by that are like "Oh! I like the 'baseball' why did you pick 'baseball'" People may just walk by and say "Hello, how are you?" now they strike up conversations. And its all different kinds of people. Its just like, I can't even begin to tell you the diversity of people who have spoken about it. I've elected to keep my word because I really like it, I think it adds just a little bit of pizzaz to my house, and I want to keep it on my other house, the "Amore," because I think it adds to the ambience of the house, and it adds ambiance to the neighborhood. On Arch Street there are, oh my gosh, probably twenty people who have words, so we are very supportive of the project and I don't think any of us have had any negative feedback about it. I'm one of those who really don't care a whole lot about the historic, what do you call it, the restrictions on the historic construction and what-have-you. I like building my house the way I want to build my house. I like having the colors I want to have, and what-have-you, so I am not really one of those purists, so to speak, and I'm not really for extending the historic district over to my street, just for that reason, because I want the flexibility to do what I want to do with my houses. I have nothing but positive to say about it [River of Words], I really enjoyed the whole project and I am happy with it.

CB: Have the meanings of the words changed for you at all over the last six or so months since they have been installed on your houses?

GM: Like I said, Baseball is my favorite sport and I love the word "love" so I picked those words specificially because they meant something to me. I don't think I could like baseball any more than I like it. I am not a real religious person, I believe that love is what makes the world go 'round. I believe is the beginning and the end. It represents my attitude because I don't believe in religious indoctrination or following any particular-- I believe in God, so love is what everything means to me. I'm a very positive thinker. I try to respond with a positive attitude in most things and try to be open-minded, so no, the words have not changed in my mind because I have picked those words because they represented what I thought. And I was one of the first ones who went, so when I went, I think the first day, there were like maybe 50 words up, so as soon as I saw "Baseball" I knew I wanted "Baseball" and as soon as I saw "Amore"-- love had already been taken, I think-- so when I saw "Amore" I said "That's love," so, I picked those two words.

CB: Right. So I am going to turn now to the Historic Review Commission controversy, so, to what extent are you aware of it, and can you say a little bit more about your opinion and what should be done? I know you've already kind of gestured to it.

GM: ...I can't say. I have two empty lots on my street, and when I want to build my house I want to build my house the way I want it, because I think I want to build a retirement property there.

CB: Oh cool.

GM: And I don't anybody telling me how I can build. And I really think the diversity of the housing stock makes it more interesting, as opposed to having everything the same, certain colors, what have you. Obviously you know what side I'm on. And I don't see how the words take away from historic [value], I mean, come on now. It's just a word. So, yeah. Whatever. God bless them.

CB: Is there anything more that you'd like to say about the role of public art in the North Side, and in Pittsburgh in general. 

GM: I just think its wonderful. One of the things I'm trying to do now-- I think I told you-- I am one of the members of the community garden that goes from Arch Street to Sherman and one of the things we wanted to do is release an RFP (Request for Proposals) and have a competition for art display in our garden. I don't know how successful we'll be with that, but I think it is very important for the quality of life and for-- just the character of the neighborhood to have public art. I don't think-- I think that it should be different types of things, you know, I mean, it could be a craft type of art, it could be lighting, it could be stone, it could be wood, sculpture, you know, whatever. I think the more diverse it is, the more types of mediums we use for art the better it is. A lot of people don't like Randyland. If Randyland were in a historic district it wouldn't be able to look like it does. But Randyland has put  this neighborhood on the map. People know about the Mexican War Streets but they know about Randyland more than they know about the Mexican War Streets. So, I'm very supportive of Randy with his Randyland development. I think its weird, but hey, I like it. I mean, I see -- yesterday, in that snow storm, there were people out there taking pictures in front of his house. They arent' going there on Resaca taking pictures. You know what I mean? The people who are taking pictures over there are more or less architecture purists. But Randyland adds a flavor to the neighborhood. His houses are art. His garden is art. His fences are art. And I can't tell you how many thousands of people come through and ask, "Where's Randyland?" So when I think about that, I would love to see more people come into the neighborhood and say, "Where's that sculpture of that cow?" or "Where's that interesting iron bike rack?" I mean, it draws people in and it show the positivity of the neighborhood and its shows that we are welcoming diversity. If they want every house selected, maybe, you know, when I moved here in '78 people didn't want me on my street. They wanted the street- so I'm thinking that it just shows the open mindedness of us, the forward thinking that we have, and I am fully in support of it and I really do love public art. I think, the more the better.

CB: Can you tell me a little be more about how you've seen the neighborhood change since 78 and how it relates to your claims about "quality of life"? Because it seems that those things are probably connected?

GM: Um, because I made it that way. I'm from North New Jersey originally, and I was used to having flat land and a park, accessibility, 15 minutes from every mall--I'm not a mall shopper, yet it was there-- when I moved here we did have Allegheny Center Mall and you could buy anything you wanted in the mall. There was butchers, cleaners, appliance stores, jewelery stores, candy stores, five and tens. So, I had three sons, and I didn't want to be a soccer mom, I didn't want to drive, I don't like driving. So, I moved here specifically because of the convenience. And, there was diversity at the the time, but there were more poor people, and there were middle class people as well, not a lot of upper middle class people like there are now. The library was there, the community was really a convenient, cohesive, community. The Garden Theater was there, I didn't like what they were showing, but, there was a cleaners there, bars, stores, in the past thirty-five years the businesses have gone and now they are coming back. So I saw that height of just about every house was occupied, now many of those houses-- through the course of those years many of those houses were occupied by young families, mostly Black people and lower middle class White people, but then, because of the perception of America, many of the black middle class people moved to the suburbs to what they thought would be a better quality of life-- now their houses are worth less than mine and its no more safe in their neighborhoods than it is here, so I think that my quality of life, I'm not saying its improved. I would like to see more Black middle class people in the neighborhood, but they choose to live in the suburbs and thats their issue. I'm not driving my kids everywhere, I have grandchildren now, they have bus passes, they can ride the buses, they can walk to the park, I can walk to the Y. I can bike if I want, walk if I want, walk to work if I want to-- so I chose this quality of life and I've maintained the quality of life that I like, and I like it. Nothing's changed except, like I said, I bought my house for 23k, I put some money into it, but now my house is probably worth 230,000. The house next door to me just solde for 295,000 so I think the housing stock has priced out of the market regular middle class people, so we have more upper-middle class people, people who have more disposable income, but I do see some young families coming back, or younger families coming in, and it is more diverse, we have, as far as sexual orientation we have more gay people, more mature people, the baby-boomers, and now I say Barbie and Ken are moving here. Two professional household where they might have young children, but we didn't have Barbie and Ken here before. And I would say the average person coming in here now is Barbie and Ken, or Barbie and Ken's parents who don't want to commute from the suburbs any more, they want to walk to the opera, or what have you. Barbie and Ken were not here in '78. Almost every person buying a house now is either Barbie and Ken, a baby boomer who wants to move closer into the city, or a gay couple. I don't see any Black middle class people moving back.

CB: And what do you do with the city?

GM: I'm a project manager, I'm a financial systems manager, and I'm in what we call Innovation and Performance which in the past was called the Information Technology department. And then I manage folks who support all the financial systems, who support all the communications, telephone, land-line and wireless, and I also manage the city's software inventory.

CB: Wow, that's a lot. 

GM: I used to work for Verizon. I like technology, because you know, being my age its nice that I have kept in tune with the times, I understand technology and it makes me feel more invigorated. I'm probably the next to the oldest person in the department yet young people respect me because I understand technology, so I go from gardening to working with programmers, and everything in between. And I love it. I love reading, I like poetry, that's why I'm on the City of Asylum board, I'm on the Y board, I like working out, I like yoga, so my life is full and I'm happy with it and don't think I could have that quality of life somewhere else. I put 2,000 miles a year on my car. 

CB: That's awesome.

GM: When I go to get my car inspected its like "No!" but I show them my inspection from the previous year and they believe me. I can walk, bike, or ride the bus anywhere. If I lived someplace else...I buy a car and I keep it for ten years, when I Take it in its like 40,000 miles on it, and I don't even think it'll be 40,000 this time. I'll be lucky if I have 20,000 miles on it this time. But this is the quality of life I want. I have my little garden. I have my vegetable garden up the street, I have my flower and herb garden in the back yard. Across the street I have a perennial garden, so that satisfies my gardening. I don't have to drive. My house is plenty big, we have three generations living in my house. We had four generations in the past. So, I have enough space for my family, if I want to be with friends I can, I'm walking distance to entertainment, I can walk to the baseball game, I'm in heaven, you know. This neighborhood offers me everything I want. I am just disappointed that more middle class Black people don't recognize the value of the neighborhood. That's the way it goes.

CB: OK. Is there anything else you'd like to say about River of Words or public art in Pittsburgh? That I haven't given you a chance to talk about.

GM: I'm just thankful its here. I think River of Words brought so much dialogue to the neighborhood, between the neighbors, and people who come in the neighborhood who say "I see all the words on those houses what are they, what do they mean?" and when we talk about it, and tell them it was a public art project commissioned by City of Asylum and say "I was on the committee that did the selection. We had some local Pittsburgh people, people from New York, from Atlanta, and the people who won of course were from Venezuela," but it truly shows that we had an international, a diversity of submissions, we went through a planning process and a review process and picked that particular group, so that whole process was exciting. So I was happy to be involved from beginning to end and happy to benefit from having the words, and the more public art the merrier for me!

CB: Alright, thanks so much.

GM: Sure.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

River of Words Oral History Project: Timothy Johnson, "Book" and Art as Mind Expanding

On February 22nd I interviewed Timothy Johnson, who has recently moved to the North Side, though he is a native Pittsburgher. His word is "Book," a term that speaks to his wife's book-writing project, and his own Christian faith. Having the word, he recounted, has given him a chance to talk to people about his spiritual identity, but also is a way of learning about neighbors. "Art," he argued, "is by definition mind expanding."

Thanks, Timothy!

Transcript follows:

CB: Alright, so the date is February 22nd and I am here with Timothy Johnson as part of the River of Words Oral History Project. Thanks, Timothy, for being here with me. I want to start with some demographic data. One of my questions is to think about the diversity of participants involved in the River of Words, so, to that end, if you could provide me with your full name, your address, your age, your marital status, and your race or ethnicity.

TJ: OK. I am Tim Johnson, and I live at 1241 Monterrey Street in the War Streets. I am 55 years old, and married. My wife and I are empty nesters. We just moved here about a year ago. We bought a home in the War Streets about ten months prior, and did a renovation, and the work was done in about February of last year. 

CB: Ok. And what ethnicity do you identify with?

TJ: African American.

CB: OK. And how long have you lived in Pittsburgh?

TJ: All my life, really. I've had some stints in other cities but the majority of my life has been in Pittsburgh. I was born in Pittsburgh.

CB: Does your house fall within the historic district, and if so, which historic district?

TJ: The primary district.

CB: The Mexican War Streets?

TJ: Yes.

CB: I am still learning about this sort of patchwork-quilt system of historic districts.

TJ: I know what you mean.

CB: So let's turn to the River of Words Project. Can you tell me about how you found out about the project, and what your involvement was like?

TJ: I was on my way home, I had taken the T over to the North Shore, and had walked through the Park and crossed North Avenue walking up Monterrey Street and I had passed a word on my street that was in green lettering and kind of wondered what it meant but didn't know a whole lot about it, and as I approached my home, my neighbor to my left had just completed having a word stenciled on their window, and so I inquired about it, and made a very quick decision, without consulting my wife, that this was a good idea, and so I selected a word and it was installed by the artists right there at my house.

CB: Awesome. What word is it?

TJ: The word is "book." 

CB: Mhmm. Why "book"?

TJ: I guess a couple of reasons. One, there were only about a half dozen words left at that point. I hadn't really heard of the project until that date. Two, the word struck me. My wife is working on a book right now. And she is spending a lot of time on it, and it reminded me of the work that she is doing, and secondly, I am a Christian, and the first Bible that I owned was called The Book, and obviously the word connected me, reminded me [of] that experience. So that's why I selected it.

CB: Since the past six months or so since you've installed the word, has the meaning changed for you at all?

TJ: No, the meaning hasn't changed. The experience has changed because people have inquired about it. So its been great to tell people about that experience and kind of re-live it. It was kind of social. I bet you there were a half-dozen people in front of my house when the word was stencilled on the window, and I've got photographs of it, and we even took a minute and had some water and iced tea, so it was kind of nice.

CB: Are there any instances that stick out in mind of interactions that you have had around the word?

TJ: You know, its funny, one is that there are several words on my street that I hadn't really recognized until I got a word. And then it made me see some of the words that were there. The word that I mentioned earlier, its just a green word and it kind of popped out at you and it made me wonder what it was about?

CB: What was the word?

TJ: I don't remember. 

CB: OK [Laughs]

TJ: But my block has several words on it. 

CB: What do you think the broader significance of this project is?

TJ: Well, personally, its got personal meaning to me. Its given me a chance to tell people my story, my Christian story, and, you know, motivated my wife to work a little harder on that book. Every day she walks in she's got to look at that word in the front window. And as I learned that this was bigger than just my word and my block, I attended the ceremony that was held when there was an unveiling of the poetry. There were a lot of people there that were sharing similar stories. If it weren't for that, I guess I would have remained curious and unaware of what all these words meant. 

CB: Great. Ok. So I'm going to turn now to the Historic Review Commission situation. Can you tell me what you know about it, and what your thoughts are on it?

TJ: I don't have any view about the historic review commission at all, quite frankly, I mean, my decision wasn't influenced by politics or bureaucracy. I know that as I've talked to my neighbors, I like this idea that there can be an artistic expression and there can be artistic -- I'm not an artist, I am a photographer, I guess you can call that art, but I'm not a professional-- but there are several very talented people in this neighborhood. So the idea that they can exhibit their work, and others of us can enjoy it, I think that's a great idea. 

CB: Do you think the words should stay up?

TJ: Absolutely. Absolutely. I am even a little perplexed as to how anybody could defend taking a word off of a house. I mean, its no different than putting a "For Sale" sign in a window, you know what I mean, or a "For Rent" sign, or a political sign.

CB: I guess one of the arguments or concerns that were raised were about precedent, and so, there if is a precedent of allowing this kind of art, then what comes next. Yeah.

TJ: Yeah, but what kind of argument is that?

CB: I don't know. It's interesting.

TJ: Art by definition is mind-expanding, so how can you set a precedent not to expand peoples' minds? That doesn't make a lot of sense.

CB: So that leads really nicely into my last, broader questions, which is what do you think the purpose of public art is in the North Side and in Pittsburgh, and who does it serve and what is its broader impact?

TJ: Yeah. I hadn't thought much about it until I moved here and I had a chance to experience it first-hand. I think its got a real potential of distinguishing the North Side, and bringing people to the North Side to enjoy and appreciate something, you know. The Tree that is a gift kind of, that has been shared, between the artist and the public. I know that as I've learned more, I've now been able to go around the neighborhood and see some things that I didn't even know existed, and I've got to tell you, I believe that if it weren't for the art and the publicity of the art, I'm not sure that I would have had a chance to enjoy it. So I think the two go hand-in-hand. I totally support the artists' expression, and the idea that the art should be public. I totally support that as well.

CB: OK. What is it that you do?

TJ: I run a pension fund. I manage money and get a chance to help people as they are transitioning from the end of their work life into their retirement life.

CB: Cool. Is there anything else that you would like to add that I haven't given you a chance to talk about?

TJ: No there really isn't.

CB: OK. Thank you.

River of Words Oral History Project: Lynn Kosegi, The "Use" and "Equation" of Public Art as Identity Creation

Lynn Kosegi, who I interviewed March 7th, has a cool story of growing up, moving away from, and then returning to the North Side, a homecoming that was facilitated by the River of Words project, one which, in her view, allows the "non artistic" of the neighborhood to fully participate in its cultural life. Moreover, public art, she argued, is vital to "creating identity and communicating that identity" both internally and externally. In this interview about the effect of the River of Words, there is a call to imagine "historic districts" as still culturally vital and involved in the work of the present.

Thanks, Lynn!

Transcript follows:

CB: I"m not sure how much Henry told you about what I am doing and my project but I am a professor at Pitt and I study public art, and that's what draw's me to the River of Words project, and so what I am trying to do is create like an accessible archive of reactions from the words. So, that's what I'm up to.


CB: Do I have your permission to audio record this?

LK: Yes.

CB: I wanted to thank you for being here with me. I am here with Lynn Kosegi as part of the River of Words Oral History Project (march 7). My first question is demographic, I am trying to get a sense of the diversity of the participants, so, could you tell me your full name, your address, your age, your marital, and your race or ethnicity, please.

LK: Sure. My name is Lynn Kosegi. K-O-S-E-G-I. My address is 1223 Arch Street, Pittsburgh 15212, in the Mexican War Streets. I am married. I am 53 years old. What else?

CB: Whatever race or ethnicity I identify as.

LK: I am white.

CB: Ok. so your house falls within the city historic district, is that right?

LK: No, actually its not in the City Preservation District, we are one street away.

CB: OK, cool. I wanted to turn now to the River of Words project. Can you tell me what word you have, how you got involved, and kind of what that experience was like?

LK: Sure. I have two words: "Use" and "Equation." I got into the project, my husband and I just moved to the War Streets over the summer so we actually bought the house in May but we didn't actually move in until July. So we moved in right before they were beginning to put the words up. I learned about the project on Facebook. I just fell in love with the War Streets and learning all about it and following the Facebook page, and checking out the website, and things like that, didn't even know that the City of Asylum existed. I didn't even know it was there until we moved down here and I started reading up on it and I thought the project was really interesting. I like to read, do a little bit of writing myself, so I just thought it was really interesting so I signed up for the project. I happened to be home and not at work when they came by to put the words up, and I chose the words because I work very closely at my job, I work for a technology company in Pittsburgh, its a Pittsburgh-based company, and we do software for healthcare providers. And, so I work, at work, I work with a lot of interns out of Pitt mostly, and we have a program at work where I work real closely with the people who are interns, and the ones who are good, and they are a good fit for the organization, we hire them. And we've had a very successful program there, and I just love working with the students, and love working with them after they get hire, so that's basically why I chose the word "use." "Equation" I think I chose for a couple of reasons. Just because, I'm pretty involved in healthcare, very interested in healthcare delivery, work for a software company, so, you know, mathematics and tech is very big in our minds, and using it to improve healthcare and to improve life for patients and then coming to the War Streets, sort of seeing how the different pieces of this particular neighborhood fit together, and how diverse it is, and how there are such interesting things right down the street like City of Asylum and the Mattress Factory and Randyland. I just kind of thought "Equation" was something that brought everything all together.

CB: Great. And so can you tell me what it's been like having the words on your house? Have any 
stories come about because of the words? Have you met anyone new.

LK: Oh! I happened to have been home the day that they [the artists] came by to put them [the words] up and a lot of people in the neighborhood, they hadn't read about it, and particularly my next door neighbor, she came out and was kind of just wondering what was going on and so I told her, and so the artists came over and were talking to her and here she's been-- they were from Venezuela, and she had been there several times, so she asked "Oh, can I have a word too?" so she picked a word too, and then it turned out that some people across the street saw it, and everybody was just asking about, "Well, what are these words," and here, when they put the word "Equation" up it was actually spelled wrong, so instead of having a "q" it had a "c" and I kind of kept my mouth shut and was thinking, "Oh, maybe that's how its spelled in Spanish?" I don't know, but then one of the artists pointed it out, and were like "Oh no!" it was kind of half the Spanish spelling and half the English spelling so they brought back another piece of metal later on to turn the "c" into a "q." So, it was kind of funny. So that was funny, just the reactions to that, and then the reactions from the neighbors, it was just fun. We were all just standing outside on the sidewalk on a summer's day and it was just fun. I don't intend to take them down. I like them.

CB: Have the meanings of the words changed to you at all since you've had them installed?

LK: No, I think they have stayed about the same. I think the one that might've changed a little bit for me was "equation" just as I got to know the neighborhood a little bit better and just became really-- I know parts of the war streets that are in the historic preservation section, there is kind of this debate about "Well, you can only do things to your houses if its approved," and I like that, one part of me really likes the idea of historic preservation, but the other part of me really likes the idea of being able to do whatever you want with your house, and also has a lot of sympathy with people who, if you have to have a window fixed you might not be able to afford to have it done the way that it originally needs to be done. I can really see both sides of the equation, I guess you could say, but I think that it is terrific that this is a neighborhood where all of those things can be welcome. You can have a place like Randyland, or a place like mine where the door frame is kind of pink, but then you can have the places that are very very historically correct, and you know, all living in the same neighborhood.

CB: Great. Well that leads very nicely into my next questions, which is, how much do you know about the HRC's relationship to the River of Words project and do you have any opinions about what should be done with the River of Words project for the historic houses in the neighborhood?

LK: I haven't been really involved in it. It doesn't really effect me because my street, I can leave them up, there is no argument on my street, so I haven't had to fight for it or anything. You know, its art, its the neighborhood, its the culture of this neighborhood. The culture of this neighborhood is its diversity and is its uniqueness, and I think it would be a shame to turn it into a neighborhood that, while beautiful, was kind of a cookie-cutter neighborhood. I like the diversity and the unexpectedness and not knowing what you might see going around every corner. So, you know, when it comes to being able to leave the words up on the houses, I definitely think people should be allowed to do that.

CB: So the last questions I have is about public art more generally. Can you tell me what you think the role or the social function of public art is both in the North Side and then in Pittsburgh more broadly?

LK: Oh gosh. I think helping to both create an identity for a community. I think it actually helps to create the community. Especially for a city like Pittsburgh that, I mean, I was a teenager in the 70s and I can remember when the mills started leaving and when Pittsburgh was really suffering, and I really think the arts and that kind of culture is part of what helped turn this city around and to turn it into the kind of city that ends up on every "Best Something or Other" list that is out there right now, and I think art plays a huge part in that, both in creating the community that we are and in communicating who we are to the rest of the world. 

CB: That's great. So have you lived in Pittsburgh your entire life?

LK: Yeah, yeah. My family is all from Pittsburgh, we started out on the North Side, we lived right off Perrysville highway and kind of late in the 60s the neighborhood got a little bit dangerous and, you know, like a lot of families did, we moved further north into the northern suburbs, but then as my children got older and they grow up I just really wanted to move back to the city, so my husband and I started looking around at different areas of the city, and just really liked the idea of coming back to the North Side.

CB: Yeah. What a cool story. Is there anything else that you'd like to say that I haven't given you a chance to talk about?

LK: Um, no, I don't think so. I hope that there are other projects like the River of Words in the future. I think that the City of Asylum does great work, and its fun to have something where the non-creative and artistic among us, like me, can actually be a part of something like that. So I hope they do more projects like that.

CB: Excellent, well thank you so much Lynn.

LK: You are very welcome.

Monday, April 27, 2015

River of Words Oral History Project: Sarah Sims Erwin, "Persistence" and the ability of a neighborhood to shine

On March 7th I conducted a phone interview with Sarah Sims Erwin, while she was in the process of moving. Sarah and her husband are completing a gut renovation of a 160 year old duplex in Deutschtown. The process has been replete with difficulties, obstacles that make their word "persistence" a kind of "mantra" or even "beacon of hope," "perfect" for their emotional and imaginative needs during a difficult endeavor.

Sarah said of the HRC dispute: "I think its a shame because its something that is special and they just want to take that away. I think that for them to want to, to ask us to take them down, is asking us to not shine, and to not be a unique place. There may be people around the world who are interested in seeing this installation." She said of the project: "I feel connected and being a good neighbor is very important to us, so it's an artistic extension of that of being reminded that you are part of a community." You can find the rest of her observations in the transcript below. Thanks, Sarah!

"Persistance." Image courtesy of Sarah Sims Erwin.

CB: OK great, thanks so much for your time. I want to start with some demographic information I would like to get a sense of the diversity of participants. Do you mind sharing your address, age, marital status, then whatever race or ethnicity you identify with.

SE: The address is 406 Foreland Street, um, I think I am 48-- am I forty-eight [to husband] I am around forty-eight.

CB: Great, and what race or ethnicity do you identify as.

SE: Yeah, I'm forty-eight. Caucasian. 

CB: Um, and marital status.

SE: Married.

CB: Great. Do you know if your residence falls within the historic city district?

SE: It does, but not in the Mexican War Streets. Our property is in the historic district south east of the Mexican War Streets in the neighborhood called Deutschetown. 

CB: OK. And how long have you lived in the North Side?

SE: Well, Caitlin, we don't live there yet, we are-- our case is kind of cool. I think, we've been so busy, one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you, we, my husband Dominic and I bought a house, we bought a duplex and its a gut renovation.

CB: Uh huh. Oh.

SE: We can't live there yet, but we've been property owners for about a year and a half.

CB: Ok, cool. How long have you lived in Pittsburgh?

SE: Actually, five, six seven eight...a year and nine months. Pittsburgh..we have lived in Pittsburgh for fourteen months, but I am a boomerang, I hate that word actually, I am a returning Pittsburgher, and my husband, he is a native New Yorker who now lives here with me.

CB: So I'm going to turn now to the River of Words project. Can you tell me what your word is and how you got involved in the project, and what that experience was like.

SE: OK. Well, our word is "Persistence," [laughs] and I got involved in the project because really through social media, um, but I only had awareness of City of Asylum through friends I made. I made a new friend when I moved back fourteen months ago, and the back of her house faces Sampsonia. She was talking about how great City of Asylum is, so I of course connected to them through Facebook and they are amazing, and they are a treasure, and to a native Pittsburgher it is very special that they are in Pittsburgh, so I wanted to, you know, bask in that glow, so to speak. Be near them. Because they are so cool. And then, they must of posted it on facebook I think. I mean, I don't even really know how it happened, so I just heard about it and wanted to get involved.

CB: OK cool. So, can you tell me, did you have any interactions with the artists, and why did you pick the word persistence, what did it mean to you at the time? Why persistence, why choose that word?

SE: Interaction with the artists didn't exist, because we don't live there. But they were so great. They just followed our wishes, like I said, it was a duplex, and we didn't exactly know where to put the word, but we have one of those old fashioned walkways between the two little houses and if you will indulge me, I am going to look up what it is called, it is pretty neat. Let's see, I met with some people, and I was describing this old house-- our house is 160 years old. 

CB: Yeah, thats pretty old.

SE: So the people we met, they called those little walk-ways between buildings "Horse walks," where back in the day, if you were rich enough to have a horse, you could walk your horse through the building.

CB: Yeah, cool.

SE: Yeah, really awesome. So, a horse-walk has to be covered over because there are drug addicts who are shooting heroin in our back courtyard, and there are prostitutes that do their work behind, and people like to litter and graffiti on our property since we are not living there, we want to make sure that they don't get hurt, and that we don't get sued, so we have the horse-walk, and that term is not confirmed, blocked off with plywood, and it was the perfect spot for the word. It kind of--it bridges the two houses and its just right out there, and the house looks like a total wreck, we've had a lot of obstacles in our way with our renovation, and its our beacon of hope, it really is. And when I went to that event, that party in the tent, I didn't know anybody. Even though I am a returning Pittsburgher I still feel new to town, so I walked in and I didn't know anyone, you know, I felt like an outsider. But I walked in and all the words were posted up on the right side, and I just started looking at the words, and I started from the left and was gonna go to the right, and the first word that I remember seeing was "Persistence." And, that was how I picked it. It was perfect. For what we needed.

CB: That's really cool. My next question might not apply so much since you are not living there yet, but one of the other things I am interested in is whether or not new interactions have happened, that you know of, because of your word, if you've met new people because of the word.
SE: All the time. Yeah. Because we are down there a lot, trying to get the project back on track, and I honestly can't say people's names, but people do stop and there is a fellowship between the people who have the words and its-- actually in AIR studios, Artist Image Resource, on Foreland Street, just down the street from me, they have a word too. So most of the words are probably in the Mexican War Streets but I know two of us in Deutschtown who have words, and I feel, I feel connected and being a good neighbor is very important to us, so it's an artistic extension of that of being reminded that you are part of a community.

CB: Awesome. And has the meaning of the word changed for you at all since you had it installed over six months ago now, I guess?

SE: No, because our obstacles remain. We got burned by a contractor who was a personal friend, and that set us back-- that has had, what do they say, like ripples in a pond, that continues to hurt us financially and emotionally, because it was a friend, and as a result of not being able to live in the house we have had to spend our money on rent, and all the expenses associated, like utilities, and we are paying the mortgage on a house we are not living in and also renting, um, and we've had some challenges with the Historic Review Commission, they are concerned about the appearance of our house, which of course we care about. We do want what they want but lots of money was stolen from us, so we don't have endless pocket...deep pockets. We have pockets, but we don't have deep pockets. So, every obstacle that comes to us, the word continues to be our, I don't know, our mantra, our hope.

CB: So I want to turn now to the Historic Review Commission, I guess dispute about some of the words that fall within their jurisdiction. How much do you know about what's going on with that, and depending on what you know, do you have any thoughts on what the HRC should do?

SE: Wow. Well, I do know a little bit about it. It might not be a lot. I didn't go to the hearing where that lawyer/resident was presenting, I was out of town, I think -- I wish my husband was still in the car, he just got out to go to the store, he has stronger opinions about it-- but I think it is a shame that they-- she, Caitlin asked me about the HRC and their disapproval of the words on the houses-- I think its a shame because its something that is special and they just want to take that away. I think that for them to want to, to ask us to take them down, is asking us to not shine, and to not be a unique place. There may be people around the world who are interested in seeing this installation. Or the remnants of it, the people who still want to keep the words up. What they are saying is that it is not good for Pittsburgh. I get that their mission is to help Pittsburgh be a historic place. But I think a historic place can live in the modern world, too. And, this is a modern thing, and I think that they can go together.

CB: That leads to my last question which is your thoughts on the social purpose of public art in the North Side and in Pittsburgh more generally. So what is the function of public art for the North Side or for Pittsburgh in your opinion?

SE: Well, I see the public art, of which there is a lot, we are so lucky, it just makes it special. It makes it a place of beauty and it makes it a place, I don't know. It's like, when people come to visit they can discover that on their own, or they could set out and go on a walking tour of the different pieces. I think it's worth investing in. I think its important. Obviously, in some ways, we wouldn'tve participated [in River of Words] if we didn't think it was important. 

CB: Sure.

SE: We are sort of a self-selecting group.

CB: This is true. Yeah. Is there anything else that you'd like to say about River of Words or City of 
Asylum that I haven't given you a chance to talk about?

SE: No, but I'm so happy that they are our neighbors and I love their houses on Sampsonia, and something the North Side is lucky to house, if you will. Its great that its on the North Side.

CB: Well, that is all the questions that I have thanks so much for your time.

SE: Sure, because our word is so harmonious with the state of the house, do you want a picture of it or something?

CB: Yeah, that'd be awesome if you are willing to share. 

SE: Sure.

CB: OK, you have my contact info. I think my little blog is visible in my signature panel, but in any case, its just my name at blogspot so I'm going to work through all the interviews and I am hoping to get transcripts up by early to mid April depending on how long it takes. But thanks again for your time, if you have any questions feel free to email. Good luck with the renovations.

SE: Come by and visit it, it is one of the oldest houses in the neighborhood. 

CB: OK I definitely will. OK take care.

SE: Awesome. Bye.

River of Words Oral History Project: Elaine Stone on "Ginger," "Zombies," and "Put Yourself in Others' Shoes"-- Public art as magnet and connector

On March 22nd I interviewed Elaine Stone who co-runs a family owned business, "Smart Solution Technologies" in the buildings of a former flashlight manufacturer. Her three words are "Ginger," "Zombies," and the phrase, "Put yourself in others' shoes."

The first word, for her, reflects a family joke. The second, her family's intense relationships to zombie narratives, and the third, a recognition of the fact that difficult circumstances (including questions of addiction) impact nearly every family in the U.S. The project as a whole, she explained, was a "non invasive" way of cultivating community connections. Public art as a genre also functions as a "draw" or a way to boost a neighborhood that may, for various reasons, be in decline. She reflected on some of the "fussiness" about "historical purity" in her own neighborhood of West-Allegheny, a concern that also might apply to the city historic district of the Mexican War Streets.

The transcript follows below. Thank you, Elaine.

CB: OK, I am here with Elaine Stone and the date is March 22, 2015 and we are participating in the River of Words Oral History Project. Thanks for coming in to talk with me today.

ES: You are welcome.

CB: I wanted to start with some demographic data, to get a sense of the diversity of the participants, so if you could give me your name, address, age, race or ethnicity you identify with, marital status.

ES: Name, Elaine Stone. Address is 831 West North Avenue. I am 57, I am married...what did I miss?

CB: Race you identify with?

ES: White.

CB: Great. Do you know if your house falls within the city historic district?

ES: It does not.

CB: How long have you lived in the North Side?

ES: Hm. I have only been on the North Side going on two years, but we have owned the building since 2010.

CB: Mhmm. How long have you lived in Pittsburgh?

ES: I've lived in Pittsburgh since 1981.

CB: So you have probably seen it changing a lot, since then, that's great.

ES: Yeah.

CB: Lets turn to the River of Words project. Can you tell me about how you got involved and what 
that experience was like?

ES: You know, to tell you the truth, I think I read about the project in the North Side newspaper, and when I read about the project and they were looking for volunteers for the words I called. You know, the arts, being involved in the arts, I was on the board of the Mattress Factory, my background is in the arts, I knew about the City of Asylum, I have been a fan of what they do and they have done a great job here, and so-- and the fact that it was kind of community-wide interested me, so.

CB: What word or words did you pick?

ES: We picked a couple of words. We have a very big building. We actually have five buildings that we have put together, they are warehouse buildings, I have pictures of them if you would like to see them, so we have 63,000 square feet and we are visible on three sides, so you can see us even from the park, so our building was kind of a nice building to pick words for. So, I picked a word, and then they had extra words, and then I got to pick some more words. So the first word I picked, and it really was an easy pick was "Ginger." And, this doesn't show the color very well, but the color had a bit more of an orangey tint to this one [she is showing me the photo on her phone], this looks really yellow. And its actually a joke, to tell you the truth. It was a word my family, my husband and I, and our kids are out to dinner many years ago, and we were in a sushi restaurant somewhere near the strip. And were eating dinner. And my husband ran out of ginger, so instead of saying to the waitress, "I need ginger," or "May I please have some ginger" he just looked at her and says "I have no ginger." And we all thought that was sort of a weird way to ask for something, and so it sort of became a family joke, where if you needed something you go: "I have no " and that's kind of how it started. Plus, then the color of it was this beautiful little bit of orangey tint to it and I guess at the time my hair was more that color. I was a fake red-head for a while. For a long while. So the whole thing sort of worked. That's how I chose that word.

CB: So what were the subsequent words?

ES: The subsequent words-- I have two, two more-- the first one was "zombies," that's in bright red, by the way, and the reason I chose zombies was because my daughter is dating a guy who is really all about the zombie apocalypse.

CB: Oh! Ok.

ES: No kidding. And my niece goes to school at the special effects school which [the name] is escaping me right now, and she does zombie makeup, and she's done a zombie film, so, there's like a lot of talk about zombies around me all the time, and so I thought, "OK, we will just pay a little homage to zombies," so that's how we got zombies. And then the final one was, and these are, "Put yourself in others' shoes." So, that one. It's just a bigger kind of thing, you know, really. Which is, you sort of don't always know what trials and tribulations people have. And once you do, you sort of may think about the world differently. We are really right down the street from the Light of Life, or, now what is it? It's called Harbor Light, and they are -- I don't want to say that they are a rehab center-- but I am not exactly sure what they do, they mostly alcohol, some drug, kind of people go there-- but they walk by all the time. And because they have to go to meetings. So I thought it was kind of a good thing, because I think there have been lots of issues in our family around addictions, and so, you know, we are not so different from people that walk past us.

CB: And so, after these words were installed on your house, were there any interactions or conversations that happened around them?

ES: Yeah, there really ways. There was one in particular, which was ginger, which was really funny 
because I think I even sent a note down here [to City of Asylum] saying that our employees think that we did it on purpose so that they would talk to each other about the word. And sort of, like I was doing some sort of creative exercise with them, they didn't know what I was doing, but they thought that they were supposed to talk about it, and come up with something, so I thought it was really funny. I don't think I ever really announced to anybody that the words were out there or what they were for. I didn't really think about it. I just really thought-- because I know, walking around the neighborhood, I've seen words, and it just catches my interest and attention.

CB: Did you meet any new folks because of your words?

ES: Did I meet any new folks because of the words...yeah, possibly. I'm trying to think about that. Now, I know if I've been outside people have talked to me about it, yeah. I would say yeah, that's a possible.

CB: So now it's been a little over six months. Has the meanings of these words changed for you at all?

ES: No, no.

CB: So what do you think the significance of this project is, River of Words?

ES: Well, I think what I said earlier is just the idea that is community we are participating in a larger art project, in kind of a simple way. I don't know the meaning of the words for the artists, thats kind of the other part of this, why would they choose "ginger"? It was kind of a funny word. So, I just sort of liked the idea that its a synergetic neighborhood experience.

CB: So now I wanted to return to the Historic Review Commission discussions that are happening. How much of that do you know about, and do you have any opinions or thoughts on it?

ES: I don't know much about it...I'm in Allegheny West which is different than this neighborhood, so I don't really know what you are talking about specifically.

CB: So my understanding is that the HRC had a hearing in February about the people who fall within the city historic district, whether or not they are allowed to keep their words up, because of questions of fit with the historic style of the houses. So we are in a moratorium where they are discussing and thinking and planning, and there is going to be another hearing in May.

ES: Yeah, I don't fall in that district so for me it's not really an issue.

CB: I wanted to close with your thoughts on public art in the North Side and in Pittsburgh more broadly. So, what do you think the purpose of public art is for the North Side and also for Pittsburgh?

ES: Well, you know, my background is the arts. I think the arts are really, really important. There are lots of neighborhoods in Pittsburgh you could point out were falling apart until the arts came in and revitalized them. So I think we could use a lot more art in ...I think art draws people. It just draws people to a neighborhood for reasons that...just interest. Someone's coming to Pittsburgh, they see all of these houses on Sampsonia Way and are like "I just want to go check that out," and they bring people to the neighborhood and these people eat something, they drink something, they take a walk, they buy a house, you know all those things happen. So I think public art is really important, and in fact we are really talking about thinking seriously about a piece of artwork on the outside of one of our buildings, and its something I've been thinking about for quite some time. So for me its a very personal discussion because I really would like to have something happen. But I know it won't be an easy thing to do. And I also know that it might not be allowed to be permanent. So, we'll see. So yes, I think art is exceedingly important. I think when you are dealing, particularly with historic neighborhoods, the challenge is that people get very fussy about keeping it pure and historic and, I mean, there is room for that, but I think in a neighborhood when its appropriate art, color, diversity, something interesting in the middle of, for instance, even what they did at the Children's Museum, that's a very odd piece that they got put in the middle of it--

CB: What piece are you thinking about, is it the car?

ES: Yeah, the one almost directly across, right beside the Children's Museum and it looks like a cube and its lit up at night...and its a very different architecture from anything around it and I don't know how she got that done, but she did, and its just so important. It really is. I'd love to see sculptures in the park, you know, we don't really have a lot of public art here, now that I really think about it. This particular street is interesting. But when I think about walking around the neighborhood, can I tell you where there is a piece of art work? Not too much.

CB: Do you have specific plans for the art that you are thinking about for outside your building?

ES: I have some, yes.

CB: Do you mind talking about what that might look like?

ES: Mm. Not for public yet! It's a little bit of recycle and reuse. Our building was a flashlight factory for 80 years. So we actually have tens of thousands of pieces of flashlight parts left, so its kind of like, well, what do we do with that? And I am working with somebody right now who has done a lot of the big murals around town, so she has done a lot of kind of billboards type of things. And we have five buildings, so we are thinking of designating one of them as the public art piece, and the other is more traditional and the kind of make-the-neighbors-happy kind of piece. [Laughs] Like this neighborhood, I live in a very fussy neighborhood about historic significance, and they are little crazy about being pure and all that jazz. But I am technically not in a historic neighborhood, while across the street it is designated historic. So it is a very strange little circle that came around us.

CB: That's what I learned from the hearing in February, it just could be across the street that the rules are completely different.

ES: Yeah.

CB: Alright, any other comments or anecdotes that you would like to share. 

ES: No, I mean, I enjoyed this, it was kind of non-invasive, if you will, to create interest and fun and they all had some colors on them. Like I said, the only other thing is that I would be interested to know why the artists chose the words that they did. Were they kind of random, or was there something about their choices. And I'm really glad you are doing this, because after we did this Henry sent out a survey and one of the things I said is, "To know why the people chose the word," there is clearly some other meaning. "Ginger," sort of jumped, you know what I mean? It wasn't like "Oh, I don't know what to pick" it just sort of like "Yeah, that's it."

CB: Yeah, I talked to Israel this morning because he was nice enough to give me a ride, and so he was telling me that they were thinking of it kind of on three levels: thinking about it in terms of universal archetypes, things that are kind of shared across humanity; thinking about Pittsburgh as a local space, he had noticed that in Pittsburgh there is kind of a focus on difference and on being different, Zombies is an example of that--

ES: Well, the movie was made here too, so there is a great deal of zombie history here in Pittsburgh which is kind of funny.

CB: Right, which I only learned from doing research on this project, and also emphasis on its blue collar past; and also thinking about environment and space. So those were some of their motivations. 
But also, I guess, in Venezuela, most of the houses have names.

ES: Oh really?

CB: Yes, so this is, on one level, it seems to me, a kind of transnational exchange project where a little bit of that culture is being brought over here.

ES: That's interesting, I'd never really thought about that, but there are buildings around Pittsburgh that have a name on them, not that often--

CB: Well, a lot in Shadyside, and also in Highland Park, when I take the bus to go to the University I see a lot of old hotels but also, "THe Webster" or something

ES: Part of that might be masons or whatever, there was another kind of ethnic group that was working on their buildings. Yeah, our building is usually referred to as the "Hipwell" buildings because the flashlight was the "Hipwell" and Hipwell was family, so we have a very interesting circle with technology in this building, because when they were making flashlights that was kind of the technology of the day, and it was a family business, and now here we are a hundred some years later and we are sort of using the technology of the day, and we are a family business. So its a very kind of, a circle that we have been thinking about and appreciating more and more, and it feels like its a very good fit all the way around. What also is interesting about the building is that it has been drawing creative things to it. We've had TV shows shot there, we had a movie shot there, I have another location scout coming next week, so there has been a pull of creativity and artistic things being drawn to the building which I think is kind of very interesting for us, and I hope for our neighborhood. But out neighborhood doesn't really like it if there is any, shall we say, conflict in scheduling, any problems in driving around.

CB: That's also that Pittsburgh is a much more car based city than I thought it would be, so as a result I am getting my learners permit tomorrow [laughs].

ES: Good for you. Where are you from?

CB: I'm from New York, so I've gotten away with not driving for a while but here it seems pretty necessary because there are buses but they are not always that reliable.

ES: and God forbid you want to go way far outside the city.

CB: Yeah, so that's interesting too. Do you mind saying a little bit about what your company does for a non expert? So that I have some context about the art you are involved in?

ES: Yeah, again the name of our company is Smart Solution Technologies. We've been in business for 19 years. So if you have ever seen or worked with a Smart Board, an interactive white board, that was really what our company got based on. My husband sold technology some twenty odd years ago and fell in love with it, and its a very long story but somehow he said "I want to sell this product," and talked the main manufacturer into letting him be a dealer and extend him credit, so on, so anyway, moving forward his background has always been in audiovisuals and worked for a number of companies, and the company grew and changed and was able to do things. So now what we really do is we do technologies, collaborative technologies to help you as a teacher, our market has mostly been in education in the past, but is changing more and more now into business, where we are doing meeting rooms, training rooms, board rooms, taking old board rooms and updating them, evaluating what you need to make your room function. So its sort of like, technology moves so fast, its more than just collaboration, its about collaborating with the world. And its about collaborating on any device. So its a little bit, people want to come in, sit down, bring in all of their devices, and then make all of their devices go up on an interactive whiteboard, they want to share that information, and then they want to send that information. That's what we do.

CB: Interesting. Well thanks so much for your time. It was good to meet you.

ES: You are welcome.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

River of Words Oral History Project: Terri and Jorg Wiezoreck, "Be Good," Re-Connecting to Community

I got to meet with the lovely crew of Terri and Jorg Wiezoreck, and their two kids, Mateus and Ana who provided silent and not-so-silent commentary throughout our interview. Their house boasts the word "Be Good," a phrase, Jorg reflected, that serves as a subtle reminder that one should strive to be good "inside and out." The River of Words project, he explained, serves as a kind of connection or spark for "trains of thought" as well as a means, Terri added, to reconnect with community, even with the time and energy demands of parenthood. The installation process served as an opportunity for "childish (in a good way) fun" for the adults in the neighborhood, to compare the words picked, to take pictures with their words and neighbors, a kind of "mini-explosion" of conviviality. The project is a source of "great affection" for the community, Terri commented, and a subtle reminder, Jorg noted, of one's neighbors just by seeing the words they picked and remembering conversations about why they were chosen. Thanks so much for your time!

TW= Terri
JW= Jorg
MW= Mateus
AW= Ana

CB: OK. So I am here with Terri and Jorg Wiezoreck as part of hte River of Words Oral History Project. Thank you so much for your time. I wanted to start with some demographic data, so, I'm trying to get a sense of the diversity of participants, so, could you provide me your name, address, age, race you identify with, and marital status.

TW: Ok. I am Terry Wiezoreck at 1701 Buenavista Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15212, 42 years old, Caucasian, and married.

JW: Hi, I am Jorg Wiezoreck, I live at the same address as Terri, and I am 49 years old, and I am of German extraction, lived in the U.S. now for about 20 years, White-Caucasian instead of the racial identification.

CB: And how long have you all lived in the North Side?

TW: We bought out house-and have lived here since 2001.

JW: In 2001. April 15 to be precise.

Male Child (Mateus): One hour! What minute, what second?

CB: That is very precise.

JW: We moved in during the afternoon, because...

MW: What part of the afternoon?

TW: 1:13 in the afternoon.

JW: All of the afternoon.

MW: Ok! How many seconds?

Female child (Ana): Quit asking questions!

CB: How long have you lived in Pittsburgh?

TW: I've lived in Pittsburgh most of my life. I grew up here, I lived in Ohio for a couple of years for 
graduate school which is where I met Jorg.

JW: Terri and I moved to Pittsburgh together in the summer of 1998.

CB: Great. Is your house part of city historic district, do you know?

TW: No, we are part of the Federal historic district.

CB: Let's talk about River of Words for a little bit. How did you all get involved and what was that experience like?

JW: I got involved through Terri.

MW: That's how all of us got involved.

TW: I had seen something either through one of the neighborhood emails or facebook posts or something saying that there was this project, and I thought it was a great idea to get involved, we try to do a lot with Mateus and Ana that -- they've been to the museum, we let them interact with art, but I wanted them to experience that art isn't just something you look at or you listen to, but that it was something that they could be part of. They could talk to the artists and so we went to the first evening where they had the words available and so I walked over with the kids and they were the ones who chose a word, because they were veto-ing all of my choices.

CB: What word did you guys choose?

TW: Matti, can you tell her what word you chose?

MW: "Be good"

CB: Be good. So what does that mean to you?

MW: No idea.

CB: No idea? Really?

MW: I just picked it because they picked it...I was outnumbered by what I wanted to pick, I don't remember what I wanted to pick...just outnumbered.

CB: And so, did you get to talk to the artists at all?

MW: I don't remember.

CB: [Laughs] OK. So what does "Be good" mean to you? 

JW: To me, this is Jorg speaking here, to me it means that while it reflects through the window the transparent medium there from both sides, one way or the other, you can figure out that it means 'be good,' that you should be good on the inside to the outside, reflecting to the streetside. To be good.

CB: And what does 'be good' mean to you? [To Terri]

TW: "Be good" are two of the words that I think I say over and over and over again to the kids. 

MW: You say them more apart than together.

TW: But I like the idea...we kind of liked the idea that it was this outside reminder, and inside as 
well, and its something that at school they know to be good, at home they know to be good, and they wanted to share that. They liked the idea of having those words. I wanted "Biblioteca" but they didn't like that because it was too long and hard to say.

MW: What! It's not too hard to say or too long.

TW: That's what Ana said. And then we talked about the word "Wolf" but Ana thought that was too scary.

MW: Why's it scary?

TW: You'll have to ask her.

CB: And so having this word on your house, ahs it caused any interactions with people, or conversations?

TW: What I've enjoyed is that two of us, one of our neighbors across the street, she wanted to be part of it, and we were, and then other people started to see that something was going on, and then it became this thing of many people in our stretch of the block could we get to have a word, and it was kind of neat watching people be on the sidewalk and be like 'Oh! They have such and such word! I wanted that word!" sort of this interaction of...I don't want to say that it was childish in a bad way, but it was kind of childish in this fun, gleeful way of like "ooh, what did you get? what did you get? what color is yours?" and "Oh, they're coming to put my word up!" And everybody running outside to see.

CB: You had said you wanted your kids to have chances to interact with the artists as well, so what 
was that like, did they?

TW: We went to the reception once all of the words were up, and its kind of interesting because sometimes they don't realize who they are talking to, they just like talking to people and I think that they had a great time, and I think that they've learned about artists sort of in a historical sense and I like that they meet people who are artists and musicians, they don't necessarily know, just getting that sense that yes, everybody is just a person and people do interesting things. They may not remember but they did have quite a long conversation with the artists and the peope who were involve and the woman from the City who was overseeing the project as well.

CB: Maybe Silvia? Ok, so since the words have been up, its been over half a year, have the meaning of the words changed at all for you?

TW: There was a moment, Mateus and I saw it. We were getting ready to go somewhere and the words are in our front window and the way the sun came in it was casting a shadow over the words on the wall going up the stairs. And it was kind of at this point where I had almost forgotten the words were there, at this point because its been winter, we haven't been outside as much and it was really neat to just turn the corner, and "oh!" there was this reminder and it sort of brought it back, new again. That the meaning of why we wanted the words to be there, but also--

MW: I forgot it was there also.

TW: Just to remember that we'd been part of this, and thinking about being outside, and summer, and it was the sunlight shining through again, and so I think the words have come to represent just what we remember, at least for me, about interacting with people.

CB: What about for you, Jorg, have the words changed in meaning?

JW: Well, a little bit, but not tremendously because obviously at the beginning we didnt have a clue how big this would be or not. So, now it occasionally reminds me when I'm coming up the street and I see the sign that there are these signs all over the place, and going through the neighborhood it is kind of a reminder, occassionally, to look at those details and reflect on what some of these words mean, some of these neighbors that we actually spoke to about why they picked the words they picked. So it brings a little bit of trains of though about connectivity, even though you don't see your neighbors all the time it is an additional, if you like, point of contact, even though its just in your own thoughts, its there. In that sense, its a good thing.

CB: Can you all speak a little more explicitly about what you think the overall significance of this project is? You've already kind of gestured towards it, but if you have other thoughts...

TW: I think of the overall significance, one of the things for me was when we moved into the neighborhood before having kids we were a lot more involved with the neighborhood as far as there were projects, there were committees...there were things that we did, that we were connected with people. I had this sense of connection to people through the work we were specifically trying to do, whether it be public safety, beautification, however it was. And, we've kind of gotten away from that and where our house is, we are sort of the northern end of of the neighborhood, and sometimes we are sort of like our own little island up a little higher from everybody else. And what I really liked about the significance of the project, talking about the connection to a neural network, mapping something through the neighborhood, and the significance to me was for a lot of us it brought back the sense of "Yes, we are connected, it is a community, we do have these relations. 

JW: I mean thats really what it boils down to in the end, its just another activity that seemed to be sort of fun, potentially interesting, just as a thought process, and building connectivity, points of contact with the neighborhood and I echo basically Terri's statements. Now, almost nine years since having these guys around, the ability, the energy, the time left to actually interact with neighbors has been limited, and that was one opportunity over the summer to do that. 

CB: So I wanted to turn now to the HRC controversy, so, I don't know how much of it you are away of or if you have any thoughts or opinions on it.

TW: My parents live in the 1200 block, I believe you interviewed my mom, and so they are part of the City Historic District, where it effects them, and you know, my first thought was, "It's words, it's art, how could this be a problem?" I understand the larger legal issues of if its in a historic district and you are saying anybody can put any word, or sort of...I see both sides of wanting to preserve the art. And people are very attached to their words. It meant a lot to a lot of people to be part of this project. Not being in a city historic district, we plan to leave ours up indefinitely. I like having it there. And it would be a shame if there was just, sort of, along the city historic district line, if the project was truncated, because I believe most people who are outside of the city historic district plan to keep their words up. I would hope that somehow the Historic Review Commission could, in whatever way, just acknowledge that the individual houses in the City Historic District are part of this larger project, and that there is value in keeping the larger project intact, since, overwhelmingly people want to keep it intact.

CB: Yeah. Jorg?

TW: I think he's been less aware. [Laughter]

JW: I can't really comment intelligently.

CB: That's fine, that's totally fine. I wanted to close with your thoughts on the role of public art in the North Side, and then in Pittsburgh in general. What is the purpose of public art in this neighborhood and who does it serve? What does it produce?

TW: Do you want to say something before I say all the words?

JW: What does it produce? Well it produces, again, a sort of trains of thought in people, I would hope. The whole spectrum, usually public art tends to be not too provocative because it is in a public space, so, it's usually in a sense, positive thought that it provokes, and interaction of the public with it. From a practical point of view, some of the public art installations are maybe challenging because they have to be sustainable, if they are not sustainable then they quickly tend to turn into less of an art object, or at least they lose their intended meaning significantly...and in my view it can have a positive affect on interactions of the public, which in this case is a neighbor where there is a fair amount of walking public that they can actually sit down and appreciate just even waiting at a bus stop or something like that. The positive visual impact of having something interesting around them, that's just [otherwise] a vacant piece of land.

CB: Alright, Terri?

TW: One of the things about public art, there is so much diversity in this neighborhood that we do have struggles and we do have tensions with everybody wanting to be recognized and included as they should, and I think in the neighborhood one of the times we failed was when we tried to come up with just one thing that everybody feels they can buy into. Because, everybody wants to be recognized for their individual contributions and differences, and I think public art is a great way that people can express their part of the community. They can express themselves. We have Jefferson Community Center near our house and there is a large mural on a retaining wall on the side of the basketball court and there were some people, I admit, I got very upset with, because they felt that the mural didn't reflect them, it just reflected a certain segment of the population, but I think there is so much room that we can have public art expressing everybody's contribution. And so I think public art is a great way for everybody, if you look at public art as a single thing everybody can contribute a piece of it, and so it can accomplish that overall goal of reflecting who lives here. It can reflect the diversity of everyone who is here.

CB: Do you all have any additional comments or anecdotes that you would like to share? Or haven't 
had a chance to talk about.

TW: One of the things that I really liked is that our words are the stickers on our front windows, and our front windows don't look like that high, but it was this sort of scramble, the people who were doing the installation, they had one ladder but it wasn't big enough, and it was this kind of comical running around where it was like "Ok! We need another ladder! Let's do this, let's do that!" everybody comes out to see what's going on [the kids laugh] everybody wanted their picture taken with everybody else, they wanted their picture taken with their word, and there is this mini-explosion on Facebook of everyone who lives right by us as we are all putting up our pictures with our words, and it was just kind of funny the way, like I said, sort of childish in a good way, that there was this glee of being part of something, and I think for a lot of adults, depending on your job, we don't always express our creativity, we don't always get involved in something, and I think that just tapped into that desire for a lot of people which wasn't exactly what people were expecting. [to the kids] Do you want to say anything about our words? You don't want to say a word do you? You helped pick them, I though you would want to say something about them. Do you still like our words? 

AW: Mhmm.

TW: Why? Anything you want to say Mateus?

MW: Uhhhh.

TW: There was one great moment that I liked, he [Mateus] was on a facetime call with a friend of his from school and he said "I gotta go, I have an art reception to get to." And his friend said, "What? You have to do what?" and he said "It's for River of Words!" and he said it like, "Dude, don't you know? It's River of Words!" But it did become just...just what we were doing.

CB: Anything else you'd like to say?

JW: No.

CB: Ok. Thank you so much for your time.