Pittsburgh City of Learning Portrait
In the summer of 2014, myself and the team at Chicago Art Department were invited to produce a series of videos for each of the cities participating in the Cities of Learning initiative—Dallas, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and Chicago. In June, my team and I traveled to Pittsburgh. I was excited to return to Pittsburgh. I had been once but only for a quick lunch downtown on my way back from Falling Water. I had vowed to return to experience the city.
The Cities of Learning (COL) initiative in each city is spearheaded by an anchor organization, in this case the Sprout Fund. They did a great job of organizing our visits to different summer education programs throughout the city.
From the airport, we jumped right into shooting. Our first stop was the Monongahela Incline, at the suggestion of our producer Mark Salach. We rode the funicular and shot footage from the suspended observation deck. The panoramic view of downtown inspired us to break out the drone and do a quick flight revealing the city through the nearby trees. We made our way through the South Side, shooting on Carson Street and around the surrounding wonderfully colorful neighborhood.
We moved on to Point State Park, which was buzzing with activity. The water pool underpass was a wonder to behold. People were flying kites, playing Frisbee and Spike Ball in the field. Cyclists blew past the fountain while others lounged. We would walk 10 feet and spy something new to shoot.
Our first day of shooting programs began at the makerspace Tech Shop at Bakery Square. We were invited to document part of the Community Lawns program. Teens were designing and making cornhole/bags platforms with the aid of laser cutters and wood routers—hands-on learning at its finest. It’s great to see the crossover between the project based programs and makerspaces.
The schedule for Pittsburgh was jam packed. As we crisscrossed the city I shot b-roll where I could. The next stop was the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, which hosts the Green Compass radio documentary program. Right away it was apparent: they had great facilities for a great program. Youth were treated to a state-of-the-art radio recording studio and plenty of interesting breakout space to work and collaborate. Our host, Sarah Siplak, was gracious and complimentary to her documentarians. They pursue a number of informative projects throughout the summer, interviewing experts and researchers to get at the heart of topics. http://neighborhoodvoices.org/green-compass-season-6
In the early evening, we visited the East Liberty Library for a youth arts partnership program with the Mattress Factory. Participants were delighted to draw on the windows. They were then engaged in discussions about interests and creativity. I’m a firm believer that flexing creative muscles has a wide array of benefits. If we can imagine, we can do.
Our second day began at the rugged and wild Frick Park. Though in the city limits, it feels like it’s far from the city. We were meeting the Young Naturalists. They hiked into the woods and then dispersed into personal spaces to write in their journals about what they observed. This was a quiet time for reflection. The action, instead, was all mine. I spent the time running up and down hills and jumping creeks to document their introspection. Later, they surveyed the outer rim of the park for invasive species and conducted some surgical subtraction. I hesitate to overstate this, but the morning spent in the woods seemed to enrich all of our spirits. It’s good to take a break from the city life.
Our tour continued to the STEM Institute at Ellis School. A demonstration of a problem-solving project was on the menu. The girls taking part in the summer program had reworked a design for personal cleaning stations in African villages. Water jugs suspended from PVC piping were engineered to be operated hands free. Project-based learning serving remote communities— very nice.
Our final stop was Steeltown Entertainment Project, known for connecting Pittsburgh to the film industry through production and community outreach. This is a project founded by native son Carl Kurlander. We arrived as young people were setting up for a multi-camera interview shoot. It was an impressive scene—like watching a professional crew mobilize on point. Carl is an energetic man with a Hollywood past who believes Pittsburgh has a bright future. He’s committed to training Pittsburgh’s film crew of the future.
I found Pittsburgh to be an exceptional city. I was drawn to its thriving present and working-class roots. The word “resolve” stuck with me while there; these people were making it happen. It is a welcoming city with a proud past and a bright future.