Saturday, April 7, 2018

There are Black People in the Future


For the past month The Last Billboard has been exhibiting Alisha Wormsley’s text “There are Black People in the Future.“ Alisha is a celebrated Pittsburgh-based artist and cultural producer (winner of the 2016 City of Pittsburgh Mayor’s Award for...
"There are Black People in the Future" 2018 by Alisha Wormsley. image courtesy of The Last Billboard

For the past month The Last Billboard has been exhibiting Alisha Wormsley’s text “There are Black People in the Future.“ Alisha is a celebrated Pittsburgh-based artist and cultural producer (winner of the 2016 City of Pittsburgh Mayor’s Award for Public Art) whose work explores collective memory and the synchronicity of time, specifically through the stories of women of color. Alisha’s text for the billboard comes from her ongoing art practice, particularly her interest in Afrofuturism.

Last week, The Last Billboard’s landlord, We Do Property, forced Alisha’s text to be taken down over objections to the content (through a never-before evoked clause in the lease that gives the landlord the right to approve text). 

I believe in the power, poetry, and relevance of Alisha’s text and see absolutely no reason it should have been taken down. I find it tragically ironic, given East Liberty’s history and recent gentrification, that a text by an African American artist affirming a place in the future for black people is seen as unacceptable in the present.

The artist will be part of a public panel discussion about the text and its removal hosted by the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in the next few weeks. More information to come.

- Jon Rubin, Founder and Curator of The Last Billboard
(source: TheLastBillboard.com, April 3, 2018) 


The above statement was issued earlier this week in response to the removal of artist Alisha Wormsley's text in East Liberty. Its removal and the subsequent outcry from the community are yet another in a series of never ending heartbreaks in the story of East Liberty, the neighborhood that we love and yet breaks our heart on a nearly daily basis. You can read more details of it here in the Post-Gazette, or in the CityPaper, or here via WESA. Tony Norman wrote about it in his column in the Post-Gazette as well.

The landlord has since released a statement saying that, given the community support of the artwork, they are willing to have the artwork reinstalled. But frankly, the offer of reinstatement is completely beside the point.

The artwork's removal, the manner in which it was done, and the outcry are symptoms of the big, deep, and painful issues at play in the community and the inability of the powers that be to accept responsibility for and engage in the dialogue that challenges them and makes them uncomfortable.

East Liberty has undergone tremendous change in the past ten years. Even if one views some of these changes as positives, it cannot be denied that the speed and the scope of this transformation has shaken the community to its core. Displacement is happening on many levels - physical, cultural, and economic. And with this displacement comes the threat, both real and perceived, of erasure of members of our community most impacted by the development and displacement - people of color, seniors on fixed incomes, persons with disabilities, low-income working families, and all the ways these groups intersect.

When community members raise concerns about the role of institutionalized racism and white supremacy in the transformation of the community, they, we, are told "no, no, everyone is welcome in the new East Liberty..." What goes unsaid is the subtext of "...if you can afford it and if you are willing to behave as expected..."

Up until now, no one has been leading the way in facilitating the difficult and challenging conversations that need to happen for this neighborhood, for this city, to move forward in a truly inclusive way that benefits ALL of Pittsburgh. None of the powers that be - those with the powers imbued by money, access, privilege, and yes, race - are willing to put themselves out there to create forums for these conversations that will make them uncomfortable about their roles in the trauma inflicted by these changes. Instead, the burden is continuously placed on the shoulders of those with the least power and access to resources.

The removal of this artist's statement from the public sphere and the subsequent outcry from the community is a call from all of us to have these conversations, no matter how uncomfortable they may make each of us about our roles and our position and our responsibility in this. We ask, no we demand, that time, energy, and resources be contributed, from those with such in hand, to the community so that this conversation can be had.

The Kelly Strayhorn Theater is hosting an open conversation about art, public space, and how we talk about art as a community on Wednesday, April 18, 2018 at 4:00 pm. This conversation will be an opportunity for East Liberty to examine the different aesthetic and cultural values in our uniquely diverse neighborhood. We encourage you to attend this event, but this meeting should not and cannot be the only opportunity for this critical conversation. This is a dialogue that must continue. And the resources to have these conversations must be freely given to allow the people to truly lead.

I want to close with the statement that Ms. Wormsley released yesterday, April 6, 2018. As always, she speaks with poignancy, grace, and true light. You can read the statement here on her website (and learn more about her powerful body of work as well), but I want to share the full body of her text on this page:


It started out as a black nerd sci-fi joke. A response to the absence of non-white faces in science fiction films and TV. Very much a response to many Afrofuturist writings, like Florence Oyeke’s: “After all, to quote musician Gabriel Teodros: “If we don’t write ourselves into the future, we get written out of tomorrow as well.”  — Afrofuturism dares to suggest that not only will black people exist in the future, but that we will be makers and shapers of it, too.”

This phrase became my mantra.

The work has become an archive of information, histories and myths that continue the diaspora’s apocalyptic narrative. I choose the term “apocalyptic” consciously, as it is informed by the slow demise of Black American neighborhoods. (And Still We Thrive). This body of work has already taken many forms: video, installation, street art, performance and now the billboard.

I knew what it could mean in that East Liberty the moment Jon asked. It’s what it could mean in this city, country, world. What conversations could arise, what PTSD could be addressed, and just seeing something so obvious stated in this social climate is reassuring to some–to me. It becomes magical, as fantastic as a prophecy.  

I am deeply saddened by it’s removal. And yet I am comforted by how my Pittsburgh has stood up! I think we all know what it is to have discomfort. Let’s begin to work on methods to constructively investigate that discomfort without using power over anyone or anything else.  It is not my calling to lead people in any given direction. An artist who inspires me told me, “Your job is to promote thought, not to tell people how to think. To provoke feeling, not to tell people how to feel.” However you might feel, whatever you might think, THERE ARE BLACK PEOPLE IN THE FUTURE.  
    
Finally, this text is a sentence I do not own, it is for anyone who wants to use it. Please. Take it.









Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Community Meeting Number 2: Monday, April 16, 2018 at 6 PM





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Here is the info about the second community meeting related to the redevelopment of the Penn Plaza site and the reconfiguration of Enright Park to accommodate it.

There have been a few articles published about it, including:

You can read Jason Vrabel's piece in The Bulletin by downloading it here. Jason also writes the excellent Downstream.city. He's covering the complexities of urban change in detail and in depth.

Bob Bauder at Triblive. com covers the development proposal here, including some updated images that were presented at the last community meeting.

A piece from WESA covering the community meeting here.

More coverage of the community meeting on March 21 here in the Post-Gazette.

And a bit of an update from Mark Belko in the Post-Gazette after the Planning Commission briefing that was held today, April 3, 2018, with the developer defending their plans.

Finally, the City published notes from the first community meeting that you can download and read here.

Whatever your feelings are about this development, please make sure that you make your voice heard by participating in the conversation. We need to make sure that community members are active throughout the conversation. You can make your voice heard by attending the meetings and by submitting comment to Planning Commission: 

Correspondence to the Planning Commission will be accepted by mail at 200 Ross Street, Suite 309, Pittsburgh, PA 15219, and by email to dolores.hanna@pittsburghpa.gov.

You can review the development plans here on the City's website, and we have also downloaded them that you can get here (but this link may not always be the most current, so please watch the City's site!). We've also tried to reduce file size for simplicity's (and your data plan's) sake. 

Please note that our files may not always be the most up to date ones, but we will try to share as much as possible. 









Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Community Meeting Number One: Update

Thank you to everyone who made it out tonight, and thank you especially to the staff of Eastminster Church for making sure that the hall was open for the community meeting.

Turn out was fantastic. There were at least 150 people there, although I put it closer to 200. Thank you to the City's Planning Department for doing a very careful and methodical job walking through the process to date, and for helping to (we think) allay some fears that people have that this is a "rubber stamp" process.

This process is going to unfold over a number of weeks, if not months. There will be lots and lots of time and opportunities to comment on the plan, to get comments to Planning Commission, to make voices heard.
a full house at Eastminster Church tonight

We hope to have meeting notes from the City that we can share, and will provide links to other documentation as well.

In the meantime, please mark your calendars for the meetings:

April 3, 2018, 1 PM Planning Commission Briefing.  200 Ross Street. Note that this meeting is informational only, not a chance for the public to speak or ask questions. However, briefings ARE a good time to listen to the questions that the Planning Commission members ask and gain insight into what their concerns about a project may be.

April 16, 2018 from 6 - 8 PM at Eastminster Church - Community meeting for comment on the RAPLDP.

We are advocating for additional meetings to discuss the bigger picture of affordable housing, East Liberty, and surrounding areas. This is a conversation that has to keep happening, regardless of the progress/proposal/development on this site. We can't let things happen to the neighborhood, we have to be shaping it. Please speak up and keep advocating for a #CommunityforAll.

For more information on the current proposal for the Penn Plaza site, please visit the City's website here: http://pittsburghpa.gov/dcp/projects/pps/index.html




Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Community MEETINGS!!!

We inadvertently forgot to post on this page as we were busy getting word out elsewhere but there are some important meetings to get on you calendars! 

Wednesday March 21, 2018 from 6-8 pm, City Planning is hosting the first of two community meetings about the proposed redevelopment plans for the former Penn Plaza site. Meetings will be held at Eastminster Church, 250 N. Highland, across from the Home Depot. Please see flyer below. 

More info on the City’s website including copies of the proposed development plans:  http://pittsburghpa.gov/dcp/projects/pps/index.html


Friday, January 12, 2018

Long Silence, Much Exhaustion. More PLDP.

No excuses for the long silence, but it has been exhausting.

A new (revised) preliminary land development plan has been submitted. You can download it for review here. Public process will kick into gear in February, we are assuming. On this end, we are stretched to the max of capacity.

As a side note, in downloading the RA-PLDP tonight, we realized that to keep files straight we were creating a folder for the THIRD year of this process. It started (publicly) in 2015.

Damn.

And also, seriously, why doesn't anyone over the age of 40 know how to reduce the size of their PDFs? Who wants to download 120 megs of data unnecessarily? Luckily for you, we here in Enright Park know how to reduce file size and save your data plan 100 megs along the way... Even if we are over 40.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Please Support the Work of the Enright Park Coalition!

https://www.facebook.com/donate/10209785084408487/



For several years, a coalition of neighborhood organizations, including Enright Park Neighborhood Association (EPNA), Friendship Community Group (FCG), Bloomfield Garfield Corporation (BGC), and East Liberty Development, Inc. (ELDI) have been working collaboratively to advance community-driven vision for development in our neighborhoods.

Most recently, this coalition has been working tirelessly to advocate for community involvement in the proposed redevelopment of the affordable Penn Plaza apartments and the adjacent publicly-owned 2.28 acre Enright Parklet. This development would have transformed the two sites into luxury apartments, offices, retail, and a new 50,000 square foot Whole Foods, while creating a new park configuration that would destroy the park’s existing tree canopy and reduce its size and recreational function.

This advocacy culminated in the Planning Commission’s January 2017 vote to reject LG Realty’s proposed redevelopment plan of the two sites. In rejecting the proposed plan, the Planning Commission cited multiple failures to comply with standards set forth in the Pittsburgh Zoning Code. The developer is now appealing the decision of the Planning Commission in court.

Because of both the critical importance of these sites in our neighborhoods and the impact that the development will have on all residents, the community coalition has hired a legal team and has been granted status as intervenors in the various lawsuits that are pending. We have a seat at the table and from there we continue to advocate for community-driven solutions. The neighborhood groups have formalized their commitment to work together on this issue in a written agreement that establishes the Enright Park Coalition.

But there are costs to be borne. We need to pay our legal bills, and we want to make sure that we have funds set aside for the next time this type of advocacy is called for.

Please consider a contribution to the Enright Park Coalition’s Planning and Legal Fund today. All contributions are tax deductible, and will go towards legal costs that support efforts to advance community-driven planning in East Liberty, Friendship, Bloomfield, and Garfield.  The Friendship Community Group, a 501(c)(3) organization, will receive and hold these funds on behalf of the Coalition. 

There are three ways to donate:

You can donate via the Facebook fundraiser! Help us meet our $5,000 goal by donating via Facebook, and share it with your friends. 

You can donate via PayPal by sending donation amounts to FCGPghTreasurer@gmail.com. Please indicate in the "note" that the payment is a contribution to the Planning & Legal Fund.

Finally, if you prefer, donations can be mailed in check form to: Friendship Community Group, PO Box 9180, Pittsburgh, PA 15224. Please indicate that the contribution is to the Planning & Legal Fund. 

Thank you!



Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Community Garden Reset 2017

As noted before, 2017 is a year of reinvention in the garden. Without Whole Foods' support, we have been scrambling to restructure and identify new resources. We are working on a long-term plan for the garden, including how to sustain it, and we want everyone in the community to be part of it.

To date, we have been awarded a Love Your [Resilient] Block grant from the City and received a Small Potatoes award from Grow Pittsburgh to support soil testing for our beds.

Most importantly, we need some hands and people to commit to helping us reinvent the space and how we will manage it!

Please join us this Saturday between 10 am and 12 pm for clean-up! Staff from Grow Pittsburgh will be there at 10 am to help us take soil samples for testing. 

And starting on Monday, May 8, Repair the World will be kicking on their bi-weekly garden volunteer nights from 6 - 8 pm. 

Here are some pictures from our work day earlier this month. Big thanks to Repair the World and Kentucky Avenue School for rallying the teams!

Rebuilding the bed that got run over by a stray car... (see 2015 season)

Kentucky Avenue School family and friends clear out the future pumpkin & squash beds.

Repair the World team in action.

Watering the transplants.