Thursday, October 05, 2006

Lawrenceville Artists' Studio Tour

If you live in Pittsburgh or the surrounding area, and have an interest in the arts, you might want to attend the Larenceville Artists' Studio Tour this Saturday or Sunday, from noon until 5PM. It's completely free, and includes 22 destinations. As one local participant points out, there is a wide range of arts on exhibit, "including sculpture, painting, candlemaking, weaving, metalsmithing, photography, soapmaking, t-shirt and handbag design, custom furniture making, stained glass, and textile and jewelry design".

Lawrenceville has gone through some significant changes over the last decade-and-a-half. Rumors that the neighborhood was about to experience a rennaisance were whispered prematurely in the early 1990's. This was the time of the microbrewery boom, and there were plans for several of them in Lawrenceville. Unfortunately, the recalcitrance of long term inhabitants stopped such development. Evidently the multitudes of dive bars were preferable to the in-flow of city residents attracted to the prospective establishments. Meanwhile, the hood's diverse, but poor, population eyed itself warily. It was not viewed as an attractive part of town.

I moved to Larryville (as we fondly called it) in 1999. There wasn't much to recommend it other than cheap rent, a struggling business district, and a central location. But throughout the four years I spent there, a change started to emerge. Coffeeshops, boutiques, and art galleries began springing up, adding a healthy element to the hordes of gangstas, prostitutes and drug dealers. Art All Night, an annual open admission art show and event, began its operation. These features slowly revitalized the neighborhood's reputation, and young people began fleeing the rampant commercialization of the South Side, and landing in Larryville. By the time I left, property values were increasing rapidly and the "little hood that could" began to realize its potential. The Church Brew Works, the Thunderbird and Ray's Marlin Beach Bar offered a cheery conviviality. The stately Allegheny Cemetary (one of the oldest and largest in the country) was slowly surrounded with activity that would dignify, rather than degrade it.

Now Lawrenceville is bustling with activity and a burgeoning arts scene. The sadly short-lived Europ'Art, Transformation Treasures and Emma's Coffeeshop were replaced with the Coca Cafe, Fe Gallery, Gallery on 43rd Street, the Slaughterhouse Studios, a Crazy Mocha franchise, the Digging Pitt, Who Knew?, Blackbird Artists Studio and the Trinity Gallery. Many of these new shops can be visited this weekend. Rents are still low enough for working artists... and some of them are throwing their doors open for you to watch them work. Come on by... grab a mocha and a map from Perk Me Up Cafe, stroll the arts scene, and finish up with dinner and a drink at one of the local eateries/bars. Don't worry- you won't get shot.

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