UNBLURRED: A flash of the future??
The Penn Avenue arts scene is put in focus at Unblurred, first Friday of the month, where spaces of art, music, food, clothing, and books are open late and in the festive mood. This community organized event, between the Pittsburgh boroughs of Friendship and Garfield, weaves together a night where you can experience a little bit of this and that and make new friends. What initially intrigued me about the affair was how the surrounding neighborhood had not lost its community feel among the commercial spaces that have been integrated. Refreshingly, in another adventure in my newly adopted city I had stumbled upon a creative environment that has NOT been GENTRIFIED (the neighborhood is still gritty and not in that purposeful hipster sort of way). As I followed my inklings and the cheery, winter-spirited air I perused the street waiting to stumble and uncover.
Artisan Tattoo, at 5001 Penn Avenue, is set up with the parlor upstairs and a beautiful space from the past, with gilded tin ceilings and all, as the gallery downstairs. The brilliant work of artist and tattooer Bill Earl Gilliland was featured that evening and perfectly suited the space: eerie, mischievous, imaginative, and enlivening. What at first appeared as inventions rediscovered from the Wild West were modern-day sculptures made from pieces of guitars, a leather jacket, nails, rolls of ancient-looking paper, a ceiling fan blade, discarded picture frames, and the list continues. This is not the type of work you casually stroll by and cast a glance but rather the type you engage and then question why its unordinary combination and tough façade are so captivating with pleasure. Upstairs was in motion where pleasure-seekers crowded in to watch the buzzing of tattoos while downstairs the art took center stage and the artist strummed his guitar in the corner, adding even more allure to the atmosphere.
The next space, Assemble at 5125 Penn Avenue, drew me in from the curb with a buoyant pull. A true community space, here neighbors are invited to join in the fun of creating, learning and interacting with each other through art and technology. Bonus: activities are hosted throughout the month for all ages! During Unblurred they debuted ‘Hyperlocal + Art Bazaar’ showing pieces of any medium from artists age 8-73 all that live within 5 to 10 blocks of the space. The coolness of this idea is what was oozing out and pulling strangers like me in from the outside to participate in their mantra of “building confidence through making” – an idea more institutions should promote and put into action!
Most Wanted Fine Art, 5015 Penn Avenue, was a cozy space that looked like an English Pub from the outside. Inside it was crowded with pleased chatters, a local brewery pouring complimentary beer, live music, and artwork from over 30 artists ranging from palm size to over-the-mantle size. My attraction to this location first was its impression; it felt like walking into one of your best friends inviting living room. Second I appreciated the price range of the art; many pieces were quite affordable and actually interesting creations (a few I wouldn’t have minded snagging).
The history of the neighborhood and the unique spaces of the Penn Avenue Arts District give it a wonderful attraction but what tops it off with fascination and appeal is the genuine community vibe. I hope this is the start of more art communities seeking to engage and include their communities, not just in the hopes they’ll open their checkbooks, but become a part of the motion that gives the area its flavor.
*Image - Most Wanted Fine Art