Grant funds project to connect City of Asylum properties with Artway


When it was announced that the literary venue Alphabet City would serve as an anchor for the Garden Theater Block, City of Asylum founder Henry Reese said that there were no solid plans for the triple lot on Monterey Street where the venue was originally slated to go, but he had “dreams” for what the space could be.

Several months later, those dreams are becoming a reality with a $300,000 grant from ArtPlace America that will fund a literary garden on the Monterey Street lot and a Garden-to-Garden Artway Connector that will connect two of COA’s Central Northside entities.

“‘Garden-to-Garden’ Artway will create spaces where diverse neighbors gather and where literature and art challenge and inspire us all to re-imagine and make a better home together,” said Diane Samuels, COA co-founder. “Our community will literally be part of the Artway.”

The Artway will be an embellished walking route that will connect the new literary center, being built in the Garden Theater block, to the lot on the 1400 block of Monterey Street that will transformed into a literary garden.

The Artway will span 5-6 blocks largely along Sampsonia Way, where COA writers in residence live, and will incorporate temporary text-based public art installations.

City of Asylum is working with the Pittsburgh Office of Public Art to commission visual artists to work with their writers in residence to create permanent and temporary installations for the garden and the Artway.

Though much of the artwork is yet to be commissioned, COA plans to incorporate handwritten alphabet samples in more than 40 languages into the Artway and garden as well as an inlaid quote from Pittsburgh poet Toi Derricotte that will read “Joy is an act of resistance.”

City of Asylum also hopes to also use the space for literary events and musical performances to draw out community members.

“In essence, it’s part of our mission, as it has evolved, to develop our community through the arts,” said Elizabeth Baisley, City of Asylum’s marketing and communications manager. “The idea is to create a space where people can encounter art.”

The garden on Monterey Street will be a public outdoor space that will be visually and thematically connected to Alphabet City.

The 4,000-square-foot lot was purchased in 2011, and was intended to be the home of the Alphabet City literary center and café.  But concerns about parking and noise from Monterey Street residents moved the project to West North Avenue to serve as the anchor of the Garden Theater Block.

Baisley said that thus far, the community has responded positively to plans for the Artway and the garden, and does not anticipate further zoning problems for the project.

“We’re pretty excited about it. ACCA and its members have always been supportive of City of Asylum and its work here. This project lets them utilize the space on Monterey that addresses concerns that residents had,” said David Shlapak, development chair of the Allegheny City Central Association (the newly renamed community group of the Central Northside).

Shlapak said that the project also complements the recent rebranding initiative by ACCA by helping the Central Northside “internally and externally identify itself as a unique and diverse neighborhood.”

The $300,000 grant from ArtPlace America will fund the Artway project and some aspects of the literary garden. The total project cost is roughly $1 million, and Baisley said some fundraising still needs to be done.

Baisley said to expect to see some events this summer and that the project is projected to be completed by December 2014.

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