Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Extraordinary Aliens in Pittsburgh

This Pittsburgh immigrant tale has three parts. In the first act, Australian artist falls in love with Larryville:

The more we saw of Pittsburgh in the days following our arrival, the more we thought we might have found our new home at long last.

On our first Saturday here, there was an open day where punters could wander into the various local Lawrenceville studios and see artists standing proudly by their creations. T and I spent a glorious sun drenched afternoon wandering from site to site, pouring over paintings, photos, hand-made graphic novellas and encyclopedias, 'found objects', all the while chomping on corn chips and chugging down wines. Everyone we met was happy and relaxed. They told us how cheap it was to live, which meant it was possible to live as an artist and not starve. One woman, a photographer, had moved here from California and her business was now booming - so much so that she had recently purchased a beautiful old former 19th working man's singing school for $80'000 and was fitting it out into a photographic studio, artist rooms, performance space and multimedia complex.

For Act II, local politician Bill Peduto rescues immigrant artist in distress:

As we rose to leave from our lunch, Bill suddenly said: "Don't worry, I'll help you. I know everyone involved in the local not for profit arts and welfare sector. I can help you find a job. And I know a Congressman who can help with the visa process too. Together we got a friend's wife released from a Chinese prison where she had been held for her Fulan Gong beliefs. If we can do that, we can help an Australian stay in America". I felt shumbled again, as Bill had now beat the record of complete strangers wanting to help me out - we had known each other for less than an hour.

There are happy endings, even in a cloudy Rust Belt city. Act III:

I like to think these two jilted brides have been sped along the highway by 'The Great Whatever' and much of the net is starting to become visible. T is now teaching in the film faculty at Point Park University, developing video projections for Squonk Opera (an innovative multimedia troupe based in Pittsburgh) and together we are working on a series of promotional films for one of Pittsburgh's great regional parks - The Grandview Scenic Byway Park on Mt Washington - which is enormous fun. I was recently granted a 3 year artist's working visa - not easy to get, but I was apparently able to convince US immigration I was an "extraordinary alien" despite having no experience with inserting anal probes into earthlings or creating crop circles using lasers from spaceships hovering several miles in the air.

The miracle on Butler Street likely surprises only cynical locals or bitter expatriates. A self-deprecating Pittsburgh tends to overlook the changes happening under its own nose. The natives are always the last to know.

Update: Read the Pop City story about the Jilted Brides.

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