According to Tony, Ohioans weren’t always so keen to remember their history. The term Rust Belt, which is now popular among younger residents, was once a term of distain for an area of the country (also including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and parts of Michigan) whose rusting factories were a painful reminder of a lost way of life. Now, Tony says, young Ohio artists are continuing to make art that celebrates the Rust Belt of the future—a place of bountiful creative energy. When the City of Murals project was first started, the murals preserved a piece Steubenville’s past, now a new generation is trying to preserve them for the future.
For me, I had to leave the Rust Belt before gaining an appreciation of the culture. Being from Erie felt like being from nowhere, just another down-and-out town. The brain drain was real. Most of my relatives had moved to Charlotte, NC. I wasn't sure I had an identity, let alone a sense of pride.
All of that turned around in Pittsburgh, circa 1997. A young filmmaker was debuting a short at a hip coffee shop on the South Side. The scenes weaved together the same sense of nostalgia and melancholy afflicting me now that I was back in the Rust Belt. We shared a common understanding of the landscape. I belong here.
The future of the region belongs to expats and repats. We want to save the murals. We know how outsiders would value them. We understand the Rust Belt attraction in a way that those who stayed cannot. Rust Belt Chic is already hot in DIY Brooklyn:
The true unheralded urban gem of Pennsylvania, however, is Pittsburgh, a city that feels like what an American city should feel like. It's gritty and pretty and shitty and they put french fries on their sandwiches. Whether you're in the Strip or Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh is a place to be cool.