Friday, August 26, 2011

Rust Belt Chic Steubenville

Steubenville, Ohio is famous for its murals. That's news to me. I've never visited the city. I gather I'm out of the loop. Photographer Tony Nicholas with the 411 on this unique form of Rust Belt Chic art:

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.

Next up are Steubenville and Weirton, when Pittsburgh gets too popular to be authentic. Monessen? The Mon Valley is where sea serpents (and zombies) still roam. Greater Pittsburgh has an endless supply of Rust Belt Chic.


JRoth said...

Did you look at that Gawker article's advice to Chicago?

"Stop it, Chicago! You're trying too hard. Just do you, girl. Just do you. (Look to Pittsburgh for a lesson on how to do this beautifully.)"

Jim Russell said...

@JRoth, I completely missed that. Might merit a follow-up blog post.

Jocelyn said...

I dont find Chicago all that defensive, maybe sometimes. I think more of that defense is externally placed due to the fact we have no coast.

Jim Russell said...

Chicago is the crown jewel of America's North Coast.