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Open Thread - Blog

Archive for October, 2008

October 24th, 2008
Adam Atkinson

Introducing OT Blog’s Artist of the Week series! Each week, a different artist, writer, performer, or other emerging voice in our region will be profiled and interviewed. (E-mail us at Open Thread if you’re interested in being profiled! Unfortunately, there are only so many weeks in the year, but we’ll do our best to feature you!)

First up: sculptor, illustrator, writer, chef, and all-around policy maven Laura Miller!

About Laura Miller
If you’d like to know what a real Renaissance woman looks like, look no further than Laura Miller, 22, of Squirrel Hill. Fresh off a BFA in Art and Ethics, History, and Public Policy (Yes, that is in fact what her diploma says.) from Carnegie Mellon University, where she graduated with honors, Laura decided to stay put. (Read her interview, and you’ll understand why.)

As an undergraduate, Laura interned with the Heinz History Center, working on their African American Collection. She also researched the transatlantic slave trade and provided illustrations for Deep Roots: Rice Farmers in West Africa and the African Diaspora, a book by Edda Fields-Black. And she won the Elizabeth Jones Award for her research findings. She is fluent in French. She is taking LSAT courses to improve her score, even though she isn’t sure if she wants to go to law school. If you’re trying to convince yourself that your free time is used wisely, that you are a productive member of society, don’t talk to Laura Miller.

It all begs one question, though: where does she find the time to be an artist? We’re not sure, but she does. And that’s a good thing. These days, Laura spends most of her time doing arts and community outreach in Wilkinsburg and serving up “nostalgia, art, [and] yummy local food” through her RV Eatin’ collaboration with Dawn Weleski and Claire Hoch, also of Pittsburgh. Her BFA show, pictured below, was in May.

But as much as we describe her or show her work, there is no substitute for meeting Laura Miller. Encountering her frantic energy and boundless passion - for, well, a lot of things - explains everything: the complexity and historical relevance of her work, her long resume of accomplishments and her very, very busy schedule. If you’d like to chat with Laura or feature her in a show, send her an email at or check out her website. She’ll find the time to respond.

Straight from the Artist’s Mouth!

OT Blog: What is your relationship to Pittsburgh and the surrounding region? You left and then came back, correct?

Laura Miller: Yes. I feel like Pittsburgh is very much a part of who I am and how I came to be an artist, historian, and policy person. I think something happened when I was young that influenced this. When I was little living in Pittsburgh I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, my mother’s parents. I learned from them to appreciate and reflect upon the environment around me, and I came to crave learning about the past in order to figure out what to do in the future. Also when I was very small I just loved Pittsburgh, but not in just a civic pride sort of way, or a competitive way, but where I felt like my emotions and perceptions of the world were formed by the geography of Pittsburgh. So when I left - even though we moved when I was eight - Pittsburgh was the only place that ever felt like home to me. I lived in Nashville for ten years, but I knew I would never stay. I simply counted down the days until I could leave, and then I left. Pittsburgh is my spine.

OT: What sort of environment has this been for your work?

LM: Well, Pittsburgh is my home base. I feel like I can do great art and be creative outside of Pittsburgh, but the work that I do pretty much always relates to how I see the world, and that developed in Pittsburgh. So while I guess it would be interesting to take my work out of the Pittsburgh environment, so much of my work up to this point has been about interacting with the people around me. Over the past five years those people have been in Pittsburgh.

OT: Your strongest interests outside of art - history and food - seem to maintain a pretty strong presence in your artwork. What other interests have manifested themselves in your work? Is it a conscious decision?

LM: Let’s see. I have a strong interest in death, dealing with it, and fear of it. It has been a big thing for me in the past, not as much now as before. Yes, I was aware of the death. It was kind of inevitable given how I was thinking about the world at the time. But to answer the question I wouldn’t say that history and food are my interests outside of art, I think those are two of my interests in art, as you (sort of) said. Public Policy is another interest I have in art. As I am living it, the policy work I do is my art piece, when I talk to people and socialize in a deliberate way, that is my art piece as well. There is a beauty in interacting with people, and I want that to be a part of my art.

OT: What can OT Blog readers expect to hear from you in the coming months?

LM: I’ve been working on RV Eatin. I plan to continue that into December. In 2009, I would like to get more involved in the policy arena, and I’ve already started working for the Jason Altmire campaign. I would like to continue making art in Pittsburgh - but we’ll see where policy takes me!

October 20th, 2008
Adam Atkinson

About the Black Sheep Puppet Festival

Greatly expanding its offerings to celebrate its tenth year
of existence, the Black Sheep Puppet Festival kicked off in Pittsburgh on October 10th – but don’t fear! It
runs until October 26th! Most of the events are free, many are
interactive, and only a few require an RSVP.

You can purchase tickets to selected events at or by calling 412.394.3353.
Tickets also available at door. (Cash only.)

What the Black Sheep Puppet Festival Can Do for You

If you’re a puppeteer, you should visit the festival’s
to learn about
participating in next year’s festival. But if you’re just an intrigued
puppet-goer like us at Open Thread, the festival has quite a schedule remaining. Check it out!

October 15th, 2008
Adam Atkinson

Curious Machine

(Pictured: screenprinted potholders and pillows.)
About Handmade Arcade

Now entering its fifth year, the ever-growing Handmade Arcadeis the largest indie craft fair in Pittsburgh and one of the largest in this corner of the country. As you’ve probably guessed, everything sold at the fair is handmade, giving the event a kitschy, often silly, feel that more standard arts and crafts fairs lack. (We can pretty much guarantee you won’t find any landscape paintings here.)

Held on Saturday, November 8 AND Sunday, November 9 in the Hunt Armory (324 Emerson St.) in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood, there’s no entry fee, and food and drink vendors will be there too!! With over 80 vendors and more than 8,000 in attendance last year, this is not an event to be missed.

What Handmade Arcade Can Do for You

First and foremost, Handmade Arcade will introduce you to dozens of local vendors who make (sometimes literally) one-of-a-kind items. As the event is held in Pittsburgh, this includes a lot of Burgh vendors, including Built In Pittsburgh, Garbella, Ray-Min Shoulderware, and Tugboat Printshop which features the work of accomplished printmakers Valerie Lueth and Paul Roden.

There are, however, plenty of vendors from other parts of the country, including two from Morgantown: Lemon Cadet and Curious Machine, a vendor at Open Thread’s Variety Variety Variety fundraiser.

If you’re an indie arts-and-craftsman (or woman), stay tuned to Handmade Arcade’s website insummer 2009, when they’ll open registration for next year’s fair. In the meantime, volunteer for a two hour shift or check out their nifty early birdie sale, which costs just $15 and gives you first dibs on the whole fair! (They’ll be mailing the passes outon October 29th, so order yours soon!)

Built In Pittsburgh

(Pictured: high-waisted heavy wool
twill shorts.)


(Pictured: bicycle chain ring clock.)

Ray-Min Shoulderware

(Pictured: messenger bag.)

Tugboat Printshop

(Pictured: “Battlecrabs in Love,” from
the duo’s “Deep Blue Sea Woodcuts.”)

Lemon Cadet

(Pictured: a ringer onesie.)

About The Lit

Known as The Poets’ and Writers’ League of Greater Cleveland (PWLGC) since 1974, The Lit has shed its unwieldy title and is chartering a new course under the leadership of Executive Director Judith Mansour-Thomas.

“We’ve undergone some pretty major changes since the strategic re-planning [in the 2000s],” says Judith. The changes are evident: in 2001, the PWLGC committed itself to the creation of the Literary Center, a space that could host seminars, workshops and readings. The Ohio Writer is now The Muse. In 2007, the board of The Lit - newly christened - created a new Executive Director role; enter Judith Mansour-Thomas.

“It’s the best job I’ve ever had; everyone here loves what they do,” says Judith, who got her dream job after years as the Assistant Director of MoCA. Under Judith, The Lit most significant change has been its literacy efforts in Cleveland communities. “We look at it as a matter of expanding our audience,” she explains.

That growing audience is lucky; The Lit offers seminars, workshops and a spectacular lineup of readings. “The Cleveland area is just packed with great writers - Pulitzer winners and nominees - and nobody knows they’re here!” Judith says with equal parts exuberance and exasperation. Take it from us in Pittsburgh, Judith: We understand how you feel! Check out their packed calendar of events.

What The Lit Can Do for You

If you like to volunteer, The Lit can do a lot. Literacy volunteers, event volunteers, office volunteers - you name it, this small, efficient organization will use it.

If you don’t like to volunteer, there’s good news: The Lit can do even more. Its annual competition closes in just a few days: Oct. 15. So submit now. Its quarterly journal, The Muse, has a distinct blend of art and writing with a great twist: writers of all forms use their work to respond to local artwork. Perhaps most impressive are their non-stop course offerings, including offerings for area youth and a discount for members.

Heck, if you want to hold a release party for your new book of poems, The Lit is here to help you again. “We absolutely want to hear from people [who want to do that],” assures Judith, who just hosted local poet and professor Mary Weems for the release of Weems’ latest poetry collection.

Whatever your literary needs, if you live in Northeast Ohio and haven’t used their services, it’s time for that to change. To visit The Lit: Cleveland’s Literary Center, go to the ArtCraft Building at 2570 Superior Avenue, Suite 203. To contact them, 216.694.0000

October 13th, 2008
Adam Atkinson

If you’re reading this, you probably know at least a little about our organization and its mission. You might also know that we highlight local poets in our POETSBURGH reading series, and that we feature musicians, comedians, performance artists and more in our Variety Variety Variety fundraisers, AND that Vol. 1 of our Regional Review - teeming with emerging artists and writers - is due out later this year. (Register and submit your work for Volume 2 today!)

So how does a blog fit in to the mix?

Regional Organizations
First, we’ll be providing you with periodic profiles of other organizations that serve Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The Lit, the focus of our first profile, provides exactly the kinds of services emerging artists are looking for: events, competitions, publications, seminars and workshops that are all open to the public.

Artists of the Week
You could be new to the region and looking for an arts community. Maybe you’re an artist and you want us to help promote your work. Or perhaps, like us, you are simply in continuing to
discover this region’s emerging art, writing, music and more. Each week, the Open Thread Blog will introduce you to another artist, writer, musician - any upcoming regional guy or gal whose life is in the arts!

News and Events
Submission deadlines, upcoming arts spectaculars, or updates on Open Thread’s own happenings: we’ll help you stay abreast of what any local producer (or consumer) of art ought to know.

Publication of the month and other reviews
Zines, books, journals, albums, chapbooks and more are pouring out of (and into) our region. We (along with some guest writers) will point out a few that are worth some of your meager artist income.

We’ll post every week - so check back regularly. Welcome to the blog - and welcome to a little more of your regional arts community.

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