Wednesday, April 15, 2015


A gorgeous mural seen along The Strip, Pittsburgh's historic market district.
My Experiences on the Trip: Akron2Pittsburgh
by Joanna Wilson

Early morning Monday April 13th, more than four dozen energetic Akron professionals--including myself--loaded onto a bus parked across from the Akron Art Museum, to make a day-trip to Pittsburgh.  The trip was designed to be an opportunity to meet and speak with Pittsburgh's business people and community-builders to learn about their successes (and failures.)  Maybe we would even bring back ideas to try out in Akron.  I have to admit the day was a delightfully exhausting adventure.  It is now two days later and I still feel like I'm recovering.  On Monday, I purposefully opened my mind and tried to absorb as much as possible from our activities.  My sponge-like approach also meant that I felt saturated by the end of the day.  Although many others in my group tweeted and hashtagged the highlights of their experiences spontaneously in the moment on Monday, I'm more of an old-fashioned, pen-and-notebook-kind of gal.  So I'd like to share the highlights of my experiences from Akron2Pittsburgh trip here.  Different strokes for different folks, right?

I was invited to take part in the Akron2Pittsburgh trip because I work as Assistant Director for the non-profit organization Crafty Mart.  However, this opportunity forced me to reflect on the variety of ways I contribute within this community.  Yes, I often embarrassingly overlook and take for granted my own experiences.  So not only did I feel like I was representing Crafty Mart in Pittsburgh, but I was also bringing with me the perspective of an Akron history/nostalgia book author (I co-authored A is for Akron and I have a new book coming out in July on Akron's own Archie the Snowman.)  I'm also a Den Mother for the local women's group Dance Dance Party Party-Akron (DDPP-Akron).  I'm the co-founder of this blog Akron Empire and I write for the new alt-weekly arts & culture paper, The Devil Strip.  These Akron-centric experiences also connect me to quite a few others who made the trip to Pittsburgh on Monday.  Already having worked with several others on the trip--and meeting in person several others I'd only previously worked with through email--made the trip that much friendlier and easier.  The community-building began on the two-hour bus ride on our way to Pittsburgh.

Hahahaha!  The bus must have been turning when I snapped this blurry photo.  At the front of the bus is Wesley from Akron Honey Company introducing himself.

During a break--outside Union Project.
On the ride to Pittsburgh, every participant took his/her turn to stand at the front of the bus and introduce themselves.  These introductions made it much easier to begin conversations later in the day.  It's also nice to actually put a face to many of Akron's familiar organizations and small businesses.  When we arrived in Pittsburgh, we gathered at Union Project in the Highland Park neighborhood.  Union Project is a re-stored church now used as a civic center and art space.  After a quick brunch, we were introduced to a half dozen Pittsburgh community leaders.  These leaders then hosted 'break-out sessions' in which we divided into smaller groups and asked questions about their projects.  I'm an arts & culture person, so I joined in on three break-out sessions with like-minded speakers.

Several of us started out on our own DIY walking adventure.

The walking group would break off 2 or 3 members at a time as they followed their own interests--and others would join us from other destinations.

In the afternoon, we were turned loose in the city for our own Do-It-Yourself Adventures.  All of us had done prior research and made preparations for the afternoon.  Many of Akron's ambassadors had made appointments with Pittsburgh leaders, business people, and community builders to exchange ideas.  I had pre-arranged to unite with two other members of the Akron group, Tessa from Neighbors Apparel and Kaley from Urban Buzz, to check out some of Pittsburgh's small business retailers and handmade and local goods shops.  We ended up finding several other people interested in doing the same thing, so we joined Tina Ughrin with Akron Better Block on a walking tour of several of Pittsburgh's notable neighborhoods.  It was such a beautiful day--85 degrees and sunny--our walking tour allowed us to observe in the residential and retail spaces more intimately than if we had driven the routes.

The distance we covered was helped by a car service.  We all took full advantage of Uber.  Our small group utilized them twice in the afternoon.  And, I got my first Uber ride in a Cadillac Escalade.

We roamed through East Liberty, Shadyside, The Strip (historic market district), and the Cultural District.  Yes--we were on our feet most of the afternoon.  I even got sunburned.  But it was worth it.  Our planned wandering even brought about a few surprises we never anticipated--including Boutique 208, a handmade art & maker consignment shop located across from Heinz Hall which started as a pop-up project.

Our group from Akron sought out all sorts of organizational and business interests.  I'm more of an arts & culture person and made my way to the Cultural District.

Things I learned: Nicole Mullet knows how to make teeny tiny origami boats. She folded these paper boats from discarded restaurant napkin wrappers at lunch. For size perspective: notice the fork tines in lower right corner.

In the evening, our group of fifty from Akron met back for dinner at a restaurant atop Mount Washington.  Tessa, Kaley, and I took the Duquesne Incline to the top.  Everyone was sharing their individual adventures from the afternoon over dinner.  And, then we relaxed during our two-hour ride home again.

Our restaurant for dinner included windows that looked over the downtown Pittsburgh skyline. Recognize The Point Fountain? (center of photo.)

While I feel like I'm still processing much of what I experienced on Monday's trip, I did pick up a couple lessons I'd like to incorporate in my work in Akron immediately.  My favorite part of the day was the break-out group sessions where we were able to ask questions from the Pittsburgh leaders.  I met Veronica Corpuz, the Director of Festival Management from The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust in one of these groups and I was able to ask several questions about their events.  (Crafty Mart organizes arts & cultural events and piggy-backs on other organizations' events too.)  Veronica's advice based on her experiences with marketing to different audiences was invaluable.  Speaking with Anu Jain, a diversity and inclusion consultant from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, was also a learning experience.  She shared her experiences about changing strategies when communicating across racial and ethnic boundaries for better cultural inclusion in the arts.  A lesson we can all benefit from and an inspiring challenge from Anu.
Not to be overlooked was the community-building going on throughout Monday's trip just amongst the Akron participants.  I met with some hard-working individuals who have a vision and an energy for a better Akron.  Sharing the day with them and listening to them ask important questions of Pittsburgh's leaders was itself an inspiring experience that I've brought back to Akron with me.  I wasn't the only one forging future collaborations.  I've even had the experience since coming back home of connecting several of those I've met on the trip with resources here in Akron and introducing them to other like-minded individuals.  And, I can't wait to connect with everyone again in a few weeks to hear how everyone else has applied their experiences from the Pittsburgh trip.

Many thanks to Nicole Mullet and Kyle Kutuchief for their efforts in organizing the trip.

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