A Transformed Penn Avenue

A market and shopping place by day; a bustling creative gallery expo by night. Penn Avenue has transformed into a hub of creative energy through efforts by the Penn Avenue Arts Initiative.



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At Unblurred, a dozen galleries open their doors; heavyweights like the Pittsburgh Glass Center and Dance Alloy Theater (both headquartered on Penn Avenue) hold interactive, participatory events; coffee shops like the ultra-popular Quiet Storm bring music and spoken word; restaurants and cafes offer tastes of their fare—and more.

Other than downtown’s Gallery Crawl, its the only regular neighborhood-wide arts event in town.

“There is a very, very wide range of art,” Morris says. “There is something for everyone. Every gallery has its own little following, and you get some spillage into the next gallery.”

At a recent Unblurred, a new neighbor got in the act: acclaimed restaurant Salt of the Earth. Since opening in the fall, Salt instantly became one of the most-talked-about spots in town; after being open for less than six months, the small restaurant on Penn Avenue attracted enough attention that Kevin Sousa, its chef and co-owner, was named a semifinalist in the prestigious James Beard Foundation Restaurant Awards.

Salt is, however, very much a part of the neighborhood. At April’s Unblurred, staff members hung out at the Glass Lofts and handed out samples. It’s not very surprising that they would get in on the act: Previously, Sousa was a member of the Friendship Development Associates board.

“He’s been a part of the process, and he’s been an asset to the community,” Morris says.

Within a few months, PAAI will decide what’s next, and development will continue along Penn Avenue (several properties available now are listed on the organization’s website) and in nearby East Liberty.

By rights, this should attract more than a fair share of new residents to one of Pittsburgh’s under-appreciated neighborhoods.

And with world-class food, an abundance of art, historic homes and so much more, it’s about time.

The next Unblurred event will be held the evening of June 3 on Penn Avenue. Info: friendship-pgh.org/paai.

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