Public housing complex opens musical arts center

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Tony Tye, Post-Gazette
Electric violinist Rodney McCoy and keyboard player Kevin Howard inaugurate the studio yesterday at the Creative Arts Corner at Northview Heights.
Click photo for larger image.

Northview Heights has had precious little to celebrate over the years, but the news yesterday was rousingly good.

At least 200 people gathered under and around a large tent on the opening day of the Creative Arts Corner, a first-of-its-kind project of the Pittsburgh Housing Authority in which residents can learn to make commercials, record CDs, mix sound, create videos and dance.

The tent party, with live music, speeches by Mayor Bob O'Connor and other dignitaries, directed all the excitement at the potential of the studios in a basement of one of the buildings. The North Side enclave looks like a campus of dorms and has no natural community center or walkable social or commercial hub.

The authority spent the last six months converting the 2,163 square feet of space in the basement into a state-of-the-art recording studio, control room and dance studio. Programming begins in July, with no age limits.

In speaking to the crowd, Keith Kinard, director of the authority, reminded them that "the last time I was up here, after a terrible crime, you told me, 'We don't have enough for kids to do.' " The center, he said later, is an opportunity to enrich the lives of residents.

Under the tent, the singing group Crave stirred a small cluster of girls to dance, and afterward, to seek autographs. While signing the back of a girl's T-shirt, Mandell Loman said the group members are from Homewood. "We're friends from high school. We didn't have anything like that," he said of the studio.

The mayor entered the tent to applause and told the crowd, "This is yours, to bring out your talent. Who has some talent here?" and hundreds of small voices yelled, "Me!" and arms waved. "I have a lot of faith in all of you," said the mayor.

"This is a big step up from the things they shouldn't be doing," said Valerie Jackson, secretary of the tenants' council. She works in the after-school program on site and said she wants to get into the dance studio, to dance and volunteer.

The plan is to set up classes that will run for six months at no cost to the participants. Mr. Kinard said the selection process will be based on the desire "to make a positive contribution. People will choose themselves. We hope to connect with the school system. We already have contacted North View Elementary," in an effort to link the creative work kids do in school to the projects they undertake in the studio in their neighborhood.

The federal demonstration program "Moving to Work" paid about $100,000 toward construction costs for the studio. Mr. Kinard said housing authority crews did work to offset funding costs.

Michelle Jackson-Washington, the community affairs director at the housing authority, said she has an additional vision for how the space can be used. Opening the door to a small kitchen, she said, "I envision some day a cooking show."

Jerry Thorpe, owner of Whit Productions, and audio technician Jevon Rushton have been contracted to conduct sessions in audio and video. Mr. Thorpe said the opportunities the studios afford are "unbelievable. When I was coming up, I paid $30,000 for college and had an internship at KDKA where I couldn't touch the equipment," he said, laughing. "We're going to go from concept to completion with these kids, which is very important."

He said he worked in a video program with public housing youth for the Urban League years ago and had three kids go from that experience to college. "They called me later and said, 'Hey, I got a job in video production.' I think this will be a similar springboard."

Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at or 412-263-1626.


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