Young Pittsburghers to watch in 2009
Kim Jones, owner and operator of Karma on the South Side.
The band Donora, which is getting plenty of airplay on WYEP-FM.
Joshua Elijah Reese generated plenty of buzz playing Elegba in "The Brothers Size" at City Theatre.
Sonja Finn, owner-chef of Dinette in East Liberty.
Ally Reeves with drawings from the exhibit Falling In at the American Jewish Museum.
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People often complain that there are few jobs or other opportunities for young residents in Pittsburgh. That hasn't stopped several folks 30 and under from innovating on their own or making their own mark. Today and tomorrow, the Magazine staff profiles a handful of young people to watch for 2009 in the local theater, music, art, dining, dance, retail and event planning communities.
Customers who walk into Karma, an upscale women's clothing boutique on the South Side, see a variety of looks and designs from the luxurious to the trend-setting.
What they don't see on first blush is the entrepreneurial spirit and perseverance that got owner Kim Jones her own shop at age 21 in one of Pittsburgh's hottest development areas.
Ms. Jones, inspired by an internship at Creative Marketing Plus in New York City, was finishing her marketing degree at the University of Pittsburgh in the summer of 2006 when she tried to rent a space on Carson Street in the SouthSide Works. She was met with indifference, she is sure, due to her age.
"I called [the leasing agents] every day for a month until they agreed to listen to my idea," said Ms. Jones, now 23. And finally, after much persistence and planning, Karma opened at 2737 E. Carson St. in November 2006, one month before she graduated from Pitt.
The store has a selection of premium denim, cocktail dresses and separates. Young professionals and college and high school students make up the bulk of her clientele.
As well as owning and operating Karma, Ms. Jones is the store's buyer and the bookkeeper. She treks to New York City every other month to select new collections of clothing for Karma. She hopes one day to expand beyond the parameters of her storefront in the South Side.
"I do what I love," she said. "My friends might make more money than I do, but they sit at a desk from 9 to 5."
-- Kara Voorhees, Post-Gazette staff writer
It seems like you can't turn on WYEP (91.3 FM) without hearing a Donora song.
But how you can blame the station for putting the Pittsburgh band into rotation?
The trio generates some of the poppiest songs this city has to offer, harking back to that golden era of New Wave/power pop when bands like the Go-Go's, Missing Persons and Blondie lit up the airwaves.
Take your pick. Cuts like "Shout," "Shhh" and "Weekend Tongue" arrive with pulsing beats and sing-song cheerleader choruses from 24-year-old frontwoman Casey Hanner. It was enough for Rostrum Records, which broke Wiz Khalifa, to branch out with its first pop band and sign Donora.
Donora is fronted by Casey and her brother Jake, 29, son and daughter of Dave Hanner, one-half of the veteran country-rock duo Corbin-Hanner. They hail from Richland but just liked Donora as a band name. Completing the trio is Jake Churton, a 22-year-old bassist who provides a lot of the hooks radio programmers love.
"Yeah, I've turned on the radio and heard us on there and have wondered, 'Why is this playing right now?' I feel like it's my CD player," Casey says.
Rostrum plans more of a national release for Donora in the middle of the January.
-- Scott Mervis, Post-Gazette pop music critic
Joshua Elijah Reese took the Pittsburgh theater scene by storm this season as Elegba in City Theatre's production of "The Brothers Size."
The 24-year-old native Pittsburgher, portraying "an insidious charmer," more than held his own with the two veteran New York actors Albert Jones (Ogun) and Jared McNeill (Oshooi), creating an evening of theater Christopher Rawson described in the Post-Gazette as one of the best ensemble performances of the season.
"A naturally appealing presence, he usually exudes wholesomeness, but here he curdles with mysterious corrupting desire," said Rawson in his November review.
Reese grew professionally and personally while working on "The Brothers Size" with the actors and playwright, Tarell Alvin McCraney.
"I'd never been part of an experience with four black men in a room working on a play," said Reese, who graduated from Point Park University's Conservatory of Performing Arts in 2007 with a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater. "Everyone came with their A game. It allowed us to really play and do a lot of delving into different texts in different ways and just have that altitude. So it was great."
His ultimate goal is to be a full-time working actor, but he says he realizes that may mean leaving Pittsburgh.
"Hopefully, Pittsburgh will always be a place that will welcome me back."
He currently is in Baltimore rehearsing in Mark Clayton Southers' "James McBride" at the Run of the Mill Theater Company. Reese originated the role of James McBride -- an African-American poet who wins an Irish poetry contest and has to travel to the Emerald Isle to collect his prize -- at the Pittsburgh Playwright's Theatre in September 2007.
And it seems his reputation preceded him.
"They couldn't find a 'James McBride,' so they're bringing me in," he said. "It's kind of cool to revive a role that I originated."
-- L.A. Johnson, Post-Gazette staff writer
It would be hard for 2009 to be a bigger year for Sonja Finn than the one just past. After all, 2008 was the year this 29-year-old Pittsburgh native moved back to her hometown after more than a decade away and opened her own restaurant, Dinette, in East Liberty.
But 2009 could be the year that the Pittsburgh food scene starts to get more national attention, and Finn is just the chef to generate national buzz. She is one of very few female executive chefs in the Pittsburgh area and one of even fewer who own their own restaurants. She's unusual in other ways as well. She earned a degree in urban planning from Columbia University in New York City before going on to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
Dinette embraces principles of sustainability, not only by buying local produce and meat, but also by buying environmentally friendly cleaning products and supplies, recycling as much as possible, and carbonating water on site instead of selling bottled water.
Finn pays kitchen staff an above-average hourly wage and will contribute to the health care of her employees after they've been working for six months, practices that are likely to result in above-average employee loyalty.
Locavores, environmentalists and food journalists are waiting with bated breath to see whether environmentally friendly eating can survive a recession. A visit to Dinette may be just the answer they need.
-- China Millman, Post-Gazette restaurant critic
Ingenuity, vigor and generosity are three of the qualities that make 27-year-old Ally Reeves a young artist to watch.
You may know her as the cheerful enthusiast who towed her "Look-See Tree" through city parks last summer as a part of Robot 250 or delivered personal notes by bike around town for the "Pedal Postal Express" project she and John Pena created for the 2007 Three Rivers Arts Festival.
It's not only the clever performative aspect of her work that sets her apart and makes her expression memorable, but also that she integrates topical substance into her projects.
To make museum experiences more contemporary and egalitarian, for example, she founded the Mobile Museum (www.themobilemuseum.com) with a Sprout Fund award, inviting anyone with a collection to share to submit a proposal to participate.
She is co-director of the One Mile Garden Project, turning community gardening into a sustainable means of providing food for residents of an impoverished rural Alabama town.
She recently initiated a community collaboration at the American Jewish Museum to explore ramifications of love that resulted in a sprightly eight-minute animation viewable on the Web; go to www.jccpgh.org/museum.asp and scroll down.
The Etowah, Tenn., native and Squirrel Hill resident is a recent graduate of the MFA program at Carnegie Mellon University, where she is a fellow at the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry. She's looking for a full-time position, which she hopes will be in Pittsburgh. That would be a win-win situation for this young artist and for the cultural tenor of the city.
-- Mary Thomas, Post-Gazette art critic
First Published January 6, 2009 12:00 am