Cynthia Caul (MID '16)
City of Asylum, Pittsburgh
Over summer 2015, I had the opportunity to intern with City of Asylum Pittsburgh in the city’s North Side neighborhood. The organization maintains a mission of creating a thriving community for writers, readers and neighbors. More specifically, they foster this thriving community by providing refuge to
endangered literary writers, offering a variety of literary and multicultural programming and bolstering economic development in the area by transforming neglected properties into beautiful community spaces to house their activities. As part of my internship, I assisted with City of Asylum’s Summer on Sampsonia program. The program comprises a wide variety of events designed to facilitate community development through multicultural exchange.
On my first day, I attended a staff meeting with the co-founder. He discussed his vision for the future growth of the organization. Inclusivity was a major focal point of this discussion - how to ensure that the organization’s programming was relevant to and inclusive of the entire North Side community. As
a recent recipient of a Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund (CITF) grant, which is enabling City of Asylum to transform the former Masonic Temple into a community literary center in the North Side’s dilapidated Garden Theatre Block as a part of the FederalNorth Redevelopment project, the organization is consistently engaged in the delicate dance of making positive contributions to the neighborhood while preserving its current integrity and indigenous population.
As such, with each event throughout the summer, the target audience shifted from families with children to young hipsters to retirees and all of the cultural diversity found within. For each target, our planning adjusted accordingly. We would strategize, implement, evaluate and repeat, using our evaluation to inform the next targeting strategy. My coursework at GSPIA prepared me for this program-planning and enabled me to contribute to the process.
City of Asylum’s role in Pittsburgh, and more specifically the North Side, is multi-faceted and everevolving in response to the shifting social and political context in which the organization is situated. To illustrate this, a quote from “Stoop is a Verb,” a performance piece devised from focus group sessions the organization coordinated with local community members about North Side culture and the current redevelopment of the area:
But the new people have more resources and more capacity. They are very disrespectful of the indigenous, homegrown people in the community and it causes a lot of culture clash…Culture clash not getting support to make the coalition stronger, instead, help is going to foreign writers.