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Arts, Sports & Culture

Pittsburgh Community for Exiled Artists Receives Grant to Fund Annual Concert

One of the City of Asylum’s post popular events will be back on the North Side next year thanks to a new federal grant.

The $20,000 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant will go to fund City of Asylum’s Jazz/Poetry Concert scheduled for September 2014. The event features musicians and poets from all over the world. The free concert is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

“We’ve been able to keep it free because of the support of funding from the NEA and a few other foundations and sponsors in Pittsburgh and that’s really important to the event to say that there’s no barriers based on costs,” said Pittsburgh City of Asylum Co-founder Henry Reese. “All of our events are actually free, and that’s one of the goals of the organization.”

Pittsburgh City of Asylum was founded in 2004 as a home for artists who have been exiled from their native countries. Since then the North Side nonprofit has become fully integrated into the community.

“What we didn’t expect and what has happened is that the presence of the writers in the community has transformed our own home, not just provided them a safe place,” Reese said. “So events like the jazz/poetry concert, readings, we’re building a literary center called Alphabet City. All have occurred because of the interaction between the writers and the community.”

City of Asylum has redeveloped five houses on Sampsonia Way that serve as both homes for exiled artists as well as public works of art. The process called “House-Publishing” incorporates a literary text as the façade of each house. “House Poem” features a work by Huang Xiang, Asylum’s first resident artist, written in Chinese Calligraphy on the house’s exterior

The 2014 Jazz/poetry concert will feature returning headliners from years past in what Reese is calling a “reunion concert.” The headlining act will be Oliver Lake’s Big Band. According to Reese, the concert’s world-class talent makes for a unique performance each year.

“It’s got 700 people sitting in chairs on this little narrow alley watching freedom being celebrated in great art and all mixing around in a really just a wonderful spirit,” Reese said.