2013 Annual Convention Spotlight: Pittsburgh’s Persistent Courtship

Posted by Sam Laffey, Apr 24, 2013 0 comments

Sam Laffey Sam Laffey

I love Pittsburgh. I mean it; I am a full on Pittsburgh-loving evangelist.

I have a full-time job that I love here. I co-own a small business here. I own a house here. I wasn't born here. I'm a transplant. And unlike my friend Michelle, it took me longer than a year to get on board with Pittsburgh.

"Why did you come here?" The emphasis on 'here' was always more dramatic when the person asking knew I came from Los Angeles. I grew up in L.A. for 18 years and couldn't wait to leave when it came time to apply to college. It's not that I didn't like L.A., but I was hungry for something new and different. I mean, how much sunshine can a person take? I kid, but in truth I did want to experience seasons.

I originally came to feed my hunger for seasons and independence and to study art at Carnegie Mellon University. After about two months, I felt my hunger had been satiated and I announced to my family that after I completed my four-year degree, I was coming home as fast as that plane could carry me.

When I tell this story now it makes me laugh, because it truly was a rough beginning to my courtship with Pittsburgh. My apartment and school and the four square blocks in between were all I knew. It got really small really quick. The public transportation system was pretty good back then and my school ID got me on for free, but I didn't know where to go, so I felt trapped.

In my second year, I drove my car out which was a turning point for me. I didn't have to know where I wanted to go—I was in control and could just drive, get lost, and see what I found. I did this on my own and I did it with friends, and it opened Pittsburgh to me.

I discovered Pittsburgh Glass CenterPittsburgh Center for the Arts, and Pittsburgh Sports League. I learned that there were more than four restaurants in Pittsburgh, which thankfully has only grown in recent years. Seriously, the Pittsburgh food scene has blown up! Just looking at that link causes this foodie’s mouth to salivate.

The timeline of where my love affair with Pittsburgh really heated up gets a little fuzzy in the third year. I know I learned about the Accelerated Masters of Arts Management Program at Heinz College during that year.

That was an important moment because participating in that program meant going back on my "out in four years" declaration. In fact, I was willing, if not eager to apply and stay on for a fifth year. It wasn't long before that turned into "oh I can stay a couple of years, get a job and gain experience before leaving" which then morphed into "Pittsburgh I love you, I'll never leave you, please never leave me!"

So now that "Why did you come here?" question is more often "What are you doing here?" Or "Why did you stay?"

It's no secret that Pittsburgh has a youth retention/brain drain problem, so the fact that I came here for school, finished my degree and didn't immediately leave makes me somewhat of an anomaly. When native Yinzers or Pittsburghers for the uninitiated ask me these questions, I often feel like a science experiment, or perhaps a gorilla in the mist.

Truth be told, I enjoy being different and going against the grain, but it's difficult at times to find the words to describe why I'm here, why I stayed, why I love this place so enthusiastically that I once loathed so vehemently. My answer changes often as I consider the questions more, but ultimately it comes down to this: Pittsburgh wooed me. It wasn't love at first sight, but with some persistent wooing, I fell in love with the well-rounded life that Pittsburgh has to offer.

It's the world-class sports teams, sitting next to the world-class arts. It's world-class high art collaborating with the diverse art forms and venues the city brings together. It's the centuries old architecture paired with the world's leaders in technology innovation. It's the abundance of natural beauty, hiking trails, and waterways just steps away from the cultural center of downtown. And yes, it's the seasons. Now, I'll admit, nothing beats Southern California weather if you want dry warmth and consistency. But the blistering cold winters opposite the sticky mucky hot summers make the few weeks of spring and fall in between sheer perfection.

When you come for the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention, don't just hole up in your hotel room or spend all of your time in our incredible Convention Center. Check out some of Michelle's recommendations, or email me to see what I might be up to. Do some exploring and get lost.

Even though Pittsburgh had to work hard over a few years to woo me, some have fallen in love immediately, so be prepared—you may be next.

The Americans for the Arts Annual Convention is heading to Pittsburgh in June. Follow along as we spotlight the city every week between now and then here on ARTSblog. Also, don't forget the Early Bird Registration deadline is April 26 so be sure to register before then to receive a big discount!

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