Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Can Artistic Words Remain on Historic N. Side Facades?

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Can Artistic Words Remain on Historic N. Side Facades?

Article excerpt

A group of North Siders seeking permanent status of a public art project is making a First Amendment argument to the Historic Review Commission, which is in the middle of a 60-day deliberation period after tabling a decision last month on whether to allow the installation to remain without penalty.

The River of Words art project last summer was a collaboration between City of Asylum Pittsburgh and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council's Office of Public Art. City of Asylum's mission is to harbor writers whose political work has endangered them in their countries.

About 140 words were installed on houses and fences and as decals in windows throughout the North Side. Almost half are in the Mexican War Streets, a historic district over which the commission has oversight regarding alterations to facades. The project did not seek historic review approval before the words were installed.

"We made a mistake when we read the legislation," said Renee Piechocki, director of the Office of Public Art. "We did not realize [the commission] had jurisdiction over art work. The city and the commission were very generous in not fining residents. I am confident they will develop a process that enables public art in [historic] neighborhoods."

When the commission postponed its vote, acting chairman Ernie Hogan said the project presented the commission with "new territory" and added, "We need to take a longer-term look at this to determine how our policies may need to be evaluated."

"We will make some kind of judgment," said planning director Ray Gastil, a commission member. "We're looking at what other cities have done" reconciling public art with historic standards.

The commission normally considers requests to alter materials on facades and additions and subtractions such as shutters, windows, doors, awnings, decks and railings. It has not previously been asked to consider anything of the nature or scale of River of Words.

Last year, Glenn Olcerst got a certificate approving the attachment of a mosaic mural to the side of his home as long as the holes and bolts were in the mortar joints and not the brick. …

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