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Press Contact: Allison M. Ruppert  | aruppert@cityofasylumpittsburgh.org

Pittsburgh, PA, September 16, 2020—City of Asylum Pittsburgh announces the appointment of Andrés Franco as Executive Director effective October 1, 2020. Mr. Franco, a resident of Pittsburgh’s central Northside neighborhood and native of Columbia, comes to City of Asylum from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO), where he most recently served as Resident Conductor. By special arrangement, Mr. Franco will continue to serve as a guest conductor of the PSO through the end of the 2020-21 season.  


As Executive Director, Mr. Franco will lead City of Asylum’s exiled writer program, performance activities, and economic development initiatives. Mr. Franco has worked with City of Asylum over the past three years as a partner, coordinating multiple performances by PSO musicians at the organization performance venue Alphabet City.


“On behalf of the Board and staff of City of Asylum, it is my pleasure to welcome Andrés Franco to City of Asylum. We are delighted to have him take on leadership responsibility at the critical moment for our mission and our world. We look forward to his leading City of Asylum in the next stage of its growth,” said Henry Reese, the Co-founder and Chairman of City of Asylum Pittsburgh.


Diane Samuels added, “Andrés Franco’s warmth, energy, creativity, and imagination as well as his commitment to literature, music, and social justice give me confidence that he will lead City of Asylum brilliantly into a wonderful next chapter of its life.”


Henry Reese and Diane Samuels founded Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum in 2004. “I deeply admire City of Asylum’s mission to protect, celebrate, and build on creative freedom. The writers in residence—both past and present—inspire us with their courage and compel us to express ourselves freely. As a resident of Pittsburgh’s Northside, I have experienced first-hand the transformative power of its programs at the local, national, and international levels, and I am honored to join the organization as Executive Director. I look forward to working with the Board and staff to continue creating a stronger and more inclusive community,” said Mr. Franco


Andrés Franco has been a treasured member of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra family for six seasons, where he has made a significant impact with his engaging style and deep commitment to audiences of all ages, including inventive programming with City of Asylum. This appointment is great news for the region and for City of Asylum which deserves someone as special as Andrés. We know our audiences will miss seeing him lead the orchestra, but we’ll all look forward to creative collaborations with him in his new role,” said Melia Tourangeau, president and CEO, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.


About Andrés Franco – A frequent guest conductor in the U.S., Europe, and South America, Mr. Franco has appeared with the symphonies of Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Eugene, Elgin, Fort Worth, Houston, Indianapolis, Mississippi, Omaha, Springfield, and St. Louis; the philharmonic orchestras of Boise and Oklahoma City; and the Chicago Sinfonietta. Worldwide, he has conducted the Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León/Spain, the Orquesta Sinaloa de las Artes/Mexico, the National Symphony Orchestra of Peru, as well as the Bogotá Philharmonic, Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional, Medellin Philharmonic, and EAFIT Symphony Orchestra in Colombia. He has also appeared at the Cabrillo, Grant Park, OK Mozart, Oregon Bach, Round Top, and Texas Music festivals.

A native of Colombia, Mr. Franco is dedicated to preserving and performing the music of the Americas. During his career he has led many performances of works by Latin American composers such as Carlos Chávez, Gabriela Lena Frank, Alberto Ginastera, Jimmy López, Arturo Márquez, José Pablo Moncayo, Ástor Piazzolla, and Silvestre Revueltas.

Andrés Franco served as assistant, associate, and resident conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (2015-2020), music director of Tulsa’s Signature Symphony (2015-2020), associate and resident conductor of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (2009-2014), and as music director of the Philharmonia of Kansas City (2004-2010).

Andrés Franco holds a bachelor’s degree in Piano Performance from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia, as well as master of music degrees in piano performance and conducting from Texas Christian University.

He is married to Victoria Luperi, associate principal clarinetist of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. 


About City of Asylum:  City of Asylum’s mission is to build a more just community by protecting and celebrating creative free expression. Now in its 15th year, City of Asylum operates the largest writer sanctuary program in the world, has re-developed over $12.5 million of abandoned property on Pittsburgh’s Northside, and presents over 150 globally focused arts and humanities programs annually at its state-of-the-art cultural center, Alphabet City. All City of Asylum programs are free to the public. www.cityofasylum.org



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Bloomberg Businessweek

Small Arts Organizations Quickly Adapt to Survive

 Arts non-profits are bringing performances online to overcome shutdowns.
relates to Small Arts Organizations Quickly Adapt to Survive

Theaters are dark, concert halls silent, and bookings for performers and stage crews canceled. The same shutdown that’s endangering small businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic is threatening small arts organizations.

Unlike large national arts groups, which are tapping their affiliations with famous stars and rosters of wealthy donors to survive the pandemic, local and regional groups have few resources to keep them afloat. Most operate on razor-thin margins in good times and now have little or no cash and have laid off staff. Americans for the Arts estimates that arts organizations have already lost about $5 billion in revenues from ticket, membership, and gift shop sales and contributions, based on a survey it conducted in April.

Not everyone has stopped functioning or closed, even temporarily. Pittsburgh-based City of Asylum has found a way to keep connecting with audiences and help other local groups do the same. The nonprofit hosted 178 literary readings, jazz concerts, and other events last year, in addition to its founding mission of sheltering exiled writers who face persecution in their home countries. Now it has launched a shared programming channel, The Show Must Go On(line), for its programs and those offered by City Theater, the River City Brass Band, New Hazlett Theater, and other Pittsburgh organizations. Performances—which are live, prerecorded, or a mix of both—stream five nights a week on Crowdcast, and viewing is free.

“The cost for any one small organization to regularly produce, webcast, and market programs that primarily reach only its own audience isn’t feasible, so we reached out to others and started a collaborative webcast,” says Henry Reese co-founder and executive director of City of Asylum. “We want to keep the arts viable and visible during this difficult time—and by joining together, we can minimize costs and maximize programming.”

Each presenter on The Show streams events under its own name and can seek donations from audiences. City of Asylum received foundation funding for The Show, some of which is being used to pay artists who appear in performances and for operations costs.

Webcasting costs are negligible, because all presenters use the stage, cameras, and sound system already in place at City of Asylum’s performance venue, a former Masonic temple that’s known as Alphabet City. Although it has been closed to the public since mid-March, one stage technician is overseeing webcasts for The Show Must Go On(line) there.

The first performance, on May 4, featured a prerecorded concert with pianist and composer Claudio Cojaniz, which was interspersed with an interview with him from his home in southern Italy, where he was sheltering in place.  “Crises are neither negative nor positive, they are opportunities,” he told viewers. “For me, it’s about working better.”

Audience participation is encouraged. There’s a chat box where viewers can post comments before, during, and after shows and a place to post questions. “We’ve always felt that our audiences are as important as our performers, so we’re trying out ways they can participate and interact with one another online,” says Diane Samuels, co-founder of City of Asylum and a visual artist.

As stay-at-home guidelines start to lift, The Show Must Go On(line) may serve as a bridge to returning to live audiences. City of Asylum is initially likely to experiment with very small audiences of, say, 10 to 20 people who can be seated at a distance from each other, then gradually increase those numbers—while continuing to broadcast online.

“In the future, no matter what the situation, we’re likely to mix live and virtual performances. We’re learning that this allows us to expand our reach” to audiences and to more artists throughout the U.S. and around the world, says Reese.

How to Keep Your Nonprofit Going

  1. Assess all your resources, especially previously recorded, archived performances that can be shown digitally or mixed with new material.
  2. Reach out to other local groups to create shared programs or programming channels.
  3. Pool marketing, social media, and fundraising efforts.
  4. Think imaginatively about how to use digital media to offer performances in new ways—by, for instance, interweaving prerecorded events with new video interviews with artists.
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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

City of Asylum lines up Pittsburgh-area arts innovators

Shows stream most weekdays at 7 p.m., and this week’s offerings include City Theater’s new works Momentum Festival; BOOM Concept’s “Menagerie”; snippets of performance art videos created by the Garfield multimedia team; and premieres of two virtual works and an existing piece by the out-there folks at RealTime Interventions, an experimental, interactive arts organization billed as “curators of wonder in the present tense.”

After losing a March project due to COVID-19 closure, RealTime co-artistic directors Molly Rice and Rusty Thelin developed works in response to the new normal of “creative limitation.”

“Sometimes limitations force you to be more inventive,” Rice says. “We decided to set some creative guidelines for ourselves based on social distancing practices and our audience’s needs right now. We asked them via surveys what they’re craving. They said things like ‘nostalgia,’ ‘comfort,’ ‘things that make me feel connected,’ ‘nothing longer than an hour.’

“This year we’re going to focus on the simultaneous need to stay safe and the need to stay connected.”

“Associate,” the first of RealTime Interventions’ projects, is coming to “The Show Must Go(Online) at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Episodes 2 and 3 will air June 20 and 28.

Episode 1 features Pittsburgh sculptor James Simon, musician Ben Barson and interdisciplinary artist Christine Bethea. With input from the online audience, they will “use free association to mine their subconscious, creating a rich collection of imagery and ideas.” RealTime will interview them on the role of the subconscious in their creative processes, and then a “mystery guest” from the national arts scene will reveal a piece being created in real time, using the collective associations from artists and audience.

Upcoming from RealTime is “Sharon” (site and times TBA), an online episodic toy-theater dramedy about the trials of caring for children. Like RealTime’s 2015 project “A Doll House (in a Dollhouse),” it is told through 3-inch fuzzy figures and miniature props and sets while echoing ’70s-’80s sitcoms in 3- to 5-minute episodes. “Sharon” follows “a middle-aged worker in a rundown daycare on the edge of town,” using commissioned stories and miniature props/set pieces from local unemployed child care workers and crafters.

Also upcoming is “The Birth of Paper,” a one-act play by Rice commissioned and produced in 2003 by New York’s The Drilling Company and a best-of winner at the 2004 Austin FronteraFest. The solo show is designed to be performed at great distance from the playwright, and hinges on an envelope the writer sends the performer/ audience that is opened in real time.

“It feels particularly relevant at this moment in time, considering the threats to the Postal Service coinciding with the sense of distance from each other many of us feel,” says Thelin. “The play creates a sense of community, live, in a way that we think will translate really well to virtual performance.”

BOOM Concepts “Menagerie,” at 7 p.m. Thursday, offers three “abstract explorations of black excellence, farce, magic, erasure, community development and survival.” The works include video collage, skits, ensemble work and found footage created between in 2017-2019. The artists and creators will be live in conversation throughout the program, providing commentary and answering audience questions.

Find more from PIttsburgh arts innovators and register for “The Show Must Go(Online) events at www.alphabetcity.org/show.

Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com Twitter: @SEberson_pg. Sign up for the PG performing arts newsletter Behind the Curtain at Newsletter Preferences.

First Published May 25, 2020, 8:00am

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New York City, April 2 2018—The Jazz Journalists Association’s 2018 Jazz Heroes – 22 “activists, advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors of jazz” in 20 U.S. cities – have been announced today, with their personal portraits and bios posted at JJAJazzAwards.org/Heroes. The Jazz Heroes campaign is a non-profit effort to give localities with a peg for jazz media coverage in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution’s designated Jazz Appreciation Month, April.

Heroes include musicians who serve their communities with more than their own creative productions (such as New Orleans pianist Ellis Marsalis Jr., Baltimore vocalist Lea Gilmore, Atlanta reeds specialist Dr. Dwight Andrews, and Pittsburgh drummer Roger Humphries), educators,  presenters, radio program hosts, photographers, philanthropist Robert D. Bielecki, Library of Congress researcher Larry Appelbaum and a New York City record store owner Bruce Lee Gallanter. Each Hero will receive an engraved statuette from the JJA at a public presentation in their own community. The list of all Jazz Heroes at JJAJazzAwards.org/Heroes includes details of those presentations, most of which are at free events.

The Jazz Journalists Association, a 501 (c) 3 professional organization of writers, photographers, broadcasters and new media content providers plus their supporters began celebrating Jazz Heroes in 2001 (they were then called members of the JJA’s “A Team”). Sponsors of the JJA’s Jazz Heroes campaign and 2018 JJA Jazz Awards include the Jazz Foundation of America, Berklee College of Music, the Joyce and George Wein Foundation, ASCAP, BMI, the Jazz Education Network; Tucson, Monterey and Montreal Jazz Festivals, Resonance Records, Concord Jazz, several other record labels, grass roots jazz organizations and publicists.

“These Jazz Heroes represent a large coterie of people who bring their devotion and indefatigable energies to the music that excites them, and that they love,” says JJA president Howard Mandel. “The JJA is proud to help shine the light on these people, and we hope regular citizens as well as journalists in all these widespread U.S. communities will join us in hailing their good works.”

For further information about the Jazz Heroes, Jazz Awards or Jazz Journalists Association, contact President@JazzJournalists.org.

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NEA Increases Award to City of Asylum’s Jazz Poetry Month by 50%


PITTSBURGH, PA — June 15th, 2017 —The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has announced that City of Asylum was selected as a Spring 2017 Art Works grant recipient. The NEA’s award of $30,000 supports City of Asylum’s upcoming Jazz Poetry Month.  Jazz Poetry Month 2017 takes place during September in City of Asylum @ Alphabet City on Pittsburgh’s Northside.

Jazz Poetry Month brings together U.S. and international jazz musicians and poets from around the world, performing both in collaboration and individually. The four-week festival commences on September 7th, 2017 and ends October 1. It will feature 10 unique programs.

This year’s festival will be launched with a public conversation by Charlie Hebdo survivor Zineb el Rhazoui, who will speak on issues of freedom of speech. The full program for Jazz Poetry Month will be announced later in June. As with all City of Asylum events, Jazz Poetry Month performances will be free and open to the public.

“Jazz Poetry Month has been growing year after year,” said City of Asylum Associate Director Silvia Duarte. “There is nothing like it anywhere in the world, and this support from the NEA will allow us to continue to grow Jazz Poetry and provide new opportunities for Pittsburgh’s audiences to hear a great diversity of international voices and jazz in many styles.”

National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu has approved more than $82 million to fund local arts projects across the country in the NEA’s second major funding announcement for fiscal year 2017. The NEA received 1,728 Art Works applications and will make 1,029 grants ranging from $10,000 to $100,000. The NEA’s Art Works program focuses on funding the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with art, and the strengthening of communities through the arts.

City of Asylum is in good company among other Pittsburgh recipients of NEA funding this spring.  Over $115,000 of NEA award money has been earmarked for arts projects in the greater Pittsburgh area. Other local recipients of NEA funding this fiscal year include the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, the New Hazlett Theater, and Bricolage. City of Asylum is proud to be among these other arts leaders as it continues to transform Pittsburgh into a global hub for arts and culture.

“The arts reflect the vision, energy, and talent of America’s artists and arts organizations,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support organizations such as City of Asylum, in serving their communities by providing excellent and accessible arts experiences.”


About City of Asylum

Since 2004, City of Asylum has provided sanctuary for exiled writers endangered in their native lands. In a row of Northside homes, whose facades are covered with texts in many languages, City of Asylum provides the writers with stipends and the support to become self-sustaining and engaged members of the community.

Building on that mission, City of Asylum has grown into a dynamic arts organization that has showcased over 390 writers, artists and musicians from 70 different countries. In 2016, it presented over 70 programs to diverse audiences of over 5,000 people. City of Asylum’s hallmark is accessibility and diversity, and all performances are free to the public. City of Asylum is also the U.S. headquarters for the International Cities of Refuge Network.


For more information, contact:


Ayne Terceira

City Of Asylum



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adriana-e-ramirez - photo credit Heather Kresge

Photo Credit: Heather Kresge



Adriana E. Ramírez wins 2017 City of Asylum/Pittsburgh Prize

 Local writer awarded prestigious international writing residency to develop forthcoming book


PITTSBURGH, PA — May 19th, 2017 — City of Asylum today announced that Adriana E. Ramíreza Pittsburgh-based writer, critic and nationally-ranked performance poethas won the 2017 City of Asylum/Pittsburgh Prize. Previous prize winners include Terrance Hayes (2011), Román Antopolsky (2013) and Lori Jakiela (2015).

The 2017 City of Asylum/Pittsburgh Prize consists of a month-long (June 12-July 9), all-expenses-paid summer writing residency in Brussels, Belgium. During her residency in Brussels, Ramírez will work on a nonfiction book,The Violence (forthcoming in 2018)the story of a Colombian family based on real-life oral accounts of drug tourism.

The Prize is part of City of Asylum’s Bridges initiative, which will create a number of international writer residencies for Western Pennsylvania writers. This residency is a collaboration with the Belgian literary organization, Het beschrijf, and is hosted at the Passa Porta literary center in Brussels. Like City of Asylum, Passa Porta is a hub for international writers and readers, and presents a diverse selection of literary programs to the public. While in Brussels, Ramírez will offer two public workshops on poetry writing and on “slam”-style poetry performance as part of Passa Porta’s program of multilingual “literary encounters.”

“I’m pleased and proud to announce Adriana E. Ramírez has won our 2017 prize,” said Henry Reese, Co-founder and President of City of Asylum. “We selected her for her unique voice, her strong trajectory as a writer, and her commitment to transforming Pittsburgh through the power of words.”

About Ramírez:

Adriana E. Ramírez is a Mexican-Colombian nonfiction writer, storyteller, critic, and performance poet based in Pittsburgh. She’s the winner of the 2015 PEN/Fusion Emerging Writer’s Prize, which is given to recognize a promising writer under age 35 for an unpublished work of nonfiction that addresses a global or multicultural issue, for her nonfiction novella, Dead Boys (Little A, 2016).

In 2016, she was named “Critic At Large” by the Los Angeles Times’ Book Section.Her writing has also appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, Guernica/ PEN America, Convolution, HEArt, Apogee, and Nerve.com.

She is the author of two small-press poetry books—The Swallows (Blue Sketch Press, reissued 2016) and Trusting in Imaginary Spaces (Tired Hearts Press, 2010)—as well as the nonfiction editor of DISMANTLE (Thread Makes Blanket Press, 2014).

Ramírez co-founded Aster(ix) Journal in 2013 with novelist Angie Cruz. Aster(ix) is a literary arts journal dedicated to social justice, as well as giving voice to the censored and the marginalized. Once a nationally ranked slam poet, she co-founded the Pittsburgh Poetry Collective (home of the Steel City Slam) and Nasty Slam, while continuing to perform on stages around the country. She was featured in the 2014 Legends of Poetry Slam Showcase and TEDxHouston, as well as the 2016 Three Rivers Arts Festival.

Born in Mexico City, she grew up in McAllen, TX and is a graduate of both Rice University (B.A. English) and the University of Pittsburgh (MFA in Nonfiction Writing). She then went on to teach at the University of Pittsburgh as a lecturer and visiting lecturer in the writing program for almost a decade. Ramírez now teaches in the MFA program at Carlow University.

She is VONA alum, a perpetually-disappointed fan of Mexican soccer, and a lover of large bodies of water. She lives with her husband and two adorable dogs that are probably fighting each other right now. She’s currently into vegetable gardening, planning bike rides that never happen, and collecting pop culture figurines. She’ll rarely say no to a taco. Or a margarita.

Her debut full-length nonfiction book, The Violence, is forthcoming from Scribner (2018).


About City of Asylum

Since 2004, City of Asylum has provided sanctuary for exiled writers endangered in their native lands. In a row of Northside homes, whose facades are covered with texts in many languages, City of Asylum provides the writers with stipends and the support to become self-sustaining and engaged members of the community.

Building on that mission, City of Asylum has grown into a dynamic arts organization that has showcased over 390 writers, artists and musicians from 70 different countries. In 2016, it presented over 70 programs to diverse audiences of over 5,000 people. City of Asylum’s hallmark is accessibility and diversity, and all performances are free to the public. City of Asylum is also the U.S. headquarters for the International Cities of Refuge Network.   


For more information, contact:

Ayne Terceira

City Of Asylum




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image (2)



City of Asylum Awarded $100,000 Humanities Access Challenge Grant from NEH

  City of Asylum’s Global Literary Programming Recognized by National Endowment for the Humanities

PITTSBURGH, PA —The National Endowment for the Humanities has announced that City of Asylum will be one of 34 organizations to receive an award in the NEH’s first-ever Humanities Access Grant program. This award of $100,000 will provide City of Asylum with two years of match-based funding and will support City of Asylum’s core multi-cultural literary and humanities programming as well as its community outreach.  

Humanities Access Grants help support humanities programs that benefit youth, communities of color, and economically disadvantaged populations.  City of Asylum was among the few non-academic institutions to receive this prestigious award, a testament to both of the quality of City of Asylum’s programs and the effectiveness of its outreach to the diverse residents of its community.  

THe NEH award supports programs that bring community members together to engage directly with authors, journalists, and public intellectuals in extensive Q & A and moderated public discussions to create “a vision of a possible future.” All City of Asylum programs are free to the public.  

“NEH Humanities Access  grants were mainly awarded to universities and museums,” said Silvia Duarte, City of Asylum’s Assistant Director. “The offer of this grant speaks to the high caliber of our literary-based humanities programs, as well as the access we provide to the diverse communities of Pittsburgh.“

Three of the thirty-four NEH awards were for Western Pennsylvania organizations, which recognizes the variety and strength of local humanities programs and their commitment to outreach. Other Western Pennsylvania recipients of NEH funding this cycle include Chatham University and Slippery Rock University.

The NEH Humanities Access Grant and will provide City of Asylum the opportunity to:

  • Increase existing humanities programming to 24  programs per year.
  • Add 12 new annual programs focused on specific topics of cultural importance.
  • Continue to attract writers and literary thought-leaders from all over the world.
  • Further its mission to build a community in which creative free expression is exercised, celebrated and defended as a basic human right in a democratic society.

The timing of this award coincides with the opening of City of Asylum’s new facility, City of Asylum @ Alphabet City. Formerly the site of the historic Masonic Building, it is located on the Garden Theater block of Pittsburgh’s Northside. The $12.5 million project culminates eight years of work by City of Asylum to establish the Northside and Pittsburgh as a global cultural hub and expand appreciation of other cultures.  


For more information, contact:

Ayne Terceira

City Of Asylum





Since 2004, City of Asylum has provided sanctuary for exiled writers endangered in their native lands.  In a row of Northside homes, whose facades are covered with texts in many languages, City of Asylum provides the writers with stipends and the support to become self-sustaining and engaged members of the community. Building on that mission, City of Asylum has grown into a dynamic arts organization that has showcased over 300 writers, artists and musicians from 63 different countries. In 2016 it presented over 70 programs to diverse audiences of over 5,000 people. City of Asylum’s hallmark is accessibility and diversity, and all performances were free to the public. City of Asylum is also the U.S. headquarters for the International Cities of Refuge Network.   

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