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Vote in the Experienced Dreamers contest: winner gets funds to pursue their dreams in Pittsburgh

It's time to vote for the person you feel most deserves to move to Pittsburgh to live out their dream. Here are the five finalists, in their own words, describing their dreams. Some have been edited for length. Read them here and at the Imagine Pittsburgh website then cast your vote for the grand prize winner. Learn more about the contest and other entries in this Pop City story.
Fine Art Miracles
Tess Almendarez Lojacono
East Aurora, New York
I teach fine arts, primarily in nursing homes and assisted living facilities under the auspices of the company I started five years ago, Fine Art Miracles.  Currently I have about 50 clients, teaching two to three classes per day.

I teach children and adults too, but my main client base has always been the elderly, those brave souls who make the best of living in institutions that are not like the vine covered, garden surrounded homes of their pasts. …My mission is to encourage artistic expressions from those who otherwise may not have the opportunity make fine art.  Crafts are fine, but Fine Art Miracles offers a different approach.
I incorporate a little art history and a lot of visual aids into my programs, such as offering reproductions of Georgia O'Keeffe's floral portraits, discussing her life and work. I then let each participant choose a flower from my artificial bunch and I show him or her how to draw the flower in soft pastel on black art paper, ala' Georgia O'Keeffe.  I give participant as much or as little assistance as he needs; I even have classes designed for the memory impaired. …When the drawing is complete, I erase all the fingerprints and the many smudges and I add the artist's name in gold or silver, spray the drawing with fixitive and voila!  The whole process takes about an hour for 12 to 17 people, resulting in a lovely picture for each participant to display or to give as a gift.  The pride and satisfaction of my students is palpable.
My Dream is to expand my business, establish a headquarters in a more thriving economy, train and employ staff as teachers, formalize all the classes I've designed and create a training package that can be utilized by Activity Departments all over the country. I will hire people in WNY to maintain my business here, set up my business in another city and begin a national advertising campaign.  Fine Art Miracles can and should be a national enterprise, reaching out to serve millions of elderly living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities all over the United States! countless nursing homes, and they call out to me.
Frank Howard Clark said, "We've put more effort into helping folks reach old age than into helping them enjoy it."  My mission is to help them enjoy it.  Fine Art Miracles has blanketed Western New York so it's time to reach further. I'm ready to make a move, to build on what's already working; I have the dream, now all I need is the capital.  Your contest would allow me the financial means  so I have to ask myself, why not Pittsburgh?  Why not now?

Capturing Pittsburgh stories
Kimberly Camp
Kennewick, WA
Kimberly Camp moved to Washington state from Philadelphia with her mother who died a few months later. Alone—with no other family—and in a new world, she found journal entries about her mother and learned the value of stories.
…As I went through her belongings, I found them, each with a story about her growing up. There were stories about her Serbian neighbors and how she learned Croatian. There were stories about "Hunky" Callahan, who learned Hungarian, Polish, Serbian and Croatian to help the men in the steel mill communicate. There were stories of my dad working in the mill when he was at Pitt, and stories about Aunt Bessie who moved from South Carolina to Pittsburgh for a better life and a better paying job. I remember the beautiful hats she wore that perfectly matched her hand tailored suits from when I visited my grandparents every summer. Yet, there is so much of her life story I never heard. 

Some of these stories I learned when I followed in my father's footsteps and attended Pitt, class of 1978. He told me how he worked his way through school where he earned his DDS in 1950. During homecoming weekend, we went to his dental school class reunion. We had been there for some time, when I noticed that we were the only African Americans in the room. When I asked him where the other Black people were, it was only then that I learned he was the only one admitted that year. He then started telling me the stories of how he marched double time in the Pitt band, playing trumpet and that he still had his band jacket and his track letter.  
My dream would be to capture stories from her generation - from the diverse people who immigrated from Europe and migrated from the south. Although worlds apart, still united. I recently read the Warmth of Other Suns, which tells the stories of those who were part of the massive migration to the North from the early 1900s through the 1970s to Chicago's Southside, and Pittsburgh's Hill District. I would love to write the next chapter of the story about the ways that people held on to their cultural traditions, and more importantly, how they managed to live together, to build better lives for them and their children. 

I would love to pair these stories with those of the immigrants who came to Pittsburgh and surrounding towns and cities for jobs in the steel mills and a chance for a better life. These stories demonstrate that we, as Americans, are far more alike than we are different.

I believe we are a country in need of healing. We are too divided as a nation - with vastly different political views, and hugely divergent views about religion, gender and sexuality and race. I imagine its similar to the earlier days of Pittsburgh at the height of the migration/immigration of such diverse  people. I want to use the stories to remind ourselves and teach the next generation that we can live united as a nation.  No matter how different, people want the same things. My dream is to tell those stories, to embrace the rich diversity that has made this nation great, and that  is at the heart of the story of Pittsburgh.
Telling stories through cinematic films
Robert Manning
Bluffton, SC
My dream is to use film to tell and share Pittsburgh stories about Pittsburgh people.  As a journalist and visual story-teller for almost thirty years, my dream is to create a media and film company to produce short-form cinematic films that promote the area and the people who live and work here.  The films would bring into focus the positives of the Pittsburgh area in a variety of ways from helping to promote and market individual small businesses to raising awareness about a civic or community concern.

Pittsburgh's "Steel City" moniker is well known outside western Pennsylvania.   But Pittsburgh is also known as a "City of Bridges" as some 446 bridges cross its rivers and byways.  Like those pathways, films can build bridges within a community and make connections to others outside its borders.   In today's world, the internet provides a bridge and films can be a delivery method.
My dream of creating a Pittsburgh based film company would also include the continuation of my short-form cinematic wedding films.  Every wedding is the same yet every wedding is different - because people are different and their stories are unique.  I love when potential clients view the films of others and start to cry. Short-form wedding films provide a personal history and create moments for family legacies that I enjoy helping to preserve.

Over the years, I have personally benefited from the generosity of other professionals willing to teach and share their craft.   Part of my dream would include the opportunity for young filmmakers to understand the art and craft of filmmaking through hands-on learning.   It would be my goal to create employment opportunities and internships providing instruction in lighting, film techniques, camera operation, sound engineering, interviewing, writing and of course film editing.
Realizing this dream would also include an element of historic preservation  in a portion of the films I would seek to create.  There is no other city quite like Pittsburgh with its unique history and rich traditions.  The filmmaker can play an important role in documenting visual and oral histories.   As part of this dream, I would look to produce films that tell the stories of Pittsburgh's past to be shared with future generations.
Sharon Houk Tellez
Bradley, Illinois
My dream is to create a club in Pittsburgh devoted to the profoundly curious and which provides both the camaraderie and the solitude necessary for life-long learning and creative endeavors.  The club will have a physical location near a university and be called ClubEmeritus.  The heart of the Club is a "Learning & Mentoring Center".

With the advent of open courseware from storied institutions such as MIT, UC Berkley, and Pittsburgh's own Carnegie Mellon, and with the ever increasing availability of superb internet & library learning resources, you don't need to enroll in a university to engage in exceptional learning.  For example, you can study the History & Practice of Human Rights all on your own using materials provided by UC Berkley.  But how much better if you were able to study it with other civically engaged people! 
ClubEmeritus members will be encouraged to form groups to pursue a topic together.  Collaboratively, members will decide on the curriculum, the format (e.g., meet once a week), and the duration of their "course".  In the Club, members will be able to use seminar rooms with state of the art technology.  There are no tests to take or degrees to earn, only satisfying material to encounter and cherished people to share it with.

Club members will be encouraged to provide free mentoring to local university students.  Just because someone no longer shows up at their office every day doesn't mean that their knowledge and experience should wither away at the kitchen table.  Members will be known for their willingness to share the benefit of their deep understanding of their respective fields.  Wouldn't it be great for a university student studying finance to be able to sit down for a few mentoring sessions with someone who has spent the past 25 years in the import-export business with China?  University students could also drop-in on "courses" that club members had undertaken - with the consent of the course members.  This multi-generational environment is a boon for learning and creativity - and a benefit for the universities, so much so that it is my hope that Pittsburgh universities would partner with the Club especially in terms of securing a building.

In addition to the Club having seminar rooms for collaborative member learning and mentoring rooms for member-university student interaction, the Club will have members-only recreation areas.  Members will have to decide what is essential for having unapologetic fun, but I imagine potentially things such as billiards, chess boards, ping-pong and piano.  Given that the Club will be in Pittsburgh, members will have to be able to sit in comfy chairs and watch the Steelers while eating cheese fries from the "O".  There is nothing better for overcoming writer's block than a fierce game of billiards with a retired chemist.  A game of ping-pong with a former banker would be perfect for triumphing over existential angst.

If the Learning & Mentoring Center is the heart of the Club, the members-only reading room is its soul.  There will be red leather arm chairs, end tables, and silence.  Members can bring their iPad, their work, or their Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as long as none of it makes noise.  Creativity and the good life require the correct balance of camaraderie and solitude, but probably in every age, it was difficult to get enough of either.  Perhaps today it is especially difficult to get enough solitude.  I can imagine members who will take the bus each day to the Club to read their newspaper & drink their coffee before going about their daily tasks.  It is a well-deserved luxurious refuge.

Lastly, there will be some "studio" space available for members to rent at a reasonable rate if they'd like.  The retired engineer who is working on robotics needs space to keep servos and controllers.  The aspiring painter needs space to keep brushes and canvases.  I can envision a sculptor being inspired by a studio neighbor to use elements of animatronics in an upcoming project.  I can envision a playwright being inspired by a studio neighbor to incorporate the aesthetics of South American artifacts into a theatre production.  The juxtaposition of profoundly curious people deeply involved in the pursuit of their life's work will make ClubEmeritus an incubator of great things for Pittsburgh and beyond.

It is my hope that in partnership with Pittsburgh universities, member dues would not be prohibitively high.  Membership will be characterized by a curious mind, a quick wit, and a generous spirit.

Pittsburgh is perfectly poised to benefit from ClubEmeritus.  For my part, I am following Jack London's edict with regard to the creative process: "You can't wait for inspiration.  You have to go after it with a club."
Pop Art serigraphs
Jeffrey Metzler
Martinsburg, PA
Even at 57 years old, after 36 years of a successful career as an advertising artist and marketing consultant, I've kept a dream alive of devoting all my time to pursuing a fine art career. However, putting food on the table and a roof over one's tends to focus one's priorities. But the dream is there still.

Recently I received a call from a friend I'd not seen in a long time that has relocated to California and made a name for herself as an artist's representative. She was looking for a new artist to replace one she no longer represented and asked if I was interested in doing some pieces for her art gallery clientele.

Her clients are looking for Pop Art prints, similar to the Andy Warhol
style, in a process called serigraphy. Also known as screen printing, serigraphy is a print made using a stencil process in which an image or design is superimposed on a very fine mesh screen and printing ink is pushed, by the use of a "squeegee", onto the printing surface through the area of the screen that is not covered by the stencil.

The visual art known as pop art, popularized by Andy Warhol, is very graphic in its style, shape and production. Like me, Warhol studied commercial art-at what  is now known as Carnegie Mellon University and began his career advertising and illustration. Later he developed into an applied artist as an early adopter of photographically derived silkscreen. His Marilyn Monroe and Campbell's Soup Can prints are pop art icons.

I have been developing the necessary creative pieces for the rep but am hindered in production by the obstacles of time, space, and funding. The process, and the equipment, supplies and shipping are prohibitively expensive as is taking time away from my other work to do it.

My dream is to be able to focus exclusively on developing and producing the Pop art style serigraphs for my agent. Later on I plan to offer art instruction and printmaking in the studio to art students and the public.

Where better to realize this dream than in Pittsburgh; the adopted home I left 20 years ago, the home of the Andy Warhol museum and where the artist himself grew up and attended art school?
This grant will allow me to support myself while devoting my time and attention to creating and production of the pop art serigraphs.  A location can be found where I can live and work -downtown or the Strip District, South side, Oakland, Mount Washington, Squirrel Hill or Shadyside. There I'll put together a fully equipped studio with all the necessary canvases, materials and supplies that will help me create the best possible artwork for my rep and her clients. I can visit the Warhol Museum or the Carnegie Museum and other galleries in Pittsburgh for inspiration. I'll have access to talented interns from local art schools for assistants to help all through the process and other artists to collaborate with and draw inspiration from.

…More than successfully turning out beautiful artwork for my own clients, I'm convinced that the studio should also serve as a gallery and workspace for more than just my printmaking. My dream is that  a fully equipped  print studio will also be a great resource and assistance to other artists plus mentorship and internship opportunities for students.  I know from personal experience as an art student in the mid 70's in Pittsburgh how much of an impact that can make on an upcoming artist of any age.

I dream of a fertile, stimulating space that nurtures creativity and innovation unconfined by genre that is a vehicle for learning, self- awareness, expression, communication, sculpture, film, photography, architecture, music, literature.
Culture and the arts are such an important part of the quality of life and character of any community. They  are part of our shared experience and one of the ways we define ourselves . The arts elevate and enlighten, it's how we communicate our dreams and ideas to others. Communities need creative spaces where innovation flourishes my dream is that the impact will be to bring more appreciation of art, more culture and more joy to Pittsburgh.

In addition the studio will eventually employ at least one full time studio manager and perhaps another later on as we grow.
After the studio is established I plan to offer instruction in printmaking, serigraphy, drawing and self-expression workshops to the public and serve as a space for other artists to give instruction as well.

Realizing this dream will give me a whole new and exciting career with new challenges, rewards and opportunities.  My talent and true identity is in making images; I will be rediscovering that part of my self I had left behind and thought was gone forever.

Go to the ImaginePittsburgh.com website to cast your now.

Photograph copyright Brian Cohen
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