CB: OK so I am here with Randi Marshak as part of the River of Words Oral History Project. The date is March 22, 2015. So thanks for your time and being here, I know that the weekends are precious.
RM: No problem.
CB: So, I wanted to start with some demographic information, I am interested in getting a sense of the diversity of participants. So if you could give me your name, your address, your age, the race you identify with and your marital status.
RM: OK. OK, so my name is Randi Marshak. I live at 406 N Taylor Ave, Pittsburgh, PA, I am 53 and I am white and I am married.
CB: Does your house fall within the city historic district?
RM: Yes. It’s across the street.
CB: My understanding is that the historic district is not always, um, spatially coterminous.
RM: Yeah, because I don’t think this [City of Asylum office] is.
CB: How long have you lived in the North Side?
RM: 15 years.
CB: And how long have you lived in Pittsburgh?
RM: Let’s see. About 20.
CB: Great. So let’s turn to the River of Words project. Can you tell me about how you got involved, and what that experience was like for you?
RM: Well, so, I know of City of Asylum, because I live across the street, or, my garage is across the street and we are on Taylor at the front of the house. So, I always like to support them, and I think I was at a concert down the street and then they had the words, and I just asked what it was about, they told me, and you know, I always like to support them, and anything that can be community-wise…I was on the Central North Side Community Board too, and one of our…I was involved in the Community Plan, and part of it supports public art in our community, in the Central North Side, so I wanted to support that.
CB: What word did you choose.
RM: I chose balloon.
CB: That’s interesting. Why “balloon”?
RM: Well, when the words were up I saw a lot of them were in foreign languages, and unfortunately, at the time I missed it, the way it was set up, I didn’t know that translations, and I wanted to pick a word that I knew what I meant. I picked another world at first but then I thought “balloon” was more fun and you know, uplifting, balloon.
CB: Its very whimsical.
RM: Yeah, so that’s why I chose it.
CB: Did having this word on your house, did it create any new interactions, or conversations, or stories?
RM: Um, you know, so many people around here are familiar with the project, so I can’t say that I met anybody new because of the word, I did have some out of town friends who were like “What is this? Why do you have balloon on your window?” And then I explained what it was and then when we were walking around the neighborhood they were like, “Oh look! There’s one, there’s one,” you know? And it was fun to see that.
CB: So what do you think the significance of this project is?
RM: Hmm. I think it’s just a nice way the community can express its uniqueness and its support for the City of Asylum and for public art. It became very popular. Even people who missed out wanted to be involved and I noticed that accross the street people just put up their own words, like the garage right across the street [from City of Asylum].
CB: Oh, that’s not part of the project? I didn’t know that. That’s funny.
RM: I don’t think so.
CB: Funny. I was seeing it when I was kind of pacing around between interviews and I was like “Oh ok, garages, cool.”
RM: I think they put up their own words, and I know of other people who kind of missed out and put up their own words.
CB: Cool. So it’s been over six months now, has the meaning of the word changed at all for you?
RM: Um, no, I don’t think so. I think sort of that uplifting thing. When I walk by, or drive by, and see other words its funny, like, the one is “Fly,” and the way they kind of did it in script its fun…and then you walk by other and are like “Ooh, I wouldnt’ve picked that, ’emptiness’…I wouldn’t want that!” and so its just interesting the way some of them affect you. And then I’ve gone, when I’ve passed words that are in other languages I will use my cell phone and try to get the translation.
CB: Sort of like, I don’t know, re-mapping or re-understanding the neighborhood. That’s really cool.
CB: OK. So let’s turn to the Historic Review Commission conversations that are happening now. How much of it are you sort of aware of and do you have any thoughts on what the HRC should do?
RM: Yeah, I am aware of it. And I think they should just leave it alone. They’re removable [the words] and they are not severely changing the facades of homes, which is the basic thing with the HRC, that the facade should stay historic. So, just, adding a flowerbox, adding an amenity, and its nothing that can’t be removed, or is really taking away from the historic facade. So, yeah, I think they need to back off. [Laughs]
CB: So the last question I have is about the role of public art in the north side and in Pittsburgh, so can you tell me what you believe to be the purpose of public art in this neighborhood. Who does it serve and what does it produce or create?
RM: Well, I think that public art is an amenity. It can bring up a neighborhood. It gives people something to be proud of in their neighborhood. Just like litter can bring down a neighborhood I think public art can bring it up.
CB: Is there anything else you would like to say about River of Words or about public art that I haven’t given you a chance to talk about, or about your word in particular?
RM: No, I’m just happy its here. I hope it can stay for as long as people want. I think it was very well done which is why it was so well supported and it was nice that, I didn’t think that there was going to be…I thought they’d [the artists] put up the words but I didn’t realize that all the words were going to be different colors, different materials and different script, and I think that really added to the project.
CB: Alright, cool. Thank you so much for your time.
RM: You’re welcome!