African American Chamber Board Chair Samuel Stephenson presents a lapel pin to keynote speaker Dennis Yablonsky,

Since the collapse of the steel industry 30 years ago, the Pittsburgh region has transformed itself into a diversified economy. More recently, it is one of just three metros in the country to have fully recovered from the Great Recession that began in 2008.

But there’s still much to be done to connect all Pittsburghers to the opportunities that are here and to close the “skills gap” that could lead to labor supply shortage in the years to come.

Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development,  outlined these challenges and more at a keynote address to more than 300 members of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania at the group’s Dec. 3 annual luncheon.

You can read more about it at the New Pittsburgh Courier, and the Pittsburgh Business Times.

World’s Fair Christmas Trees in the Hall of Architecture

The elaborately decorated Christmas trees at the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Hall of Architecture are a beloved 51-year-old tradition for the Pittsburgh region. We asked the museum’s Jonathan Gaugler to tell us more about the display and presepio, or Nativity scene. His reflections follow, as well as video from the museum’s David D’Agostino. Thanks to both of them!

“Here at Carnegie Museum of Art, the Carnegie Trees are a decades-old tradition carried out through the dedication of the museum’s Women’s Committee. The trees transform the Hall of Architecture – one of the grandest spaces in the city – into a special, festive display. Every year, the decorations and themes of the trees change, and curators set up the presepio differently (see if you can spot the bird’s nest!), but through it all, the museum’s displays remain a treasured Pittsburgh tradition.

“At the center of the display in the Hall of Architecture is the museum’s magnificent 18th-century Neapolitan presepio – a Nativity scene unlike most others. Just before Thanksgiving weekend, Associate Curator of Decorative Arts Rachel Delphia quietly begins the days-long process of installing the presepio, a scene that spills out beyond the crèche and portrays Italian village life of the 1700s, including merchants, farmers, mendicant beggars and musicians.

“Details in the presepio bear meanings that would be familiar to viewers in Italy during the 1700s but that might escape notice today. Certain styles of dress, for example, would be unmistakably Sicilian. The band of Turkish musicians playing in the streets would herald the arrival of a ship from the east. And, of course, the craftsmanship of the set is exquisite: the painted terracotta figures have sparkling glass eyes, and merchants’ wares are minutely detailed, right down to salami and hand-tied bunches of grapes. Overhead, angels in silk gowns cascade before the massive architectural cast facade of St. Giles, while other narrative elements from the Christmas story – shepherds, magi and fishermen – are interspersed among the everyday lives of the Neapolitans.

“After Thanksgiving weekend, the Hall of Architecture bustles, as Women’s Committee volunteers set to work with the Museum of Art workshop, employing winches, lifts and muscle to install seven 20-foot trees flanking the presepio. As Tara Safar, co-chair of the Carnegie Trees puts it, the committee is ‘a dedicated group of women who are passionate about the arts and raising awareness of Carnegie Museum of Art to promote its tremendous value in our community.’

“This year’s display takes the world’s fairs as inspiration, coinciding with the exhibition Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs, 1851–1939 right upstairs in the Heinz Galleries. Each tree features handmade ornaments crafted by organizations from around the city, including colorful “space-race” rocket ships made by Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh volunteers; architectural wonders, including the Eiffel Tower and Space Needle, crafted by Women’s Committee members; and historical hat styles, as presented by the Parks Conservancy. The opening reception to unveil the trees also offers a fundraising opportunity for the committee, which has contributed to significant projects for the museum over the years, most recently a $500,000 pledge toward endowing the position of the Richard Armstrong Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, now held by Dan Byers. This year’s Nov. 28 reception drew a rousing 500 attendees.

“With the Hall of Architecture fully decorated, the museum settles for the holiday crowds, especially in the week approaching New Year’s Eve. The building pulses with energy as families take in the decorations before scurrying off to enjoy the museum’s world-class art collection and the Museum of Natural History‘s huge, breathtaking display of dinosaur fossils. We hope to see you at the Carnegie Museums this season!”

Associate Curator of Decorative Arts Rachel Delphia on the presepio.

Neapolitan Presepio from Carnegie Museum of Art on Vimeo.

The Women’s Committee’s Melissa Ferrari on the Carnegie Trees

Carnegie Trees from Carnegie Museum of Art on Vimeo.

In 2011, highlighted the sustainability of some of Pittsburgh’s most cherished holiday traditions. This year we’re calling attention to a few of our favorite seasonal things, with a bit of a twist toward greater diversity or international flair. Send your suggestions to us at, or


In addition to being a recommendation for writing good fiction, the adage, “show me, don’t tell me,” could just as easily be applied to economic development, a practice that includes marketing a location, attracting business to it and enhancing its economic well being and quality of life. Being able to actually see or experience what a particular location – a city or a region – has to offer can help to bring economic development deals to fruition.

The concept of “show, don’t tell” motivated the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA) to recently bring eight national site location consultants and capital market experts to Pittsburgh for a two-day familiarization tour. The tour was designed to acquaint these influential individuals – advisors to high-profile corporate clients worldwide on the best locations for business investment – with the spectrum of advantages that Pittsburgh, a “world’s best” destination*, has to offer.

The PRA brings these professionals to town to show, not just to tell them about the assets that make the region a solid investment. At the same time, their visit provides an opportunity for the 10-county Pittsburgh region’s economic development and commercial real estate community to hear about any improvements that could be made to enhance the market’s competitiveness. This year was the first time that the PRA included capital market experts in the tour. Inviting them to participate was in response to increasing interest in the region from outside investors. A prime example is last year’s acquisition of downtown’s iconic PPG Place by North Carolina-based Highwoods Properties, with a total investment of $214.1 million anticipated. Maintaining and increasing this outside interest and investment motivation is a goal.

While in town on Nov. 12 and 13, the group visited American Eagle Outfitters at SouthSide Works and Google Pittsburgh at Bakery Square – two globally recognized brands that have chosen Pittsburgh for either a headquarters or other significant business operation. Interestingly, both of these companies chose former Pittsburgh brownfield sites for their investments.

The group also participated in the developers’ showcase of NAIOP Pittsburgh (the Commercial Real Estate Development Association) at Allegheny Center on the North Side. This event, attended by professionals from the commercial real estate and economic development communities, included a panel discussion featuring the site location consultants and capital market experts. They responded to questions from Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce President Barbara McNees, who moderated the panel, as well as to questions from the floor regarding the state of the region and its attractiveness for business investment.

Watch the video clip below featuring three of the experts participating in the PRA’s familiarization tour to hear their reactions to Pittsburgh and their recommendations for taking the region to the next level.

Additionally, you can read the reflections of one of the tour participants, Dean Barber, principal at Barber Business Advisors, LLC in Plano, Texas, who’s also included in the video.  Barber’s piece, “The Journey of a Hungry Caterpillar,” was recently posted on his blog, BarberBiz. Although he says that he considers himself “a Southerner and a now a nuevo Texan,” Barber writes that he grew up in a manufacturing family and that his father was from Pittsburgh, allowing him to “feel a certain affinity for the city.” He further shares, “ … I must admit that I come upon places that I naturally like. Sometimes I cannot fully explain it, but I just do. Such is the case with Pittsburgh.”

That said, we’re casting our vote for “show, don’t tell” when it comes to selling this region. Clearly, the “eyes” have it.

*National Geographic Traveler, 20 “best of the world, must-see places.” 

Bonnie Pfister
MJ Tocci at Negotiation Academy preview, July 2012

MJ Tocci received the 2011 Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Award for her mentorship of other women, through both her community involvement and work as a prosecutor and later a coach for fellow attorneys at Trial Run.

Now she has co-founded what is believed to be the first program in the country to look at critical leadership skills through a negotiation lens. Applications are being accepted now for the Heinz Negotiation Academy for Women,  which begins training its first cohort of women in January 2013. You can watch a brief video below in which Tocci and Academy co-founder Linda Babcock (economist and author of the groundbreaking Women Don’t Ask) talk about why these skills are especially important for women.

And further down, read an excerpt from an interview with Tocci that appeared in the 2012 ATHENA Awards Program earlier this fall. You can find photos from the academy’s preview in July on our Flickr page.

MJ Tocci and Linda Babcock on Why Negotiation Matters for Women

MJ Tocci Discusses the ATHENA Award, Mentors and Mad Men By Catherine V. Wadhwani for the ATHENA Awards 2012 program

Has winning the ATHENA Award impacted your life?

Yes, greatly. For the first time, I felt like a Pittsburgh insider. I’ve only lived here for about 18 years, so I’m still a “newcomer.” Winning was a shot of local validation from a community that I really respect.

Is community involvement important?

It’s critical. Community involvement grounds you and teaches you new skills. The hardest part is figuring out what you care about and how to channel your resources.

Did you have any special mentors?

Boyd Hines from my first professional job with a neighborhood civil rights organization. I was just out of college and he taught me the value of advocacy.

Carol Carrigan and Bill McGinnis both are now judges in California. I knew them from the DA’s office. They believed in me as a trial lawyer when some people didn’t think women could try serious cases.

Early on, it’s helpful to know that someone whose opinion you value believes in you. It anchors you. But you can’t have “reflected confidence” your whole life. You have to develop inner confidence because the challenges get harder as the stakes get higher.

Also my father. He felt that I could do anything. My mother wanted me to marry and not have a career, but eventually “My daughter the lawyer” became one word.

Linda Babcock, co-founder of the Negotiation Academy for Women

Who inspires you now?

Linda Babcock, who is brilliant and so caring about empowering women. My husband who is very brave and creative. He completely changed careers from being a doctor to being a film director. He is an equal partner in parenting and running our household, which makes a big difference.

My kids. 17-year-old Sam thinks I’m really smart and Zoe, who is 15, cuts me off at the knees. But when people ask Zoe what I do, she tells them I try to make the world a better place for women and girls like her.

Anything that you wish you’d realized sooner?

It’s OK to say no. My generation was sold bill of goods that we can have it all. You can, but not necessarily at the same time.

So what about  “Mad Men”?

I watched the first five episodes in a fetal position. I was young in the ‘60s, but I remember that time well enough. I read an article that said flirting is essential for women’s negotiation skills, using Joan as the example. It’s bad advice.

Peggy knows what it’s like to be one of a few. She’s courageous. She formed an alliance with Don Draper and he had her back. It was brilliant when she finally left the firm because it was time for her to move on. She shows us that even though it looks hard, some risks are truly worth taking.

What advice would you give to men?

Men are part of the change process. We’ll never see gender equality without men being on board. For all of the men out there, we need you. We appreciate you. Look long and hard at the talent around you to make sure you don’t miss anyone.

And for women?
Be careful not to divide yourselves between career women and non-career women. We are all working hard.

Form alliances with men and women. There are influential people who will sponsor you when something important happens, so be purposeful about creating career-enhancing relationships. Those ahead of you can help you meet people who can help you, but you have to ask. Cultivate and manage your visibility. Just being a hard worker is not the visibility you desire. We are teaching women in the negotiation academy how to create and further a brand and how to manage visibility.

Favorite Quotes?

”Never allow a person to tell you ‘no’ who doesn’t have the power to say ‘yes.’ ”  And, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Both by Eleanor Roosevelt.

Wadhwani is a partner in the Pittsburgh office of Fox Rothschild LLP and a member of the ATHENA Awards Program of Greater Pittsburgh Host Committee.


Business and civic leaders in the Pittsburgh region understand that sustainability is about taking the long view on return on investment. Those benefits will be explored at the 12th annual Southwestern Pennsylvania Smart Growth Conference on Thursday, Dec. 13 at the convention center. Organized by Sustainable Pittsburgh, the conference will address the interrelated issues of clean water, transportation and innovative finance for redevelopment. Please join me and leaders from many of our partner organizations at this important gathering. You can learn more or register here.  You can also watch videos from last year’s conference below.



Phil Cynar
Renaissance City Choirs in concert

Uniquely bonded and allied by their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) identity and a love of singing, women and men from the region raise their voices in concert this Sunday evening, Dec. 9, filling Oakland’s Carnegie Music Hall with seasonal song that’s as diverse as the choir itself – joyful, campy, soulful and sassy.

Jeffry Blake Johnson, D.M.A.  is artistic director of the Renaissance City Choirs (RCC), an organization now in its 27th year of providing the region’s LGBT community – as well as a number of choral music-loving heterosexual neighbors – with an outlet for artistic expression and the advancement and appreciation of sexual diversity.

Johnson has been busy – up to the tip of his conductor’s baton – with preparations for the 2012 concert, entitled “Warm by the Fire,” but he shared the following reflections to better acquaint people with the special ensembles composing the RCC and a performance that aims banish winter’s chill with song while affirming, through music, the worth and dignity of sexual minorities.

ImaginePittsburghNow: In brief, how did the Renaissance City Choirs (RCC) get its start?

Jeffry Blake Johnson: In 1985, the Renaissance City Choir/Pittsburgh Gay Chorus Inc. was established as a gay male chorus, and in 1987, it became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. That same year, RCC joined the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA) – an international organization with more than 180 LGBT choruses.

To celebrate the choir’s 10th anniversary, RCC hosted a 10th anniversary concert at the Benedum Center and invited nearby GALA choruses – Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus, North Coast Men’s Chorus and Rochester Gay Men’s Chorus – to perform. It was also the debut performance for the Renaissance City Women’s Choir formed in January 1995.

IPN:  What does the RCC uniquely bring to the LGBT community in the Pittsburgh area, as well as to the community at large?  What does this special choir have the power to do with its music – both within the group and outside in the community?

RCC Artistic Director Jeffry Blake Johnson

JBJ: The RCC is a microcosm of American society: LGBT men and women living alongside our openly heterosexual brothers and sisters. We work for greater understanding between people of different backgrounds and identities, as well as the advancement of equality. And more simply, we work to create beautiful art and moments of music that are shared with each other and with our audiences. As a true rainbow community we work on living and cooperating in peace and respect, and we try to share those values within our own LGBT community and the wider community. As an organization, we seek to build bridges within our community and with the community at large.

IPN:  How did you land your job as artistic director of the RCC?  As a transplant to Pittsburgh what has struck a chord (pardon the pun) with you?

JBJ: Since I began living in Pittsburgh in 1996 and working at East Liberty Presbyterian Church (2000 – 2007), which is the home base of RCC, I knew about the choirs and had heard them in many concerts through the years. A friend of mine, who has friends in the choirs, mentioned that she thought the position was open and referred me to the choirs’ website where I learned all about the job opening. I went through a series of interviews with a search committee and an audition in a choir rehearsal. RCC is truly a family, and the people in the choirs very much love each other. That wonderful bond was apparent to me from the beginning. Individually, the singers are funny, wise, silly, talented and vivacious, and they bring all of those qualities to their music-making and advocacy.

Pittsburgh’s amazing diversity of communities throughout the city, and of course, it’s beautiful rolling hills, rivers and bridges struck a chord with me.

IPN:  What one thing, in your opinion, that would improve Pittsburgh for its LGBT residents?

JBJ: Marriage equality would be one of the most meaningful things for the LGBT community in Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania. We need this, not only for those of us who wish to be married, but as a symbol of respect to demonstrate that we are not second-class citizens in our society. There are 1,138 benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status in federal law. Until we have full marriage equality, we will be paid less, and our families will be treated as inferior in comparison with our heterosexual brothers and sisters.

IPN:  Silly question, but is everyone in the choir a bona fide LGBT individual? If not, tell us about what’s likely to be the RCC’s “one percent.”

JBJ: There are approximately 65 plus members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allies singing with the Renaissance City Choirs. Although no one has been polled specifically, we do have a number of openly heterosexual folk singing with us. And, we love that!

IPN:  If a reader has time for just one seasonal concert, why should it yours?

JBJ: “Warm by the Fire” will provide a multi-faceted experience. Our audience will hear beautiful classic holiday music, as well as a sassy new composition from composer Jake Heggie (composer of the opera Dead Man Walking) and lyricist Mark Campbell (lyricist for the opera Silent Night, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music). We’ll sing holiday tunes with the Edgewood Symphony Orchestra and enjoy the performance of the LGBTA youth performance troupe Dreams of Hope. And, for many people, one of the most anticipated traditions of the holiday season will be taking part in our annual singing of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” replete with rowdiness. If you have not experienced “The Twelve Days” with the RCC, you don’t know what fun you’re missing.

Watch a preview video of the 2012 RCC holiday concert here.


The “Warm by the Fire” concert begins at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 9 at Carnegie Music Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave. in Oakland (15213). Click here for more information or to purchase tickets (general admission: $25 advance,  $30 at door; premius seats: $50; students: $10.)

Pittsburgh’s got a happening LGBT community. Click here to read more about it and some of its people.

In 2011, highlighted the sustainability of some of Pittsburgh’s most cherished holiday traditions. This year we’re calling attention to a few of our favorite seasonal things, with a bit of a twist toward greater diversity or international flair. Send your suggestions to us at, or