Sunday, September 22, 2013

Oil City, Pennsylvania

The ads were in artist's trade magazines. Oil City Artist Relocation Program. 100% Financing.

When a city experiences decline for whatever reason, it's akin to calling in the troops (artists) to save the day. Some of these projects have been extremely successful like Paducah, Kentucky, serving as a program model. Other attempts to attract artists to an area have experienced varying degrees of realization.

I love long, boring road trips where my wandering mind can clear out the daily pressures and open up to fresh ideas and inspiration. So it was after making a delivery in West Virginia that we decided to return home via western Pennsylvania to satisfy our curiosity regarding the Oil City program.
Beautiful countryside
It's a city struggling to survive after major oil companies pulled out in the early '90's. If you look past the numerous buildings that have fallen into decay, the city is really quite beautiful. Situated on the Allegheny River (right on it, the river splits the city) and bordering the Allegheny National Forest, the central downtown is surrounded by steep, scenic hills. We met with the relocation administrator, Joann Wheeler, who graciously provided information and her time as she showed us around the National Transit Art Studios. It's a grand old structure erected by John Rockefeller and restored by Ralph Nader. Yes, that Ralph - it's a great story. Joann is also a wonderful artist renting a studio in the building. She was quite frank about what we could expect. Basically, many of the artists who have relocated to Oil City have established outlets and venues to sell their art. The migration is to cut overhead...a lot. Don't expect tourist or any other kind of traffic. Oil City is basically in the middle of nowhere. The closest metropolitan area is Pittsburg, about an hour and a half drive south.
Stairway in the Transit Art Studios
Did I mention that an artist can rent a gorgeous light-filled, high-ceiling studio here for .49 per sq. foot?

We met with realtor Bill Moon at an empty home for sale. The real estate prices are in the's astounding. We looked at a 3 bedroom 2 bath home that was in very good condition, needing just a bit of cosmetic work in the kitchen - $50K! Bill told us that 150K would buy us a decent Victorian. After living in Saratoga Springs, NY where real estate prices are off the charts, this was jaw-dropping!

Is something like this in our future? I never say never anymore but for now, no. I love this snobby town I'm living in and the Adirondacks and Lake George and, of course, the race track. Saratoga Springs would be just another dot on the map, struggling like so many other small cities of former glory were it not for those six weeks of horse racing every summer.

This gypsy stays put for now,

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