City of Asylum/Pittsburgh

  • Pennsylvania


40 West North Avenue
United States

About Us

City of Asylum creates a thriving community for writers, readers, and neighbors. We provide sanctuary to endangered literary writers, so that the writers can continue to write and their voices are not silenced. And we offer a broad range of free literary, arts, and humanities programs in a community setting to build social equity through cultural exchange. We anchor neighborhood economic development by transforming blighted properties into homes for our programs.


The cumulative effect of attendance on audience--hearing multiple stories and being able to ask and hear questions from others--is what we believe creates the empathy that is a precondition for change and reduces inequality, whether rooted in race, class, gender, ability, or ethnicity. We measure outcomes to support this social concern.

Our annual operating budget is currently $1.1 million and is projected to grow to $1.45 million in 2021. We have 10 full-time employees, 6 part-time employees, and

80 volunteers. Approximately 40% of our income is contributed, with the balance foundation and government grants. We also operate commercial subsidiaries.

We have re-developed over $12.5 million of property, beginning with 6 row houses

used as residences for our programs and culminating in January 2017 with redevelop-ment of the long-abandoned Masonic Building--a $10.7 mixed use project that the Urban Redevelopment Authority called the "most deeply fundamental" project in Pittsburgh to its goals. It includes 8 rental units (2 affordable) and Alphabet City, our home.

Alphabet City has spaces for performances and workshops, our offices, a bookstore (with 10,000 new books and used books) and a destination quality restaurant (est. revenues $1.5 million in 2018). The project won the 2016 Urban Land Institute's Award for Excellence, Best Community Place.

We do important work locally, nationally, and globally. Founded in the fall of 2004, we have now had visiting artists from over 70 countries. Our international peers now deem us “the model for what a City of Asylum can be…expanding the idea of what is possible.” And our neighbors credit us with breaking down barriers of race, gender, and class in our community.

We have been awarded significant grants for our creative placemaking from several national foundations, ArtPlace America, and the NEA and for social entrepreneurship.


Key programs

·        Our core program is our Writer Sanctuary Program. It provides writers (and their families) exiled under threat of persecution with long term assistance, including a rent-free house. 

·        We present over 150 free programs per year in Alphabet City: Readings, jazz, films, and our annual Jazz Poetry Month.

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