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City Of Asylum To Offer Both Arts And A Refuge In Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Construction is underway at one end of the block along North Avenue on the North Side.

Next to the stalled Garden Theater project, work on the neighboring masonic building is moving quickly.

"For so many years, people have said, 'Look at the potential of that building. Wouldn't it be great if somebody could do something with it, and today we are," said Mayor Bill Peduto on Tuesday morning.

Under the leadership of Henry Reese and Diane Samuels, co-founders of City of Asylum, the Masonic Building will reopen this September with apartments upstairs and community attractions on the ground level.

"There will be a space for readings, writings, performances, a restaurant, a bookstore," Reese told KDKA money editor Jon Delano.

Part of the building will be a brand new bookstore, while the middle section will be a center for performing arts, and over on the other side, a brand new restaurant from New York with a special focus on cheese.

Restaurateur Brian Keyser is bringing his Casellula Cheese & Wine Café to Pittsburgh.

"We offer small plates and share-able dishes for the most part with a big emphasis on cheese. In New York, we usually have a selection of 35 to 40 cheeses at a time," said Keyser.

While good food and the arts will attract many, the ongoing mission of City of Asylum is to provide sanctuary -- a place to live -- for all writers whose writings endanger them in their native lands.

"There's between 800 and 900 writers every year who are either killed or incarcerated, abducted, disappeared, in various ways persecuted," says Reese.

And while American writers don't lose their liberty over unpopular ideas, adds Reese, "There is economic threat. You can't be published. You can't get a job. So there's kind of a quasi-censorship or a quasi-threat that makes it difficult to survive."

As City of Asylum grows here, endangered writers, says Reese, will always find a home in Pittsburgh.

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