Pittsburgh has lots of big, impressive buildings. One senses the presence of large dead male egos, the steel barons who built castle-like museums and at least one Cathedral of Learning. Before dessert last night at the Carnegie Museum of Art, I slipped out with WESTAF director Anthony Radich and New Mexico's crack arts commission director, Loie Fecteau. We caught a cab to the Dusquesne Incline, a scary old cable-car ride up a ridge overlooking the wonderfully named Monangahela River. It was a long, steaming walk back to the Hilton, including a pit stop at a train station converted into a bar and restaurant for water, lemonaid, and beer.
Loie is a new member of WESTAF's Multicultural Advisory Committee, but until last night I hadn't known much of her history. Her story kept unfolding in calm little asides, such as "when I was working in Nicaraugua during the time of the Sandinistas" or "the year I fell in love with a ski racer and lived in Aspen." Plus a year in northern England and travels all over. Quite a lifeline for a state bureaucrat who grew up in western Massachusetts. I like her non-monumental energy and the ego-free way with which she is making her way as the top arts official in the crazy state of New Mexico. She is the type of person who comes to a conference like this and leaves lit up with new ideas for projects and initiatives in her work.
Loie once covered a press conference where a Pennsylvania official convicted of bribery shot and killed himself at the podium. After the ensuing trauma, she saw that she had continued taking notes, writing "gun in mouth, blood..." in her reporter's notebook. She has a true journalist's curiosity and ease asking questions. Like all of us ink-stained wretches, she dreamed once of writing the great American novel, but settled for a few short stories and some poems. Meanwhile, a day at a time, year by year, she is living a story well worth telling and remembering.