Robert Burack
Robert Burack
Robert Burack

What’s a week in the life of a Coro Fellow like? Robert moved to Pittsburgh from Atlanta in August 2015 for the nine-month leadership fellowship, and he’s hit the ground running, working with Bridgeway Capital to launch a Craft Business Accelerator, and with the Richard King Mellon Foundation on innovation in manufacturing. Completely won over by Pittsburgh and his new Highland Park neighborhood, Robert feels fortunate to be here at what he calls “a transformative moment . . . when residents, organizations and institutions are working together to shape a vibrant and equitable future for the city.” We hope he sticks around.

Monday, March 7

Monday morning finds me awake minutes after sunrise. I don’t drink coffee (it’s the taste), so I rely on music to do the trick. Chances are I’m listening to Neko Case (who recently awed at Mr. Smalls) or local favorite Memphis Hill.

I recently moved to Pittsburgh after two years in Atlanta, and was happy to trade one tree-lined neighborhood for another. Highland Park is green and friendly, and not too far from the new Ace Hotel, where I’ll spend the morning at Whitfield making a plan for the week (I’m a bit compulsive, in the best ways, so a to-do list is a must) and checking email. Working in “public” spaces helps me to focus.

2015-2016 Coro Fellows at the Nyia Page Community Center in Braddock
2015-2016 Coro Fellows at the Nyia Page Community Center in Braddock

I’ll hop on the busway and head downtown to check on final preparations for the Etsy Manufacturing Day event tomorrow at the Energy Innovation Center. I’ve been pulling in partners and handling the logistics as part of my Coro placement, and there are a few details to iron out before the Etsy team arrives. It’s a “sold out” event, and we’re excited to welcome 150-plus designers and manufacturers to begin building creative relationships.

Monday ends with a dinner date at Morcilla, Justin Severino’s new Spanish-inspired spot in Lawrenceville. My girlfriend Susie and I have a list of Pittsburgh restaurants to eat at, and we’re happy to cross this one off. It’s our night to catch up before she flies to California.

Tuesday, March 8

I’ll spend the morning at the foundation office with a group of undergraduates from Robert Morris University. Our staff will cover some grant-making basics, and give the group a glimpse into how foundations operate.

Then I’m off to lunch with the Etsy staff. It’s always fun to put faces to folks you’ve been emailing and calling for months. We’ll touch base and share first impressions of Pittsburgh (they’ve never been here before), and then head over to the EIC for the event. They’ll roll out the Etsy Manufacturing initiative to a packed room, and we’ll hear from a whole host of Pittsburgh’s best. I’m glad that Heather McElwee from the Pittsburgh Glass Center will be there to share how PGC’s glassblowers made pendant lights for the Eastside Bond apartments in East Liberty. It’s a Craft Business Accelerator success story, and an example of how development in the city can have a more significant economic impact.

There’s a small group dinner at Sienna Mercato to debrief the day, and then I’ll catch up on email before lights out.

Wednesday, March 9

The first half of today is spent taking the Etsy team around Pittsburgh. We’ll make a number of stops, including 7800 Susquehanna (a former Westinghouse factory in Homewood that’s becoming a hub for economic and creative activity in the neighborhood), TechShop and a retailer in East Liberty. I’ll be looking to show off Pittsburgh’s concentration of small manufacturers and creative makers. Lunch is at Wallace’s TapRoom.

The second half of the day is spent checking in with the Coro Fellow cohort on our consulting project for McKees Rocks and Stowe Township. We’re looking into the state of transportation in both municipalities and what policy interventions might exist to increase residents’ mobility. The team has been to Harrisburg the past two days meeting with state legislators, and I’ll make the four-hour drive out tonight to join them in the morning. Podcasts (Modern Love and Serial), calls home to friends and family, and a turnpike dinner make the ride semi-pleasant.

Thursday, March 10

Pendant light production team at Pittsburgh Glass Center
Pendant light production team at Pittsburgh Glass Center. Photo: Emily Walley.

It’s my first visit to Harrisburg (believe me, I’m not bragging), and our team will spend the day interviewing legislators and transportation policy experts.

I’ll get back to Pittsburgh in time for the 21+ After Hours Playtime at Heinz History Center and the chance to live out my dream of playing giant Connect Four.

Friday, March 11

Friday starts in Homewood for bagels and a morning meeting at 7800 Susquehanna with Tricia Brancolini and NEXTpittsburgh’s own Jennifer Baron from Handmade Arcade and my friend and colleague Adam Kenney from Bridgeway Capital. We’ll be talking through ways Handmade Arcade and the Craft Business Accelerator might be able to collaborate, so it should be an energetic conversation.

7800 Susquehanna is right off the busway, so it’s a quick trip downtown for a Leadership Pittsburgh luncheon to learn more about their next round of the Leadership Development Initiative. Apparently I haven’t quite had my fill of leadership training.

I’m off to Coffee Tree Roasters at Bakery Square next to chat with Pastor Nate Brown about 5A Elite Youth Empowerment; they do after-school youth programming in Penn Hills and East End neighborhoods, and we’ll talk about how to build support for their work.

Robert with City of Asylum visiting writer Fariba Hachtroudi
Robert with City of Asylum visiting writer Fariba Hachtroudi

Tonight, I’ll head to the Father Ryan Arts Center in McKees Rocks for the opening of a photography exhibit focused on strong women in Sto-Rox over the past century. I’ll end the day at a reception at Carnegie Mellon for candidates for the next cohort of Coro Fellows. I’m housing two out-of-town candidates at my apartment, so we’ll grab a late night snack at Butterjoint and share stories after the reception. Depending on how the night goes, we might stop into the SUNSTAR Festival at the Kelly Strayhorn.

Saturday, March 12

The bulk of today is Selection Day for the next cohort of Coro Fellows. 36 candidates from across the eastern U.S. will go through a full-day experiential interview.

Afterwards, the current Fellows and Coro supporters will head over to The Porch for a fundraiser to support our upcoming pro bono consulting work for Sto-Rox.

Sunday, March 13

After a fulfilling but exhausting week, Sunday is a day of respite, a day to not have to plan out anything in advance. If we have another oddly warm March day, I might walk over to Highland Park and read. If I’m looking for some comfort food, I’ll pick up a curry dish from Smiling Banana Leaf. We’ll see. There’s no to-do list today.

Jennifer has worked at the Mattress Factory, Brooklyn Museum of Art and Dahesh Museum of Art and is co-author of Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania. She also is co-coordinator of Handmade Arcade. Musically, she is in a band called The Garment District and is a founding member of Brooklyn's The Ladybug Transistor.