A Short History of the Open House
by Julia Baker
Back in 2012, Alyssa Crawford and I were dreaming about founding an intentional community in Pittsburgh. Despite the fact that we weren't living in the communal situation we’d hoped for, we remained committed to finding ways to share and connect with people around us in meaningful and collaborative ways. In September of that year, we started a weekly event called Community Dinner. We decided that every Monday they would cook a full, delicious vegetarian meal and invite everyone we knew to come eat with us for free and without expectation of return. We could tell within 6 months that this was something different and that there were powerful relationships forming from the act of simply sharing food with others. For the first year, there were never more than 6 people over for dinner. Some weeks, it was just the two of us and our roommate, but we kept hosting and kept inviting.
Through this event, we began meeting more people like us who got what we were up to and wanted to be a part of this radical movement of genuinely connecting with people. By the end of year 2, we were cooking for 8-12 people on average, every week, for free! We were having so much fun! We became great cooks, we made professional connections, we saw art projects arise between new friends, we learned how to streamline cooking for large groups, minimize costs, and still keep our kitchen clean. Over time, the community developed on its own and more and more people started to see the value in this kind of connection. In 2014, about twelve of us decided to formalize it and we named our community the Open House. At that point we had moved from Wilkinsburg to East Liberty and Community Dinner moved with us. We lived in that tiny three bedroom apartment for two years, now hosting upwards of 16 guests for dinner once a week, and things were just getting more and more solidified.
In 2015, we moved to our current house in Highland Park. We have a beautiful space that has become a kind of community center for the dozens of people we interact with on a weekly basis. And now we cook for 25! We start cooking at 5:30pm and our house is asleep and clean by 11:30pm that same night. It's everyone's favorite night of the week. We don't mess around! All of us have jobs of some sort: some of us are activists, some are artists, some work in skyscrapers, some wait tables, some are educators... And we come from all kinds of backgrounds. Most importantly, we all realize that amazing things happen when people with good intention come together to support one another and imagine a better world.
In 2016, inspired by some of our model communities around the country, we decided to formalize further and develop a mission statement that summarizes what we are doing as a group. Here is what we came up with:
"Open House PGH is an urban intentional community that practices creative resistance through radical sharing, inclusion, and friendship. Together we are building collective power for societal change."
By creative resistance, we mean imagining and practicing creative ways of resisting destructive forces in society that spread things like violence, poverty, and injustice. Sharing food with other people is one of the main ways we do this. We also host important talks and meetings about how to effectively solve societal problems and also meet the needs of many different kinds of people. We have seen amazing good in the last many years and we only intend to continue spreading the power of community in the future.
And so, while Community Dinner started this whole project, it has grown far beyond the scope of just that, and we have had many wonderful people join us as hosts and leaders at the Open House. To read more about our current members and leaders, click *here*. We hope to continue developing more effective events for building resilient bridges between groups of people working for justice in their own lives because a core understanding of our community is that all of our struggles are tied together as one push toward collective liberation.