The Original Magazine Showcases Local Artists

Issue Date: 
January 14, 2008

080114orig.jpgElana Schlenker knows a side of Pittsburgh that she believes far too few people see. For this Pitt alumnus, the vision of the “Steel City” conjures up such names as August Wilson and Andy Warhol, as well as a host of less-well-known members of Pittsburgh’s vibrant artistic community. It is that less famous face that is showcased in The Original, a biannual magazine founded in 2006 by Schlenker when she was a student at the University.

The student-run publication dedicates itself to highlighting the creative talents within the Pitt community and Western Pennsylvania.

“If you look in and around Pitt, you’ll see quite a few people doing interesting and exciting things. Unfortunately, very few of those people receive the recognition they deserve,” said Schlenker, who graduated from the School of Arts and Sciences in 2007 and currently serves as the magazine’s publisher. “The idea [behind The Original] is to promote the creative activities of students in a way that is accessible to the broadest of audiences.”

Accessibility is key to the success of The Original. Schlenker’s vision of the magazine includes content that can be appreciated by anyone, not just art lovers. She and the magazine’s staff have made producing a broadly inclusive publication a high priority.

Acording to Schlenker, The Original puts special emphasis on creative writing methods and innovative design techniques. The magazine’s voice is an informal one that talks to—not at—the reader. Its language is a vernacular that is more familiar to a youthful audience. And The Original’s editorial design, including its cover and table of contents pages, has won design awards from the nonprofit organization College Media Advisers.

Its content is broad and features an array of local artists and musicians, including Eric Moe, a professor in Pitt’s Department of Music; Julie Sokolow, a songwriter and Pitt fiction writing and psychology major; and Barbara Weissberger, a Pitt faculty member and a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship awardee.

The Original staff makes no claim that the magazine is the last word on the local arts scene. Instead, the writers have worked hard to remain true to the original goal of giving exposure to local artists and musicians. Ben Filio, a Pitt student majoring in sociology and political science and the editor-in-chief of The Original, said readers should think of the magazine as just a small part of what Pittsburgh has to offer to the arts world.

“We view The Original as providing an entry point to the local arts community,” said Filio. “It is our hope that the magazine widens our regional arts audience and inspires readers to increase their level of involvement at our University and beyond.”

The future appears bright for The Original. With the latest edition being distributed to more than 5,000 people, the magazine has roots firmly planted in the Pitt community. It also has gained financial support from a recent Sprout Fund Seed Award. Other funders include the School of Arts and Sciences’ Undergraduate Studies Program and the studio arts department, Pitt’s Office of Public Affairs, PITT ARTS, and the Student Government Board.

Within a relatively short time, The Original has evolved from one woman’s desire to draw attention to an under-rated aspect of the city’s culture to a labor of love for more than 50 dedicated Pitt students. Their only compensation has been the thrill of publishing a professional magazine.

Schlenker said the magazine’s greatest strength has been its ability to attract “a group of incredibly talented and dedicated staff members to the project.” As The Original continues, its heart—and backbone—will be that staff of volunteers.

“I think our staff really points to an amazing base of talent that exists within Pitt. We’ve been fortunate to be in the center of this network of talented people who have contributed those strengths to this magazine,” said Schlenker. “When you look at The Original you’re looking at a team effort in every sense of the word.”

The magazine’s Web site,, has digital versions of the current and back issues, as well as more information about the publication.