We catch up with Karen Abrams two months after she started her new position as Program Director for Equitable Development at The Heinz Endowments. An avid hiker, urban planner and equity advocate, Karen previously served as manager of Diversity and Community Affairs for the URA. As a kid, Abrams — who grew up in Harlem — remembers playing with her cousins in the South Bronx, exploring vacant lots while treasure hunting under a rail trestle near their home. When not working on grantmaking initiatives, Karen can be found enjoying the great outdoors — from Pittsburgh’s green spaces to national parks.

What upcoming events are you excited to attend?

Touring the Urban Academy Charter School in Larimer, and serving on an Urban Land Institute/National League of Cities Daniel Rose Center land use panel in Richmond, Va., to explore opportunities in an “eco-historic district,” which includes the former Lumpkin’s Jail, a slave auction house which was active from the 1830s through the Civil War.

Best part of your job?

I get an opportunity to explore and discuss issues of racial equity and justice across many sectors, including community development, the environment, arts and culture, and education with some of the greatest minds locally and nationally.

Your wish for Pittsburgh?

I wish for a Pittsburgh where we are not afraid of those different from us, and where all have equal access to clean air, water, jobs, housing and education. A Super Bowl win next year would be sweet, too!

What song is on your playlist on endless repeat?

For me, a song is great in the context of the entire album it’s on. Right now, and pretty much since its release last year, Kendrick Lamar’s “Damn” is in heavy rotation. I cannot say enough about how it touches my soul.

Karen Abrams

Karen Abrams at the Colorado River’s Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona. Photo courtesy Karen Abrams.

Best thing about Pittsburgh or Western PA?

Being within 30 minutes of amazing campgrounds and hiking trails. Not to mention the thousands of acres of county and city parks — it’s so easy to get out into nature in Pittsburgh.

Favorite creative outlet?

Although I don’t get to do this often, I enjoy restoring and repurposing used furniture.

What is the most surprising thing about your work?

Not a day goes by that I am not touched by how much vibrancy, creativity and beauty there is in Pittsburgh’s historic neighborhoods. From Homewood’s Afro American Music Institute to the Northside’s Allegheny Commons Park, to the river trails that weave along our waterfront communities — Pittsburgh neighborhoods are a treasure trove of inspiration on a daily basis.

If you could expand the T to one neighborhood, where would it go?

Hazelwood. There is so much energy, love and history.

Favorite view?

My favorite view is from August Wilson Park in the Hill District. Regardless of the weather, time of day or season, looking at the Allegheny River, its bridges and many of the Northside neighborhoods is quite breathtaking. And the park itself is wonderful.

Karen Abrams

Michael Smith and Karen Abrams at Glacier National Park in Montana. Photo courtesy Karen Abrams.

What Pittsburgh museum do you visit the most?

Even before moving to the Northside, I attended many events and exhibits at the Andy Warhol Museum.

What is the one thing that would surprise Pittsburghers most about you?

I drove across the country twice within one year, camping and hiking in 12 national parks in the U.S. and Canada. I actually surprised myself!

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About The Author

Arts + Events editor

Former arts & culture editor of Pop City; worked at the Mattress Factory, Brooklyn Museum of Art and Dahesh Museum of Art. Co-author of Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania and co-coordinator of Handmade Arcade. In a band called The Garment District; founding member of Brooklyn's The Ladybug Transistor.

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