Arts

MEET ERIE: A RUST BELT REGION CONTINUES TO NAVIGATE ITS RENAISSANCE THROUGH A PANDEMIC


Ben Speggen
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Cathryn Easterling, of Bridgeway Capital. Photo credit: Menajerie

Erie, Pennsylvania-based filmmakers Jessica Taylor and Nick Taylor, the wife-husband creative couple behind MenajErie Studio video production company, are no strangers to exploring how their hometown has been working to reidentify itself in 21st century. While the studio does commercial work throughout the region, from shoots for car dealerships to breweries and plenty in between, they’ve also examined Erie’s ethos with the award-winning “Rust Belt New Americans: A Film About the Refugee Experience” documentary, the “Our Erie” short film, and more.

From being the historical site where Oliver Hazard Perry’s fleet that defeated the British in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812 was constructed, to locomotives shipped worldwide after GE Transportation put a stake in the ground at the turn of the 20th century, to an industrial waterfront that featured a shingle factory, a papermill, and a coke plant, Erie has been known as a region that makes things. 

But the Bayfront has since been largely de-industrialized, as one-by-one the plants shuttered their facilities or uprooted from the community to set up shop elsewhere. GE, once the area’s largest employer, continued to shed jobs and relocated its headquarters to Chicago before eventually being bought out by Pittsburgh-based Wabtec.   

Despite these visible and often-publicized blows to Erie’s traditional industries, manufacturing still makes up more of Erie’s economy than it does in both national and Pennsylvania economies. And MenajErie Studio has been there capturing the change along the way, drawing national attention from public radio and The Atlantic.

“If you had asked us a year-ago where we’d be sitting right now, I never would have imagined it would be here in this chair telling this type of story through a pandemic,” says Jessica, as the filmmakers turn the cameras on themselves 3 minutes into their first installment of a four-part short-film series shot during the summer of 2020. “Now I’m afraid that some of these businesses that just started within these last couple of years are not going to be able to make it – and without those businesses that will absolutely change what Erie has been working towards these past few years.”

From the city’s mayor to his liaison to the New American community of immigrants, from restaurant owners to brewers, from leaders in the arts and culture sector, to the Erie’s think tank and its library, from impact investors to sociologists, Jessica and Nick set out to explore the economic, cultural, and social impacts of Covid-19 to Erie.

“I think what the pandemic has done has brought our attention to all these things that have been issues for a long time,” says Nick as the camera pans past a storefront displaying a Black Lives Matter sign. “Now we have the time to stop and really take a deep dive into some of the inequalities and inequities that exist, not just in Erie but in the world.”

In Part 1, they introduce Erie and dip the toe in the water before diving in deeper in the following installments. 

“Erie can be an example for the rest of America of how a community can work together and work through something like this and come out the other side stronger than they were before,” Jessica concludes here, setting up the features to come.

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