By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
One of the defining features of the 2010s was the rise of the “sharing economy.” A series of small tech start-ups, like Uber, Lyft, Grubhub and others, rose to incredible prominence, redefining entire industries around the idea of people sharing their existing resources.
One major player in this field is Airbnb, which has shaken the hospitality industry with its business model of users renting space in their own homes for travelers to stay at. Since its founding in 2008, Airbnb has quickly grown into a $2.6 billion company, and hosted millions of guests.
Like many other cities, Pittsburgh has grown a considerable Airbnb marketplace over the years. One of these Airbnbs is the brainchild of Marta Napoleone Mazzoni, host of the “Marta on the Move” podcast, who became an Airbnb host after her positive experiences with the service on her own travels.
“My husband and I love Airbnb. That’s how I travel, [I] delve into people’s homes and get a sense of how they live their lives, how they decorate their space,” Mazzoni says. “You can really tell and pick up on who that person is by that, and it has a lot of character. We love that, rather than staying in a hotel room.”
Wanting to recreate her own pleasant travel experiences with Pittsburgh visitors, Mazzoni and her husband made the decision to renovate the bottom floor of their Crafton home into an Airbnb.
“A couple years ago, we decided to renovate the whole thing and open the Airbnb, mainly not for profit, but to meet new people coming into our city from all over the world, and bring that travel aspect to our hometown while we’re here,” says Mazzoni.
Having come to enjoy the work of being an Airbnb host, Mazzoni was struck with an idea. She wanted to feature the depth of artistic talent that can be found in Pittsburgh, and made the call to buy another property on the North Side to rent on Airbnb. Through her friends, some of whom are visual artists, she assembled a collection of paintings, photographs and sculptures created by fellow Pittsburghers, and turned her new Airbnb into a live-in art gallery.
“When we bought this other Airbnb, I had this inspiration to have travelers and locals alike become more immersed in Pittsburgh art and Pittsburgh talent,” Mazzoni says. “Rather than go to a museum and walk past it, they can really have a moment with it.”
Mazzoni’s Airbnb art gallery features work by local artists including Joyce Werie Perry, Stephanie Strasburg, Jeff Swenson, Cara Livorno, Victoria Bradley, Rob Larson and Joe Groom. Each piece has its own placard made by Mazzoni and information about the artists is assembled in a reference booklet. Since opening its doors in March, the Airbnb art gallery has been booked nearly every week.
“The people that have stayed have been really blown away,” Mazzoni says. “One mom brought her daughter, who was studying to be an art major. She was really inspired by the type of art that was in the house, and says she figured out what she wanted to focus on based on spending some time with it in the house, which was really cool!”
Encouraged by the enthusiastic reception, Mazzoni has plans to take the art gallery concept further. Using her skills as a podcaster, she plans to add an audio accompaniment to the art, featuring more Pittsburgh talent in the process.
“I’m recruiting some short flash fiction writers to create a story around each of the pieces,” says Mazzoni. “I’m going to record those and put music and sound effects behind it, so people can tune into their headphones and…hear all these interesting stories and also get to know Pittsburgh writers.”
Mazzoni also has future plans to host a wider array of events in the space, including dinners and even yoga classes. Whatever the future holds, Mazzoni hopes her Airbnb can provide her guests with an enriching and thoughtful slice of Pittsburgh.