Up late, up early: Studio AM

Tuesday, 16 December 2014 04:16 PM Written by

My name is Sean Beauford, I'm the curator for the creative agency, Studio AM. People often ask what we do, and the best answer I can give is: everything. Studio AM is a team of creatives who work to change Pittsburgh for the better. We work out of Homestead in a building that is part art studio, part office, and part showroom. We host parties, art shows, intimate concerts, and most recently, Sunday brunches. We work with other companies, providing a range of services from marketing to interior design to conceptualizing events and providing entertainment.

Studio AM is a team of young men, all in our twenties, and maybe the most important thing we do is mentor youth, and connect with them through art.

What I've discovered in this past year is that art is a tool more than anything else. It's a tool to speak without words; it's a tool to connect people of different backgrounds; and it's a tool to teach. Art has given me an opportunity to directly influence the lives of young children in a positive way. Art has made it possible for me to be a role model, which is something I take seriously.

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Greensburg Salem teachers, Dave Vuick and Jeremy Lenzi brought a few students to Studio AM for us to speak with them. Read Mr. Lenzi's recap here.

Working with children is something we're very passionate about at Studio AM, directly partnering with several Pittsburgh area schools as mentors and collaborators on short and long term projects. In the past few months, we've painted and spoken with a couple hundred kids. The nature of our interactions vary depending on the age of the student, but whether it's giving painting lessons, or giving them advice on how to make a living in art and business, each interaction is meaningful and is often more about life than art. I love collaborating with young artists because their passion and ambition is always pure. It's our job as adults, as working artists, to encourage children, and make them aware of possibilities. Children are the future, and it's up to adults to be patient and guide them in the right direction.

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Baron Batch and I at the Dream Center in Lubbock, TX, where Baron gave painting lessons.

In October, artist Baron Batch and I visited the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, where the art teacher, Alice Mentzer, has been educating students about Baron and his style of art (pop-x). As we were walking to the classroom, we saw in the hallway, artwork from each student, in the same style as Baron's. It turns out that upon being introduced to Baron's artwork, they discovered his painting of a Lion (also their school mascot) entitled "Silence Roars", and in that piece, they found inspiration. To learn that was moving to say the least. It's knowing that art can have that kind of impact on the lives of people that makes me want to never stop working.

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Baron, Ms. Mentzer and I with the 8th grade art class at Western PA School for the Deaf.

 

 

 

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Spotlight: Bridgette Perdue

Monday, 10 November 2014 11:52 AM Written by

 

Bridgette

Up and coming singer/songwriter Bridgette Perdue is a new member of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. She is currently working on an album and a live show. As part of the Membership Spotlight Series, Eseosa Azenabor, GPAC Intern and 1st year Master of Entertainment Industry Management at Carnegie Mellon University, met with Bridgette.

GPAC: Tell us about yourself as an artist?
Bridgette: I am Bridgette Perdue and I am a singer songwriter. I play piano and write original pop, R&B music, do shows, create and all that fun stuff. My sound is upbeat, vibrant, positive, inspiring, and empowering with a little bit of wit. [laughs] I have been performing pretty much my whole life. My mom taught me how to play the piano from age 4 and so I stuck with it and trained throughout middle and high school and then went to Point Park for their conservatory program in musical theatre. I became serious about doing music full time starting in 2010.

GPAC: What are you working on now and what do you have coming next?
Bridgette: I am working on a new show called “Uncommon” because I wanted to do something outside the box. It will be taking place at the Hill House Kaufmann Center on November 20th at 7pm. In the show, I’m going to be playing different instruments, incorporating my dance background, spoken word, and visual art surrounding original work that will be in my upcoming album. The album is set to be released in early 2015.

GPAC: Are you a completely independent artist or are you signed to an independent label as well?
Bridgette: I’m a fully independent artist. I work with an awesome team of producers and musicians here in Pittsburgh and they don’t have a label so I’m not signed to any label.

GPAC: What are some challenges that you face as an independent artist?
Bridgette: Doing everything on your own can be difficult [laughs]. As an independent artist, a lot of it is grassroots effort and picking up the phone and making those calls, making personal connections and playing for however long it takes to build up that fan base where people will come out in larger numbers to see a show.

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Bridgette performing at a local event

GPAC: What led you to become a member of GPAC and how long have you been a member?
Bridgette: I’ve known about GPAC and its services for a while. I’ve become affiliated with a lot of different organizations that are connected to GPAC so it seemed fitting for me to join.. I committed to become a member when they were promoting the Unleashed Artists Fund so my membership has been active for a few months.

GPAC: How has your membership been helpful for you?
Bridgette: It’s such a great resource to help young artists and help them figure out what their next step is or how to make the right connections. It’s an organization that serves the community of artists in Pittsburgh through resources, information, and they also provide great access to funding. They also have Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts and they were helpful when I needed legal advice.

GPAC: What GPAC resources are you expecting to use as a new member?
Bridgette: I expect to utilize the discounts offered and to take advantage of the different workshops being offered and also expect their support. They’ve always been a phone call away to discuss grants or project ideas or whatever else I have in mind.

GPAC: Do you have any parting thoughts?
Bridgette: I’m grateful for GPAC. It truly a gem and once artists take the time to see what GPAC has to offer, it really blows you away. I think it’s so special to have in our city. I think they really do fulfill their mission and that’s a good thing.

GPAC: How can people connect with you? (Web, Facebook, etc.)
Bridgette: My show calendar is available at www.BridgettePerdue.com, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bridgetteperdue, Twitter: @bridgetteperdue, Instagram: @bridgette_perdue

 

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Mapping Racism in the Arts

Friday, 24 October 2014 10:53 AM Written by

 

At the first event in a workshop series called Building Equity in the Arts, almost 20 people of mixed backgrounds spent three hours last Thursday night in open dialogue about how they experience racism in the arts. For those readers who instantly shudder at the thought, you are right—this was not a comfortable evening, because talking about race in America means acknowledging systematic inequality, injustice, violence, grief, and the guilt of white privilege.

By the end of the event, however, sharing the pain and discomfort we all feel (in our different ways) about racism had made us into a community. We may never again have exactly those people in that space meeting together, so it was a community for just a few hours, but it was real.  And we delved into some deep, important issues: recognizing structures of injustice, acknowledging our own responsibilities to combat racism, the effects of the “white savior complex,” and much more. The part of the evening that seemed to be most impactful for many of the attendees was the introduction of the “Poisoned Tree of Structural Racism,” an interactive visual art project to which the whole group contributed while educating each other about how racism pervades all of society, with the arts being no exception.

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The downtown event, “Mapping Racism in the Arts” was a dynamic and hybrid production in so many ways.  Collaboratively imagined in consultation with Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council staff, the event was designed and facilitated by activist-artists etta cetera and Bekezela Mguni.  They were familiar with theory as well as action, used multimedia art to inspire discussion, varied the format in which people shared their thoughts and emotions, and included activities with different goals.  We were invited to think about racism as it affects us personally but also to think about how to take our learning back to our organizations.  The varied nature of the activities models a type of inclusion to which we can all aspire, in which we not only recognize that diversity (meaning differences) exist all around us, but also intentionally create expanded opportunities for all peoples to participate in our communities.

This is why the Coalition for Racial Equity in the Arts, facilitated by GPAC, wants to make regular and routine space for talking about structural inequities that affect all of our lives but make us uncomfortable to think about.  If we never address “the elephant in the room,” then we never stop being strangers and we all suffer.  Art is a reflection of “the real world” and we need to communicate, express, share, and together better understand what it means to be human.

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Poisoned Tree of Racism, from "Mapping Racism in the Arts" program on October 16

 

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Spotlight: Studio Capezzuti

Wednesday, 22 October 2014 03:14 PM Written by

Cheryl Capezzuti

On October 10th, artist Cheryl Capezzuti held her annual Art Car crafting event in her Brighton Heights backyard. Each year for First Night, people offer up their cars to be decorated for First Night’s Parade, and on this recent Saturday, artists and regular folks gathered in Cheryl’s home studio to create the structures for their mini-floats that will be in the parade. During the event, Eseosa Azenabor, GPAC Intern and 1st year Master of Entertainment Industry Management at Carnegie Mellon University, interviewed Cheryl.

GPAC: Tell us about yourself.
Cheryl: I’m primarily an independent artist, but I’m also the creative director for the First Night Pittsburgh Parade. So, here at my studio today, we’re making Art Cars, which are a parade feature, something we’ve been doing for at least 8 years. We take cars, slip cover them with muslin and turn them into blank canvases for creative use. When I’m not making art car, I am a puppet maker and a sculptor, producing community events that have giant puppets as a centerpiece.

GPAC: What are some of your creative influences?
Cheryl: When I was young, I met an artist named Sara Peattie who’s a puppet maker and her organization is The Puppeteers’ Co-operative. She’s a puppet maker and I learned a lot from her in a very short period of time. I was living in State College, PA and had no idea what I really wanted to do. I helped her with some workshops and then my community asked me to make some puppets. When I moved back to Pittsburgh, I told people “I’m a puppet-maker” and they believed me! And now 20 years, here I am, a puppet maker! Sometimes what your will to become, becomes. So my becoming what I am is because of Sara and her inspiration. And I think I find inspiration in everything, especially the things people thrown away. I see things that can be transformative.

GPAC: What is your creative process?
Cheryl: I use mostly recycled materials. I start with cardboard and things that other people throw away and do a lot of papier-mache and construction. I don’t really know where things come from, they just come!

GPAC: What are you working on now?
Cheryl: In addition to Art Cars I do workshops all over the community with kids and adults and families and I also produce theatrical works with a collaborator named Kellee Van Aken - we have a couple new puppet shows that are out right now. We’ve performed for the first time a couple weeks ago and we’re hoping to find more opportunities and venues over the next year.


Art Car Whale for webAn Art Car from First Night Parade.
Photo Courtesy of Don Orkosky

GPAC: What are some challenges that you face as an independent artist?
Cheryl: My studio is so mess! I trip over things! [laughs] You know, I’m one of those people who are not really inclined to look for challenges. I think that, for me, the reason I’ve been able to maintain a practice as an independent artist for 20 years is because I work like a dog. Maintaining constant work when you’re balancing a family and teaching is difficult. So I think that finding that balance between your professional life as an artist and your personal life is one of the hardest things to do and is one of the things, I think, a lot of people lose their creative energy over time because those sort of things end up taking over.

GPAC: What does GPAC membership mean to you?
Cheryl: For the first time, I was able to get insurance through GPAC. Not health insurance, but liability insurance for a gig I did in Edinboro teaching a workshop for college students and was required to have liability insurance as an independent contractor on their campus. Through GPAC I was able to get the liability insurance I needed which was great. It’s also nice to get monthly discounts I can use to support the arts community in Pittsburgh.

Art Cars 3Cheryl Capezzuti's backyard art paradise 

GPAC: What programs/events/projects do you have next? What should we be excited about?
Cheryl: An event I have coming up is a Puppet Making Happy Hour for grown-ups. It’s through the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust the second Thursday in December (12/11). It’s a 21 and over event where we make puppets. The Trust provides drinks, snacks, and a DJ - part hanging out and dancing, part making puppets for the First Night Parade. This year we’ll be building new pieces for the Pedi-Cabs to wear at the parade. And of course for the first night parade, we rely on between 300 and 400 volunteers to make it happen. Anyone who shows up by 7:30 on New Year’s Eve can put on a giant puppet and join the parade. I also have a giant puppet lending library where anyone in the world can go to the Braddock Library and check out a giant puppet for any reason. There’s also one in Bethel Park.

GPAC: What is an aspect of GPAC's programming that you really enjoy?
Cheryl: ArtDOG was so much fun! I got to dress my kid up as a little Dalmatian and I enjoyed the part, so that was a nice event. GPAC is a partner with the PA Partners in the Arts and I just a grant from them to continue working on my puppet library. Of course the happy hours are still so great even though I can’t attend them as much anymore.

GPAC: How can people connect with you?
Cheryl: I have a Facebook page called Puppets for Pittsburgh, my website,  or just This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

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Spotlight: JFilm and ReelAbilities

Tuesday, 14 October 2014 02:48 PM Written by

 

JFilm

This week, JFilm, the Pittsburgh Jewish Film Forum, will host the annual ReelAbilities Film Festival. In preparation for this event, Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council intern Eseosa Azenabor met with JFilm’s Executive Director Kathryn Spitz Cohan (center, above).

GPAC: Tell us about your organization - what exactly do you do?
KSC: Our proper name is JFilm: The Pittsburgh Jewish Film Forum but we go by JFilm for short. We originally started as a film festival in 1994 and since that time the organization has grown tremendously. In 2009, we officially became a year-round organization and we continue to grow and add programming. Our annual film festivals are the Reel Abilities Film Festival and the Annual Jewish Film Festival. We also offer an international short film competition called Robinson Competition where we give away $18,000 in cash prizes for the winning films. We also have outreach programs called Teen Screen and Brave Miss World on Campus

GPAC: What are you working on now?
KSC: We are currently getting ready for the Reel Abilities Film Festival which begins October 22nd at Rodef Shalom Congregation and the Human Engineering and Research Laboratory in Bakery Square. We chose these locations because of their high wheel-chair accessibility.The festival is a disabilities-themed event and all the films have to do with people with different disabilities - not a Jewish theme. We partnered with the FISA Foundation on this project, an organization that supports themes of disabilities, women, and girls.

GPAC: What GPAC resources have you been able to utilize?
KSC: GPAC has been very helpful to us in terms of feeling part of the arts community. Specifically, they have provided us with Business Volunteers in the Arts which helped us facilitate an executive leadership retreat. Also through GPAC, we received a grant that enabled us to implement a new Customer Relations Management system. Not only did GPAC assist in the funding of that contract, but they also oversaw that whole process. I also very much enjoy the information that GPAC imparts, the studies they do. I also enjoy the socializing and networking along with the financial support they provide.

GPAC: How can people connect with you? (Web, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
KSC: We have a very active volunteer committee which is involved in aspects of the education programs. We have a website. Reel Abilities is on Facebook, here. JFilm on Facebook and our Twitter handle.

GPAC: What is your creative process?
KSC: We curate a lot of films here. As a small organization, we all do a little bit of everything. I believe film, like all art, is a wonderful way to go beyond entertainment. I look for an angle in the film that helps us move forward as a people- to be better and think about something in a different light. Also, one of the reasons that JFilm has been so successful is because we put an emphasis on quality. We preview every film and are very intentional in the selection of the films that we’re going to show.

GPAC: What are some of your organization’s creative influences?
KSC: My background is in theatre and that has really influenced my perspective on film. I’m a visual person and this has been my world since I was a small child. Also, I have four additional part-time colleagues, they all happen to be women, and they are fabulous! We have the best team and I’m really lucky to work with such great people.

 

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As we come down to the wire this election season, and the final gubernatorial debate, tomorrow night in Pittsburgh, it’s critical that those in the running, including Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial candidates Tom Corbett and Tom Wolf, understand that arts, culture, and tourism are important to a thriving economy in our Commonwealth.  Knowing the truth in this, recently Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania joined together with the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, Pennsylvania Humanities Council, PA Arts Education Network/EPLC, Pennsylvania Association of Travel and Tourism, and PA Museums to create a white paper titled Developing Policy Positions on the Arts, Culture & Tourism. The paper seeks to articulate arts and culture policy issues for the campaigns and indeed all state-wide elected officials to address, covering key points regarding infrastructure, funding, vision, collaborations, assessment and arts education.

The arts, culture, and tourism sectors contribute both economically and culturally to the vitality of our Commonwealth - in fact, Pennsylvania’s nonprofit arts and culture sector generates over $2.5 billion in economic activity each year. This activity is responsible for:

  • Jobs – supporting 81,000 full-time equivalent jobs many of which are outside the traditional realm of “artists”. In Allegheny County alone, 4 out of 5 jobs generated by arts and culture are in other industries.
  • $1.8 billion in household income – dollars then spent on housing, gasoline, utilities, insurance and occasionally for the purchase of Pennsylvania’s state dessert – the whoopie pie (affectionately called “gobs” in some parts)
  • State and local revenue - $360 million annually!
Despite all of the economic activity that is generated by the nonprofit arts & culture sector in our state, Pennsylvania still lags behind its neighbors in state spending on arts and culture. According to the National Assembly, PA is 27th in per capita spending, outranked by every state contiguous to Pennsylvania with the exception of West Virginia. New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland all rank in the top ten. 

Our statewide arts & culture coalition, consisting of the organizations listed above, will continue to drive home the point that arts, culture and tourism are good for Pennsylvania.  It is our hope that the next Governor of Pennsylvania will use our policy paper to help shape policy and support that will enable our sector to thrive, making Pennsylvania an exciting place to live, work and raise our children.  We pledge to work with the new Governor to achieve this goal. 

 

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This year, the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council created the Unleashed Artists Fund in which five artist members of GPAC were randomly selected to receive donations directly on Arts Day of Giving (affectionately called ArtDOG), coming up this Thursday, October 2. The AP Collection audio blog had the fantastic opportunity to sit down with this year's recipients in order to learn a little more about them before ArtDOG takes place. Jen Saffron from GPAC introduces the concept behind the Unleashed Artists Fund along with some history of ArtDOG. Then, each artist tells their story, their personal art history and their plans for the imminent funding with the AP Collection's Genevieve Barbee. The conversations last between 10 and 20 minutes and the passion, creativity, and knowledge are immediately apparent.

Once you've listened to the conversations with Unleashed artists, get to know them better by visiting their artist profile on the Pittsburgh Artist Registry. And, you can help fund their work directly by donating to the Unleashed Artists Fund at www.pittsburghgives.org on October 2nd from 6am to Midnight during the Arts Day of Giving. Support local artists!

This Year's Five Artists for the Unleashed Artists Fund:

Shaunda Miles on the Pittsburgh Artist Registry, and her website
Sherri Roberts on the Pittsburgh Artist Registry and her website
Mike McSorley on the Pittsburgh Artist Registry and his website
Brian Sesack on the Pittsburgh Artist Registry and his website. 
Lorraine Vullo on the Pittsburgh Artist Registry.

Support these local artists by going to www.pittsburghgives.org on October 2nd between 6AM and midnight and donate!

 

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ArtDOG 2014: Leading the Pack for ART

Thursday, 25 September 2014 02:38 PM Written by

 

Maybe you’ve seen the banners displayed by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council where our canine friends proclaim October 2nd as Arts Day of Giving (ArtDOG), bark “Fetch Funds,” or growl “It’s an Art Eat Art World.”  Perhaps you’ve chowed down on a special ArtDOG at Franktuary or seen the red carpet photos from the recent ArtDOG Fashion Show.          

In any case, the 2014 Art Day of Giving is a great opportunity for you, colleagues, family members, and friends to donate online to your favorite arts non-profit.  It could be a theater, musical organization, museum, dance company, arts education program, etc.   Find eligible organizations at www.pittsburghgives.org.  Everyone’s donation will be partially matched by the Heinz Endowments, making your investment go further. 

The whole point is this: arts and culture have played a major role in the region’s redevelopment, and we can all throw a bone (har har) once and a while to our other home team – the arts.

On October 2nd, between 6:00 am and midnight, just click away to support the artists and cultural institutions that help make our region such a great place to live, work, and play.  Donations as small as $15 are welcome. 

SO, it’s easy to donate, the timing is perfect, it’s fun, for a great cause, and doesn’t require a huge outlay of funds to participate. 

Here a few more reasons to run with your favorite DOG pack on Oct. 2nd:

  • ArtDOG donations help arts and culture organization pay for what ticket sales don’t cover—1) MCG Jazz can offer discounted tickets for seniors and students to concerts by world-class jazz artists; 2) Pittsburgh Ballet will be able to keep offering specialized dance classes for persons with Parkinson’s, their families, and caregivers; 3) Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company can continue to nurture a racially diverse community of playwrights, directors, and actors; and 4) Bach Choir of Pittsburgh will be able to expand its partnerships, like the current one with the Afro-American Music Institute Boys Choir.
  • All donations are fully tax-deductible.
  • We can top the nearly $1.9 million raised during ArtDOG 2011!
  • Individual giving is an essential source of revenues nationally for the nonprofit arts—it’s 24% trails only earned income (60%), and ranks ahead of government (9%), foundations (4%), and corporations (3%).  And giving to the arts and culture rose 5% nationally over the past two years.   
  • Pittsburgh, on the other hand, needs a boost. Individual donations account for just 4.4% of arts organization revenues here, in contrast to: Columbus (7%), Baltimore (11%), Philadelphia (13%),   Cleveland (13%), and Detroit (17%).      
  • A key way to help address this local issue is online giving, a trend that continues to grow.  Online giving rose by 14% in 2013 and 70% of young donors, aged 20 to 35, made a gift online last year.  Even major donors are in on the act--the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston received a $150,000 in 2013.                 

Whatever your reasons for giving during ArtDOG--civic pride, being trendy or purpose- driven, helping us meet our goal, or just getting a tax break--let’s together make Greater Pittsburgh the Leader of the Pack for ART in 2014.

 

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Art Strengthens Our Communities

Friday, 19 September 2014 12:21 PM Written by

Cultural District Walking Tour Jane smiling 3 reduced
Recently, the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, in conjunction with the Arts Education Partnership’s National Forum, hosted a special visit from Dr. Jane Chu, the newly appointed Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Dr. Chu is noted for her contributions to the Kansas City Kauffman Center for Performing Arts, including the management of a $400 million campaign to build the center. After the Senate confirmed Dr. Chu’s nomination three months ago she expressed her enthusiasm for, “connecting the arts to all Americans, and the importance of the arts in bringing communities together."

The room on the 7th floor GPAC offices was full of leaders from arts organizations, invited by Dr. Chu to share their stories about how the NEA has positively affected their work in the Pittsburgh arts scene and in our neighborhoods. Dr. Chu heard the stories of over 20 institutions, some in operation for over seven decades, and as the sharing concluded, all positively noted that the NEA had enabled the collaboration of many within the room.

This was a great opportunity to hear firsthand how art institutions influence communities, not just involved in the creation of physical artwork. Art is an integrated aspect of our neighborhoods that encourages interaction, aides in abating neighborhood hardship, communicates history and heritage, and inspires a better future.

So why is it still not recognized as the norm when the arts bring together community? If the general definition of Art-with-a-capital-A expanded to include community festivals, public art installations, free gallery openings, street performances, murals - we see how art fosters a community through inclusion and engagement. As America expands how it participates in the arts we need to expand our definition of art practice and its product.

Arts Day of Giving will be here in two weeks and as we get ready to support our arts non-profits, important point to consider is how much the arts impact our daily lives. Typically, art evokes an image of objects confined within the walls of a white box, but there exists an entire range of art found outside those traditional walls and in the fabric of our community – art that is intentionally accessible, created for the masses and designed to promote community strength. Katz Plaza in Downtown Pittsburgh is an excellent example of how a public space is enriched from the addition of publicly commissioned art by Louise Bourgeois. 

During the visit with Dr. Chu, project directors Robert Ferry and Elizabeth Monoian shared about their art and science initiative, the Land Art Generator Initiative. At the core of their work is an initiative to bring together contrasting communities of the sciences and the arts to answer the question on how design and art can influence science and unite groups over a common goal, in a recent case, how to combat climate change.   

Another example of this influence happening on a local level is the work of Vanessa German and her Love Front Porch. This inspiring project combines art and community in a unique manner as Vanessa has purposed her front porch in Homewood into a professional studio for herself and the neighborhood children. She actively creates a space where “the community is the museum.”

As our world continues to globalize it becomes increasingly important to value community on a local and national level. To help facilitate this it is important that we unite to recognize that the arts role within community is truly a regular occurrence. Art is not just for artists or relegated to galleries and museums. As Dr. Chu shared during her visit, “Nobody helps make a community distinctive and vital more than the arts – the new paradigm is arts and community vitality are so critical to one another – the arts are there for everyone, they are a part of our everyday lives.”

Christine Smith runs the art blog, Treading Art.
Image: Dr. Jane Chu tours the Cultural District with Kevin McMahon, President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

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Art and Industry: the Carrie Deer Project

Wednesday, 06 August 2014 03:58 PM Written by

 

carrie deer - rb - high

Ron Baraff is a Pittsburgh native, who like many Pittsburghers left the region for a number of years but discovered that there is no place like home. Mr. Baraff has been the Director of Museums and Archives for the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area since 1998. He is currently launching Save the Carrie Deer with a community event on August 16 to save the Carrie Deer, a large-scale sculpture of a deer head by the Industrial Arts Co-op, located on the site of the defunct Carrie Furnaces in Rankin. Jen Saffron of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council interviewed him briefly on his views on the role of the arts in preserving and reinterpreting our region's industrial heritage.

1. What exactly are the Carrie Furnaces and why is it an important place for artists? What is the Carrie Deer and what does it mean, to you?

The Carrie Furnaces are National Historic Landmarks - it is imperative that we preserve them to tell the story not just of the historical significance of this region, but of the site’s impact, nationally and internationally. The Carrie Furnaces represent the story of America's 20th century industrial power and its impact on the world. To that end, the Carrie Furnaces now can serve as an economic development tool and first day attraction for the region, bringing much needed tourism dollars into the surrounding former steel communities that so desperately need them.

The Carrie Furnaces present a prime opportunity to showcase the rich industrial legacy of the region, as well as show the impact of post-industrialism on the region. This is where the Carrie Deer really comes into play – this large scale sculpture is the poster child of post-industrial rustbelt America, answering the questions: what happens to these sites when the work goes away? How do the communities act and interact with these abandoned locations and what sort of meaning can be derived from these interactions? In the case of the Deer, its presence on the site of the Carrie Furnaces, within the architecture of a former bustling industrial generator, allows us to show what happens to these former places of work, and to learn from and use these interactions to open new and exciting doors for visitors to experience the site through the arts.

The Carrie Deer encourages the exploration of the site’s aesthetics and environmental impact (built and natural), because this sculpture is there and acting as the gatekeeper. The Deer and other artists and photographers interacting with the site allows us to continue the process of art-centric redevelopment at what was formerly a place of work, a place of production - a place that became something else entirely in its post-industrial life - a formerly derelict urban space that is now positioned to host numerous ventures that are seemingly removed as “art actions”, yet at the same time intrinsically related to the site's storied history.

2. With Pittsburgh working to shed its former identity as a steel town, how does preserving and showcasing a former mill site work for or against that?

For many years there was a movement to distance the region from its "gritty" past, but I think we have moved beyond that now - it is our history, our geography, our people, and our culture that grew up in industrial Pittsburgh, that has survived, and is thriving. It sets us apart and establishes our unique place within the American lexicon and certainly within the Rust Belt. This region is now experiencing a revitalization through tourism, innovation, and expanding population, because of who we are and where we came from in the not so distant past. I don't feel that Pittsburgh should or even is shedding its former identity as a steel town - it is what makes Pittsburgh and the surrounding region what it is and colors all of us with a profound sense of place, home, and a connection to our collective past.

Look at the gathering movement towards Urban Homesteading and Exploration of the "Rust Belt Chic" - communities such as Braddock, Lawrenceville and Homestead are being revitalized and energized. This is because of our industrial history and not in spite of it. Against this backdrop stand the Carrie Furnaces, a place where we can explore the past, and navigate the present and future of this region through historical tours and discourse; art installations and exploration; new and emerging technologies through installation of Solar Power and the introduction of environmental programming and landscape restoration – all at the site. All of these factors together define who we are and shape who we can be as a region.  

Ron Baraff

Ron Baraff, Rivers of Steel 

3. What other kinds of artistic programs or art has Rivers of Steel been involved in? What has been the response? What kind of artistic activity takes place at Carrie Furnaces, now?

At the Carrie Furnaces site we have hosted a number of different projects and programs that explore the aesthetics of the region (and life). We have hosted Alloy Pittsburgh where 15 emerging artists did site responsive installations; the Jazz Furnace, a day long interactive improvisational dance event conceived of and presented by the Pillow Project. We conduct Urban Art Tours that explore the graffiti (and the Deer) on the site and have also provided legal wall space for artists from all over the world. Photo Safaris regularly take place on site for photographers to come and explore the site, and over the years we’ve hosted numerous filmmakers, photographers, music videos, documentarians, and conducted sculpture workshops, iron-castings, and much more. Throughout its existence, Rivers of Steel has worked with traditional artists, assisting with festivals and events throughout the region, grant funding and exhibitions, foodways, and tourism. Preservation of the region's culture history and character is paramount to our mission, and artistic programs are as much a part of who we are and what we can be as our industrial history.

Throughout its existence, Rivers of Steel has been involved in artistic programming; working with traditional artists, assisting with festivals and events throughout the region, grant funding and exhibitions, a Sunday community market, foodways, art installations and tourism. We are really just scratching the surface of what we can do at and with the Carrie Furnaces - stayed tuned there is much, much more coming!

 

 

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