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.

poisoned tree detail for blog

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.

poisoned tree of racism for blog

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


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Studio Capezzuti

Wednesday, 22 October 2014 03:14 PM Written by

Art Cars 3
Cheryl Capezzuti's backyard art paradise 

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 web

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.

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 petty 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



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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unleashedpodcast apcollectionA480


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 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 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  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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Thursday, 10 July 2014 01:29 PM Written by



On July 3rd and 4th, Boom Concepts, a new exhibition and art workspace in Garfield, kicked off their grand opening - a two day extravaganza featuring art, live music, free massages, and an Independence Day cookout. People from all over came out to join the Garfield community in welcoming their newest neighbor, Boom. Located at 5139 Penn Avenue, Boom Concepts is occupied by Pittsburgh based media company, Jenesis Magazine, and art duo, Magic Organs (D.S. Kinsel and Julie Mallis).

Boom Concepts is more than a workspace/studio/gallery, it’s also a hub for an underserved arts community. Boom is a studio where artists can congregate and create together. Visit Boom on any given day and odds are, you’ll see Magic Organs painting or Jenesis Magazine shooting an interview; you might also see Carnegie Mellon MFA students installing an exhibition or Rhinestone Steel hosting a vaudeville night. Maybe you’ll just see a bunch of artists shooting the breeze, eating Spak Brothers pizza, but it’s that kind of friendly environment that fosters connection and encourages collaboration.

On Thursday, the first part of the launch, Boom was in full-on gallery mode, exhibiting work from local artists during Garfield’s Unblurred gallery crawl. Upstairs, guests gathered to view the group exhibition featuring local artists: Applecubed, Mariann Colonna, and Makayla Wray. Downstairs, people toured the art studio where Magic Organs does their creating. Magic Organs is a multidisciplinary art team that uses paint, drawing, sculpture, music, video and performance to speak to and connect with young art enthusiasts and communities. Their studio, which houses D.S. and Julie's individual projects as well, was filled with painted canvases and unassembled installations being prepped for the next exhibit. Always busy, the pair had a retrospective exhibition at Bunker Projects on the same night and they had to pull double duty as hosts, going back and forth between galleries.


Friday evening, the opening ceremonies continued with a cookout and live music showcase. Rising Pittsburgh musician, Tairey, set the tone for the evening as the opening DJ, while Thomas Agnew, D.S. Kinsel, and Julie Mallis shared hosting and grilling duties, welcoming everyone into their new space. As the night progressed, a certified masseur set up a station and provided complimentary massages to those in need. Songstress Anqwenique Wingfield serenaded guests, followed by Tairey’s stage return, this time performing his original songs. The night closed with DJ sets from Alexis Icon, and DJ DGAFunk, obliging my Prince request with “I Would Die 4 U”. It was a great night with good people, highlighting why a place like Boom Concepts is important for creative community.

Boom is a classroom, too. With upcoming classes on subjects such as finance, technology and health, they’re committed to serving not just the arts community but the needs of everyday people, too. Jenesis Magazine and Magic Organs feel a sense of responsibility to making life better, as artists, and they’re using their talents to help others and give opportunity to people who might not otherwise have it. They understand that it’s tough for even talented artists to find places that will exhibit their work, which is why they're always willing to give up-and-comers a chance. This kind of collectivism and shared concerns for the health and well-being of neighborhoods is what makes Pittsburgh strong, and it’s what makes Boom necessary and worthy of our support.

While some Pittsburgh art places focus on the work of national and international artists, other organizations welcome local artists with open arms. A lot of these local-art-friendly places reside on Penn Avenue in Garfield, which makes Boom’s location pretty perfect. Not only are these Penn Avenue galleries such as Garfield Artworks, Assemble, Modern Formations, Mr. Roboto and Most Wanted Fine Art showcasing art from locals, helping them to make a living, they’re building and repairing communities. It’s important that we support organizations that are making an effort to give back to this wonderful city. On the first Friday of every month, the Garfield area hosts a free gallery crawl called Unblurred that takes place between the 4800 and 5500 blocks of Penn avenue. If you haven’t been, do yourself a favor and check it out, and be sure to stop by Boom Concepts.


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Kliptown Photography Project: Growing Quickly

Thursday, 10 July 2014 11:07 AM Written by


This is the final post from the Kliptown Photography Project, a week-long teen documentary project led by Pittsburghers Linda Dukess, Jody DiPerna and photographer Heather Mull in South Africa, which just ended July 4. Zanele Mashumi, South African gallery owner and curator will exhibiting photographs from the workshop opening on July 25 at Mashumi Art Projects, her gallery in Soweto. 

Soweto woman

One does not pick up a camera, take a five day workshop and, on the sixth day, wake up being Teenie Harris or Dorothea Lange. That kind of skill is earned over many hours, many years behind the camera.

That said, our kids are seeing the camera, and the world around them, differently in a very, very short time. Whatever we're doing, we're doing something right.

At the beginning of this week, late Monday afternoon, when we gave the kids their cameras, our students started mugging and cheesing it up for the camera. It was fun for them, but they are very unnatural photographs.

Just a few days later, the kids are taking photos of different things, trying to capture different kinds of moments. Sure, some posed photos and selfies still show up -- after all, these are teenagers we're talking about. But their growth in a short, short time is amazing to witness.

Last night, we gave the kids an assignment to take two portraits -- one of a person they know (could be a family member, a friend, a close neighbor); and the second of a portrait of somebody they didn't know. They know their environment well enough to know who to steer clear of, but still, we wanted to give them a very professional photography assignment, the kind somebody like Heather would get. She told them that there are lots of ways to approach it, but being honest (explain that it's a school assignment -- it's not going to be in a newspaper or anything) is a good start. And that offering to show them the photo is a good way to gain trust, too. As with many things in life, being complimentary helps; simply telling somebody, "you have a great look" or "you have great style" is a good way to get a person to agree to let you photograph them.

This morning, the kids came back with great stuff. Some of them really got people to open up, connect with them. Which, although they didn't know it, was the point of the exercise. And they all really captured the person they know. Some took photos of cousins or siblings or grandparents. They were overall really wonderful shots.

Soweto portrait


Which is really a tremendous thing for us -- the entire team -- but particularly for me and Linda. I loved the idea of the project, but there were multiple points at which I wondered how effective the project would be? How much would we accomplish?

A month or so ago, I heard a TED Talk by Ernesto Sirolli, about the power of listening when going into a foreign location with the intention of helping. He started by telling a very funny story about when he worked for an Italian NGO in the late 1970's. They went to Zambia to teach the Zambians about agriculture. Being Italians, they arrived with tomato and zucchini seeds. (Sounds a lot like my family.) And they planted in beautiful soil and felt very good about the fact that they were there to help these Zambians who clearly didn't understand growing things. The tomatoes grew and ripened and just when they were ready to harvest, a herd of 200 hippos came through and ate them all.

The Italians said to the Zambians, "The hippos! Why didn't you tell us about the hippos!" To which the Zambians replied, "You didn't ask." Sirolli went on to say that he felt awful about the Italian folly in Zambia, until he learned of the follies of the Americans and the Brits and the French. At least the Italians, he thought, fed the hippos.

There were times when I thought to myself, "Well, we are giving our kids breakfast and a snack every day, so we may end up like the Italians -- at least we fed somebody for a week!" That was my baseline, the worst that I could expect from the week. Although I didn't really think that would happen. What I really thought would happen was that we could connect with one kid, maybe two.

I think we've connected with more than that. They are all very proud of their new knowledge and, though we've really just scratched the surface with them, I feel like a few of them may make photography a life-long pursuit (either as a vocation or an avocation). But for entire class, I believe we've planted a couple of seeds, cultivated an interest in looking at the world in new ways. For me, that's what education is all about. It's also what art is all about.

There are twelve students -- 14 to 16 years old, plus three members of the staff, all in their very early 20s. And I think we've really hooked many of them, at least two-thirds of our students. Maybe more.

Several of the kids, our high school students, show up early. After one day of seeing how we wanted the classroom set up, they set the classroom up. They tidy up. They help us get breakfast ready. As we're showing slides in a room without blinds, we have to block the light with cardboard. The kids set that up, too. When we give them breaks, at least five or six of them hang out in the classroom, talking to our instructors. One of our students even got work photographing this weekend -- she has been asked to take photos at a birthday party. She will be paid very modestly, but it is paid photography work. And she's also been asked to take photographs for her church, for which she will also be compensated.

Bear in mind, none of these kids had taken any serious photos. Some of them had not been behind a camera ever. It is an astonishing amount of growth in just four days. I am, quite frankly, blown away.

Is it possible we've been able to teach some young people to see and tell new stories? Have they learned that it's okay to take a step back (or a step forward) and open their minds to a new way of seeing?

And even though I had made my peace with the idea that we might just end up feeding the hippos, I think we may be able to do more than that.


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