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.