“I would like to take a more active role in Pittsburgh’s music community but frankly, the infighting is a bit of a turnoff.”
“I’ve always been a DIY musician. It’s a lot of work alone. A whole lot.”
“It sux working this hard for crumbs.”
“The local scene from a musician point of view is very stuck in the mud.”
“While Pittsburgh has a ton of talented musicians, there is no industry to support them. A handful of decent recording studios, but no record labels, minimal booking agents, management opportunities, etc. All that being said, it seems like its getting better.”
The Music Ecosystem Project* report is finally out and the pressure is once again back to where its always been, on the people who occupy the music scene. This time, though, we have direct feedback from artists, venue owners, promoters, fans, and others on: where they stand financially; how they feel about professional and career development opportunities; the good and bad practices that have kept the scene stuck in the same place; and reasonable asks from the community about how the City/County governments and organizations can step in for much-needed positive impact and support.
If you read between the lines, the Music Ecosystem Project report points out directly what the scene yearns for. Some may feel as if the report doesn’t offer ways to tap into new approaches or that “they’ve been doing this already.” Many may also ask: “Well, who is going to fix this problem?” That’s a problem in itself and here are some hard facts:
- The lack of unified efforts has continuously led to the scene failing people time and time again.
- Living in Pittsburgh and only creating in a “DIY” setting leaves a huge gap in business growth for all.
- The lack of diverse ownership leads to even fewer opportunities for POC and LGBTQIA individuals and groups – those who have always been vital to the creation and growth of music communities.
- There have already been groups who’ve created ways to grow and excel, but the lack of support – funding and infrastructure - from the local government and organizations leads to movements stalling.
- "97% of venues believe they draw some or few fans/visitors/patrons from out of town" shows that marketing and promotion efforts need a reset and re-configuration in an effort to offer local musicians an opportunity to be heard and appreciated from surrounding areas and also *drum roll* bring in more earned revenue from outside sources for the venues, too.
So, how do we start. Well for one, there is a networking effort by the Music Ecosystem Project on August 15th at the Hard Rock Cafe for us to come together. Next, grassroots leaders in each sector should come together and discuss ways to move forward. Focus groups about the good and bad have been completed and the focus should be action items. Support from groups like Fair Play, who have already researched sustainable options and publicly discussed ways to positively push forward, are needed. Most notably, what should be done away with is the erroneous thought there is a group of important people in the music scene that controls what’s going on in this city. We are actually the people we’ve been waiting for.
For those individuals who answered the survey who say they have professional and business services, you should probably be speaking up and doing more outreach so that the scene can consult you whether your services are paid, what you believe to be affordable or un-affordable, or free.
In closing, it doesn’t hurt to collaborate nor does it hurt to unify our goals for a better outcome for all. Those who continue to plan against positive growth should be left to their own operations. We can compare and contrast with NYC, Chicago, LA, Houston but Pittsburgh’s general population isn’t a match and we have to creatively find new ways to function and address areas we lack.
Not to be cheesy but there’s always a value in high unified numbers. United we stand, divided we fall.
*The Music Ecosystem Project is comprised of:
I was at a national arts conference, surrounded by movers and shakers. You know who stood out? You know who brought the real questions, the truths grounded in a track record of building cultural community?
The artists and thinkers from Pittsburgh.
I said: time to go to Pittsburgh.
For the past two years, I have been coming here from Philadelphia, connecting with artists and sharing resources about how artists build sustainable lives.
I offer you: Three Observations From an Outsider With a Crush on Pittsburgh.
1) Damn, you have good people.
Pittsburgh has some unbelievable artists and arts leaders.
Marcel Walker is doing a series of comic books, Superheroes of the Holocaust. So crucial in this divisive time to remember those with the courage to stand up.
DS Kinsel creates and curates through BOOM Concepts, the smartest and most relevant placemaking I have seen anywhere in this country. Real artists building real community.
Do you know about “community based illustration?” Genevieve Barbee draws the everyday lived experiences of Pittsburgh.
Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council does more for working artists than any similar organization I have seen (including, ahem, Philly’s equivalent). Their Having our Say survey looked closely and candidly at working conditions for Pittsburgh artists. Lots of cities need to copy that.
Janera Solomon curates more than art; she curates civic honesty. There’s a beautiful future for Pittsburgh and America, and it passes through the transformative art and righteous conversations Solomon programs.
2) But you don’t always appreciate them.
Pittsburgh has brilliant artists and arts leaders, people poised to lead the national conversation about building an equitable arts and culture sector. But that doesn’t mean y’all always listen to them. Like in Philly, Pittsburghers can be unimpressed with their own, quick to look to an outside “expert” over a brilliant local. My Philadelphia dance company got a lot more love in Philly after our first big show in New York. “Wow, you guys must be good.” Um, we’ve been here, doing this, for years.
Raise up your homegrown geniuses. Listen to them, fund them, follow them. The national conversation needs the insights of Pittsburgh artists and arts professionals. If these people were in New York or Berlin or Paris, they would get rock star treatment. Why does so much of Gil Teixeira’s most exciting work happen overseas? Why isn’t DS Kinsel running everything? When will Janera Solomon be president?
3) Redevelopment is coming.
Pittsburgh is on the cusp of massive redevelopment and neighborhood change. Whatever you’re picturing, it’s bigger than that, by a lot. Those of us who have been through it in Philly recognize the signs.
Artists and arts organizations can do a lot at this moment to root yourselves in communities and neighborhoods. Buy. Don’t rent. Buy.
And think big. I know some born-and-raised Baltimore artists who are talking about buying a block—a whole block in Baltimore—to build art and community by and for the neighborhood.
And, yes, artists play a complicated role in redevelopment. But local Pittsburgh artists rooted in communities are crucial architects of a Future Pittsburgh that is brave, inclusive, and fun as hell to live in.
Plan or be planned for, as they say. Artists and arts leaders are crucial partners in equitable and thoughtful redevelopment, but too often we are not at the table. Every conversation about redevelopment should include an artist and an arts leader. Want to understand displacement? Talk to an artist who lives and works in the neighborhood she grew up in. Want to understand what turns residents into neighbors? Talk to a community arts leader who builds real dialogue and connection.
Artists are a core strength of the city and its neighborhoods, a key reason why people stay and, more and more, why people come to Pittsburgh.
And why I can’t wait to come back.
Andrew Simonet is an artist, writer, and founder of Artists U. Photo: from the 2016 Regional Artist Info Session at the New Hazlett Theater.
For Alisha B. Wormsley, it's all about the past. And the present. And the future.
Wormsley describes herself as an interdisciplinary artist who uses many different things and concepts. “I work mostly in film and electronic media, so that’s pretty much any visual, digital, audio combination of sorts in an installation and projection,” she said.
“Conceptually, I think about things in the fifth dimension,” she continued, “which is thinking about everything past, present, and future all happening at the same time.”
Wormsley’s past artworks have included the Children of NAN video, There Are Black People in the Future, Out of Africa, For Autistic Black Boys Who Are TOO Curious and the Extinction(w/ Mantras)video installation.
Her current project “We Live” was inspired by John Carpenter’s 1988 science fiction film They Live and is part of The Andy Warhol Museum’s Activist Print program, a collaboration between The Andy Warhol Museum, BOOM Concepts, and the North Side printmaking studio Artists Image Resource (AIR).
“I’d just seen that film - I’d seen it several times - but I just happened to watch it the weekend before I went to work on this,” she explained. “And I’d just seen this article about a meditation room that was being used in schools instead of detention. And I was really inspired by both of those to think about how we can move forward from what’s happening in the United States -- and the world really - but in the United States as far as the new administration and the global crisis and the climate crisis and all of those things.”
Wormsley’s child also contributed to her thinking about the project: “I have a one-year old. It’s my first child, and seeing things through the eyes of a mother -- there’s nothing more eye-opening than having a child. All of these things contributed to the panels I created.”
“We Live” is made up of four panels that have been exhibited on the windows of the Rosa Villa, a building across the street from The Andy Warhol Museum.
Wormsley’s next project is with the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Hillman Photography Initiative and will take place in September and October of this year.
“It’s a month-long installation in Homewood,” she said. “I’m curating a series of events led by women who are presently working in different areas of healing and art and social justice, social work within the community. There are also two artists that I’m bringing to do actual installations and the workshops will happen within these spaces.”
Once again, her work is about the past, the present, and the future. “The past in Homewood is actually this artist Robert Hodge who’s representing the past by taking abandoned property and re-creating it in the time period in which it was most used. The present is this group of women who are doing these workshops. And the future is sound artist Ricardo Robinson who is creating a sound installation. And through the whole project I’ll be doing a lot of photography and creating a video and a catalog from the whole month.”
Alisha Wormsley, along with fellow Activist Print artists Paradise Gray and Bekezela Mguni, will be part of a conversation about their participation in the project on Sunday, March 19, at 2pm at The Andy Warhol Museum.
Henry Lipput is a blogger, writer, and film and music enthusiast living in the South Hills of Pittsburgh.
Have you considered a painting by Cezanne for your living room? What about a Degas for your office? Or maybe art by Braddock native and MacArthur “Genius” grant winner LaToya Ruby Frazier? Well, good news: Through the Art Lending Collection (ALC) at Braddock Carnegie Library (BCLA), borrowing works of art is as easy as checking out a book. Anyone in Allegheny County with a valid library can access the collection.
“Checking out artwork to display in your home or business gives you a chance to come to the world’s first Carnegie library,” says Mary Carey, an Arts, Culture, and Information Facilitator for ALC. “The building is a work of art itself. And when you check out something from the collection, you get a pass for four to visit the Carnegie Museum of Art to see more artwork.”
Over the years, Carey has worn quite a few hats at Braddock Library. She first frequented the library as a patron and then became a volunteer for a program called Pop Art. For Pop Art, her title was “voice of the community.” From that position, she transitioned to BCLA’s staff as a library clerk. In 2013, Carey was offered the Arts, Culture, and Information Facilitator position. “It gives me the opportunity to learn about art as well engage more with people throughout the community. At the same time, I’m able to teach others the knowledge I’ve gained about art and artists.”
Carey’s ALC co-facilitator is writer and public speaker Jonathan Reyes. Like Carey, Reyes is a resident of the BCLA service area. The Facilitator positions are funded by the Heinz Endowments.
Works in the Art Lending Collection accumulate value through their free circulation and through conversations among patrons about the art. The ALC provides access to art and to critical arts discourse without the exclusivity typical of the arts economy.
The critical discourse fostered by the ALC is a cornerstone of the work of Transformazium, an artists collaborative led by Dana Bishop-Root, Ruthie Stringer and Leslie Stem. The ALC and other Transformazium projects “examine local systems of communication, exchange and resource distribution; redirect resources from an arts economy to a local economy; and participate in an active local arts discourse that includes voices currently underrepresented in more dominant arts discourses: young people, the elderly, communities of color, people from poor and working class backgrounds and those outside of the University education system.” Transformazium has had an embedded partnership with Braddock Library since 2009.
Nearly all of the artists featured in the 2013 Carnegie International are represented in the ALC; these works are permanent gifts to the Braddock library and are catalogued in the library’s collection. The ALC also includes works produced by artists from the neighborhood, including Jim Kidd, Regis Welsh, and Ray Henderson. Transformazium partners with artists and curators whose practice lends itself to community participation and engagement. The ALC expands by acquiring works by these artists, either individually or through workshops with library patrons as part of Transformazium’s youth and adult education programs. The works in the collection rotate every two weeks.
The ALC also features works by Charles Bibbs, Jacob Lawrence, Alice Patrick, Barbara Richardson (of Regent Square), Henry Taylor, and others.
As ALC Facilitators, Carey and Reyes conduct individual and collaborative research, assist patrons in selecting artwork, develop arts-related programs, and acquire new works that shape the collection’s growth and keep it relevant to the community. The collection specifically “fills in some gaps in the dominant arts discourse” with artworks that embrace political and African American themes. The result is a collection that reflects a diversity of ideas and aesthetics within Braddock and beyond.
“The collection includes art from students at Hunter College whose professor gave them an assignment to make a piece of art specifically for the Art Lending Collection,” Carey says. “We have pieces made out of crayons depicting Andrew Carnegie. One student gave us a piece that comes with a boom-box and music sheets in Braille. Also, some guys from the State Correctional Institution in Fayette lost their art program, and they wanted to donate pieces that they had created while incarcerated--nearly 90 pieces.”
Select ALC artwork is showcased through BCLA’s Artist of the Library series. “The artist has an opening reception, and we display their artwork for about two months,” Carey says. “The artist invites family and friends, and we invite patrons. The artist talks about their art and everyone asks questions and engages in the conversation.”
Carey is currently working with a number of artists to bring their work into the collection. “Ginger Brooks of Braddock will be doing her artwork in the library. She’s going to engage patrons in a sit-down conversation, getting to know them, and then create signs [showing] something special about their character. The art will be on display, and then given to the individuals once the show is over. [Previously], people had a blast helping Jacob Ciocci of North Braddock create and watching him make several pieces right here in the library. He’s a visual artist, performance artist, and musician.
“I’ll also be working with Natiq, an artist I met at Exposure: Black Voices in the Arts, hosted by Pitt [Fine Arts] students. We have a piece by Natiq from that show in our collection, and [we lent] pieces from the collection to that show. Natiq will be our Artist in the Library in July through August, and his art piece is one of my favorites in the collection. For the month of June, we will be hosting some very talented young people from the Braddock Youth Program.
“In the fall, I will be working with Darrell Kinsel, an artist who [co-operates] a gallery in the Garfield area, BOOM Concepts. Then our last artist in the Artist in the Library series for 2016 will be Mrs. Mary Jean, an illustrator, painter, and teacher.”
Carey doesn’t have a single personal favorite from the collection, “but there are a few that I continue to check out. Swoon’s Alixa & Naima. Natiq’s “complexity.” James Kidd’s Chillin with Matisse. And Raymond Seybert’s Bob Marley, but this piece goes out a lot in “Hanging Out in the Community,” which is a program I started where pieces from the collection [are placed] in businesses.”
To learn more, visit the Braddock Carnegie Library, a national historic landmark, at 419 Library St., Braddock, PA.
Deesha Philyaw is a writer and a mama. She believes in seeing color, talking about race, and using the Oxford comma.
image: Braddock Art Lending Collection, courtesy of Transformazium