Greater Pittsburgh at National Arts Advocacy Day

Monday, 21 March 2016 11:30 AM Written by

 

group shot of 10 people standing in front of a stage while people are arranging microphones
The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council annually leads a delegation of arts advocates from SWPA to National Arts Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.  This event is organized by Americans for the Arts, the nation’s arts service organization.  Issues we advocates bring up with Congressmen, Senators, and elected officials are federal funding for the arts and humanities for SWPA, what the new federal educational legislation—Every Student Succeeds—means for local STEAM programs, and tax deductibility for donors to the arts. 
Among the members of our delegation this year were two first-year Master of Arts Management students from Carnegie Mellon University.  Here are their recollections of Arts Advocacy Day on March 8, 2016.   

Anna Okuda, Master of Arts Management, CMU (’17)
in the image above, back row, third from right

Working in the theater, I have long been interested in collective action. Arts organizations and individuals tend to compete with each other for limited resources and audiences.  Although it is important that each organization makes efforts to survive and thrive, I believe that it is equally important that we all work together to make the industry as a whole prosper. Arts Advocacy Day gave me insight into how artists, arts administrators, and board members, could act together for the development of the industry.

Participating for the first time, I was impressed by the fact that hundreds of arts leaders traveled from across the country to work together for the whole industry’s development. In advance we were provided with lot of facts and figures citing how the arts affect the healthy growth of children, how the arts contribute to community development, and how the arts generate economic impacts.  Equipped with these data, we met with legislators or their staff, to promote the importance of the arts to their districts and the Commonwealth.  I hope that our passion and the convincing data on the educational, social, and economic impacts of the arts will prompt positive action for the arts by the legislators we met with.

National Arts Advocacy Day 2016 was an excellent opportunity for me to experience the power of collective action.

Anne Marie Padelford, Master of Arts Management, CMU (’17)
in the image above, front row, far right

I had heard about National Arts Advocacy Day (AAD) last year when I was researching various arts management programs around the country to apply to.  My reasons for going to AAD this year were two-fold: 1) I don’t know much about DC and I wanted to know more, and 2) I wanted to know more about what it means to advocate for the arts.  I really had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I realized that many of my colleagues from Carnegie Mellon University and other universities nationwide were on the same journey of discovery.

The beginning of my trip was marked by running into a student in American University’s Arts Management program who I had met last year. She met my CMU colleagues and we ended up meeting up several evenings in DC. So, already, my link to the city and policy was getting stronger!

The training we got from AFTA before visiting legislators was quite long, but I was impressed at the organizers’ efforts at disseminating and explaining the important facts and reasons we would be talking with our elected officials. Meetings with legislators and their staff were exciting from a first-timer’s point of view!  I had never been inside our nation’s capitol much less inside a representative’s office.  I enjoyed seeing different staff members’ attitudes toward the arts and various legislative bills we were promoting.

I am now aware of the importance of my role as a citizen: to encourage those who represent me and to tell them what is important to me and to my community and why.

 

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You Wouldn't Expect?

Thursday, 17 March 2016 02:31 PM Written by

black and white drawing of a tree with the word Eugenics across it, detailing the root causes of eugenics, which include human selected evolution

From Displacement/Replacement exhibition at the Carlow University Gallery to Miss Julie, Clarissa and John at Pittsburgh Playwrights, to You Wouldn't Expect by demaskus theater collective, we Pittsburghers may find ourselves reminded of the fact that art is often a lens through which to think about and talk about the complicated issues of race, class, power, and gender. Here, Dr. Megan Overby from Duquesne University addresses the topic of eugenics in relation to the world premiere of the play You Wouldn't Expect, to take place March 26 at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

As pointed out by Marilyn Singleton MD, JD, past director of the American Academy of Physicians and Surgeons, modern eugenics is most often associated with Adolf Hitler and his quest for a master race – a perfect citizenry comprised of only the most physically and mentally qualified. However, eugenics (the philosophy of “good breeding”) has deep historical roots; the notion that a society has the right and duty to refuse life and reproductive rights to those considered weak or undesirable extends as far back as early Greco-Roman times. Spartan newborns who did not meet expected physical standards for a bellicose Spartan society were killed, either directly or through abandonment and exposure to the elements. In ancient Rome, the Twelve Tables of Roman Law directed infanticide for children with obvious deformities; and in his blueprint for an ideal society, the Republic, Plato writes of the need to legislate selective breeding to only those people with desired traits, just as with horses and sporting dogs to obtain the best stock.  

In 1869, Sir Francis Galton (sometimes now called the “Father of Eugenics”) wrote Hereditary Genius in which he argued that because the less intelligent were more fertile than others but had less social worth, social pressures should be exerted to limit reproduction by this less intelligent ‘class.’ His views, heavily influenced by Mendel’s discovery of the principles of heredity and by Origin of the Species authored by his cousin Charles Darwin, led the way for a scientific rationale for the sterilization of the mentally deficient, criminal, promiscuous, or people otherwise believed unfit to reproduce. Response to this new social climate was sweeping. In 1901, Indiana passed a bill authorizing enforced sterilization of wards of that state. Soon after, African American leaders such as W.E.B. DuBois espoused eugenics as a means to improve the moral fiber of the black race and at least two feature films, The Black Stork (1917) and Are You Fit to Marry (1927), portrayed the benefits of eugenics and the chilling and terrifying consequences of uncontrolled reproduction. The time was ripe for a systematic approach identifying those likely to bear, and pass on, undesirable genetic traits. 

Such a systematic approach was the mission of the Eugenics Records Office (1910-1939), founded by Charles Davenport. The office was entrusted with identifying the physical, mental, and moral trait pedigrees of hundreds of thousands of Americans confined to institutions (i.e., colonies) because of mental illness, feeble-mindedness, being orphaned or poor. Because of society’s certain belief that degenerate or undesirable traits were inherited, 35 states eventually enacted legislation for compulsory sterilization of state wards identified with degenerate or undesirable traits. By the time this practice ostensibly stopped in 1974, over 60,000 Americans had been forcibly sterilized. A majority of those were African American women.

One of the most well-known legal cases surrounding the eugenics movement was Buck v Bell (1924). Carrie Buck was the illegitimate daughter of Emma, who had been committed to a state colony for feeble-mindedness. Carrie was diagnosed with epilepsy and feeble-mindedness, and at age 17 had an illegitimate daughter, probably as the result of a rape. Carrie’s daughter, Vivian, was determined to be mentally deficient at 8 months because she did not look normal. Although most historians now agree that Emma, Carrie, and Vivian were uneducated and poor and not feeble-minded, The United States Supreme Court upheld the decision by the state of Virginia to sterilize Carrie. In writing for the majority, Justice Oliver Wendell Homes Jr. infamously noted: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” This particular legal case has never been over-turned.

This long-festering history brings us to today’s production, You Wouldn’t Expect. Because historical documents and statistics can lead us to intellectualize what should be powerful moral lessons, Marilyn Anselmi’s play helps us see, and feel, the human toll in the eugenics movement. When I learned this production was coming to the August Wilson Center here in Pittsburgh, I was thrilled because of the potential for dialog and change it could bring. As a professor, I was particularly pleased to see this production because I discuss the eugenics movement in my class at Duquesne University, including particulars of the movement’s effects in North Carolina. I will encourage my students to see this production.  In seeing this drama, perhaps they will feel in their hearts what I cannot explain in words: that our souls are strengthened when we embrace, not fear, our diversity; our souls are hardened by prejudice; and our souls are lost unless we guard and hold compassion close.

Megan Overby, PhD, CCC-SLP is an Associate Professor of Department of Speech-Language Pathology at Duquesne University.
Image credit: Logo from the Second International Eugenics Conference, 1921, depicting eugenics as a tree which unites a variety of different fields. - Wikipedia

 

 

 

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Victorian era men and women sitting in a museum room filled with cases of lifesize people


Let’s get rid of diversity initiatives.
With these words in her inaugural blog post for Incluseum, Porchia Moore had my attention. Moore, a PhD candidate in library and information science and museum management, employs critical race theory to frame her advocacy for inclusion in the museum world. She’s a regular blog contributor at Incluseum, a Seattle-based project dedicated to advancing “new ways of being a museum through critical discourse, community building and collaborative practice related to inclusion in museums.”

So why the call to end diversity initiatives? Moore dislikes the term “diversity” because she finds it racially coded for “all sorts of confusing sentimentalities and hidden agendas.” Further, she laments that some people of color only visit museums when there is programming or an exhibition featuring African American, Latinx or Asian artists or culture, usually as a result of special marketing targeted to their church, neighborhood, or organization.

Instead of these occasional invitations, Moore calls on museums to cultivate “lasting relationships with communities of color; and be certain that we are not just targeting them when we deem their participation to be culturally congruent. All culture is connected.” The role of museums, she says, is to promote and preserve shared culture, not perpetually display a dominant white culture and invite people of color in to see exceptions from time to time.

Moore cites a Center for the Future of Museums report that found that racial minorities make up only 9% of the core group of museum visitors. As non-white racial groups grow in number nationwide, Moore says that in order to survive “museums will need to restructure because the core group of white visitors to museums will eventually decrease.” In a post published in early March, Moore added that intersectional, race-based inclusion should not merely be a “need to” for museums, but a “want to.” She writes, “Excellence in museum work is inclusive, [and] being culturally responsive is ethical.”

In her inaugural post, Moore calls for inclusion efforts to be rooted in the act of co-creation between museums and communities--as opposed to “invitation” or “participation”--in order to address historical and systemic barriers related to perception, power, and privilege.

Moore’s call to action came to mind recently when I heard about “Race and the Museum,” an upcoming workshop from Collecting Knowledge based at the University of Pittsburgh. Collecting Knowledge is Pittsburgh’s consortium of universities, museums, and libraries “pushing the frontiers of collaborative research, teaching, and public engagement with the world of objects.” In a week-long workshop in May generously funded by a grant from the A.W. Mellon Foundation, a cohort of twelve Pitt faculty and graduate students will explore the Carnegie Museums’ collections and talk with museum educators, curators and the broader Pittsburgh community.The goal? To re-think and re-imagine the museum world and its role in society.The cohort, representing nine departments ranging from anthropology and history of science to English and art, will address such questions as:

  • How have museums, as collections and as institutions, created, supported, or challenged constructions of race and racial identity?
  • How are museums and their objects implicated in the history of slavery, indigenous peoples, and race relations? 
  • How have museums represented and interpreted these issues? 
  • How can and should museum collections tell different stories? 
  • What can museums do to combat white privilege, and become more inclusive in their institutional structures and in their audiences?

These are weighty questions, but workshop co-leader Kirk Savage says that “Race and the Museum” is not a philosophical exercise. “We want to change the model of the museum world.”

Savage, a history of art & architecture professor at Pitt, co-leads the workshop with Shirin Fozi, assistant professor of Medieval European art and architecture. Savage likens the museum world to art history as a discipline: “Art history is exclusive, almost all-white in leadership, donor base, and audience. ‘Race and the Museum’ is, in part, an opportunity to train a new generation of scholars and museum professionals to start out thinking about who their audience is and how to foster relationships within the community.”

And unlike “diversity initiatives” that come and go, the individual and collaborative projects developed as part of “Race and the Museum” will live on beyond the May workshop. The projects may take the form of an exhibition or publication, a community engagement experience, a revised course for undergraduates, or a new partnership between the museum and a local institution.

The culture change envisioned by “Race and the Museum” has huge implications for the participants, museums, universities, the city of Pittsburgh, and beyond. Savage notes that counting community and cultural engagement alongside research and teaching as factors in tenure and promotion could transform the way scholars and museum professionals approach their work.

To learn more about “Race and the Museum,” visit http://constellations.pitt.edu/entry/race-and-museum-pittsburgh-workshop.


Deesha Philyaw is a writer and a mama. She believes in seeing color, talking about race, and using the Oxford comma. 
Image: 1908, "Ethnology Room" at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

 

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Exterior of a public building at dusk, with a blue lighting and sign that reads, "Panza"
Mark Panza, an artist and framer, moved his Panza Gallery from Etna to Millvale 15 years ago. The business started out as Panza Picture Framing, a service he clung to as he tried to be an artist and make a living. “You have to do something to make some money,” Panza said. “So picture framing I felt was something I could do.”

After deciding to move to Millvale in the mid-1990s, “I found this wonderful building here, an old German social hall, a wonderful social hall that I was able to adapt into my picture framing business and gallery and arts studio.It was welcomed immediately by this town – people wanted to bring art into this town,” he said.

Panza is a photographer but one who doesn’t care for very much for that designation. “I hate to call myself a photographer,” he declared. “I like to call myself an artist who uses a camera since I don’t do portraits and weddings and things like that. But I take imagery and I overlap things with them and I play around with them in the computer. The Photoshop of today is what the darkroom used to be for me in the earlier days.

“Since I have this picture framing studio,” he continued, “I can create three-dimensional things like light boxes with my photography which is hard to describe verbally but to see them is really fun.” (light box pictured: "Tree Memorial" by Mark Panza)
Vertical sculpture that lights up, featuring an image of the front of a cathedral window with a forested motif behind it, greenish in color

Panza laughed as he remembered what the arts scene was like in Millvale when he got there: “It was kind of a depressed little town -- which made it affordable for me which is a big reason I came over here. But I also looked for the potential for the future.” That potential includes developments such as Arts MODE: The Social Arts Incubator, with New Sun Rising, a social entrepreneurship organization that operates out of Millvale.

Panza got involved in the community and joined a design committee that got the Sprout Fund to finance the painting of murals by local artists in the town. According to Panza, the borough started to build community awareness and “I brought an element of art to it,” he said. “There really wasn’t anything other than music with Mr. Smalls Theater. We both came into this town at a similar time.”

In addition, the Millvale Borough Development Corporation, a non-profit organization, has been creating opportunities for artists. “We now have Millvale Studios which isn’t really well-known yet,” Panza reported. “Right across from the French bakery here is a building that used to be Kitman furniture store and is now Millvale Studios where artists can rent spaces to work. I’m the manager of that building. We’ve created a gallery in the front where artists can exhibit their work, they can have an event there, and people can come in and browse around and see them working in their studios if they choose.”

Panza Gallery also does its bit to bring people into town. In addition to exhibiting the work of other artists, including the work of the Pittsburgh-based abstract collective Group A, the gallery offers life-drawing sessions three times a week. “Any artist at any stage in their art career, from the student to the established artist, can come and draw a live model,” Panza reported “We get about 15, 20 artists that come. That’s bringing people from outside Millvale.”

 

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Dreams Made Real: Hill Dance Academy Theatre

Friday, 04 March 2016 11:26 AM Written by

Five young African American dancers sitting and kneeling around their ballet teacher, who is seated cross-legged on the floor, reading them a book about dance

Hill Dance Academy Theatre has been activating young minds, bodies and spirits for about 10 years. Founder and Director Ayisha Morgan-Lee started in 2005, founding the organization with a couple of goals in mind – one is to give dancers and students a chance to dance who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it. Here, she shares what drives her, HDAT, and the dream to send her students to Los Angeles. Shares Morgan-Lee:

Celebrating the Black Dance tradition - for me, it’s celebrating as people of African descent to celebrate our legacy through movement. There are a number of Black dance companies that are happening around the country and within those companies they have schools and are training dancers – HDAT is part of keeping that tradition alive.

About 10 years ago, my mom [Dr. Veronica Morgan-Lee] told me to get a job, so I went throughout the Hill District and found people who wanted to dance and started teaching, calling it Dance on the Hill. When I was done with Howard University in 2005, we started HDAT out of Grace Memorial Church with about eight students and myself, and throughout the 10 years, we’ve really grown, really faster than I expected.

We have students who have been with us since they were young and we can now see their growth and how the arts have helped these young people. A part of HDAT is that we want students who are hungry about dance to find out what it’s like to be a professional dancer - that this can be their reality, too.

We use dance as a core element and teach other core aspects that support dance – costume design, physical education, music, theater, and nutrition - so that students, before they get on the stage, have a full appreciation of all that dance encompasses – these students can become a costume designer, a stage director, a lighting person because they have had this knowledge of dance.

I’ve been dancing since I was three years old. I started out in a school in South Hills, and most of the places I went to, I was the only Black girl. I went to Civic Light Opera academy, and there I took jazz, ballet, and tap and met Ms. Leslie Anderson  Brasewell, my first Black ballet teacher. Some of my other influences were Buddy Thompson and Tommy Cousins, my jazz teachers. The beautiful thing about these three people is that they are now teaching at HDAT! They encouraged me to pursue my dance career – push me and give me the technique and discipline and they are now teaching HDAT students ballet and jazz.

We just had one young lady receive a partial scholarship to study at Dance Theatre of Harlem and Joffrey Ballet. We have choreographers who are on the national circuit who are now recognizing the gifts and talents in our students and want to come to Pittsburgh to choreograph for our students and companies.

Many opportunities come across our desk, all the time.  Part of helping students become professional dancers is accessing these opportunities. Our students generally do not get to see opportunities, for many reasons.  I received a notice from Debbie Allen that we could have a master class with Misty Copeland and other artists and I showed it to my mom, then shared it with our very strong parent group, saying we wanted to send the HDAT company to Los Angeles to dance and learn from not only Debbie Debbie Allen but Misty Copeland of American Ballet Theatre – ABT's first Black prima ballerina.

When I told the students we wanted to take them to LA and meet Misty Copeland, they could not believe it – they all have Misty’s book, her picture on their phone – they all want to be her, they want to be the next Misty Copeland. We decided that just like we rally around our Steelers, we want to rally around these dancers and get them to LA! On Saturday, March 5, 8pm – 1am in St. Benedict the Moor’s social hall, we’re hosting a Blue Jeans on Pointe Cabaret and we’re hosting a GoFundMe Campaign online, right now. Sometimes this work becomes a challenge – raising money, giving students as many opportunities as we can.  My older ones [students] show me that all of this work is worth it – we are really growing these young women.

And, the 3 and 6 year olds definitely inspire me because they are the next generation coming up – they want to do everything and they are really big on this LA trip, even if they are not going – I know what they are thinking: ‘That could be ME, one day!’

 

 

 

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“We like to say we empower the leaders who make Pittsburgh great,” said Daniel Stiker, Director of Fiscal Sponsorship + Arts Mode at New Sun Rising. 

After 10 years, the organization, based in Millvale, is beginning to impact communities all over Allegheny County.  But it began with a project further down South.

“We started to raise funds for a music foundation after Hurricane Katrina,” reported Stiker. “At that point, the two people who started it, Scott and Brian Wolovich, noticed that there was a need for this type of organization to help other projects. So it started as a fiscal-sponsorship organization so we could help other people get their projects get off the ground using our non-profit status for them to access funding opportunities that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Through a variety of projects, New Sun Rising started getting into the field of social entrepreneurs and creatives, including the Arts Mode project which is a professional development workshop for artists and arts organizations.

And how does New Sun Rising decide to select an arts group to participate in the Arts Mode project? “As long as they make an impact in the Pittsburgh region, and they have some sort of social good or arts component, those are the ones we would sponsor,” he explained. “So we’ve sponsored everything from the zombie opera to farm delivery service. Anyone who will help make Pittsburgh great. It’s a wide variety -- but the majority of them, currently, are actually creatives and artists.”

Among other things, participants in the Arts Mode project receive mentoring to help with what they are currently working on. If an artist is just starting out they will be helped with their development as well as an artist statement, business plan, or common grant application. Artists and arts organizations that are already established can get help with their organizational development. Artists and arts organizations also receive a membership with the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

“One of the things that I really like about Arts Mode is the process,” said Leigh Solomon Pugliano, founder of Barrels To Beethoven.

Pugliano is a consultant, business development specialist, trainer, and also a musician. “I’ve played the steel pan  -- which is the basis of my organization Barrels To Beethoven  -- probably since I was about five,” she said.

people standing up, playing steel pan drums together, looking intently at the drums

Barrels To Beethoven came about after she put together an exhibition about her father who makes steel pans. “In order to do the exhibit, I wanted to make sure I did research, not only of the past of the steel pan but also the future,” she said. “One of the things I realized as I was doing my research is the instrument has gained so much popularity as far as the amount of people who play it, but the makers are decreasing. There have been concerns throughout the Caribbean about passing on the art form.”

She started Barrels to Beethoven as a way to expose the community to the steel pan. She also hoped people would learn how the instrument is made, inspire new makers, inspire new players and, hopefully, sustain and develop the instrument over time.

When Pugliano discovered that New Sun Rising was helping people make an impact in their community, she got in touch with the organization and applied to be part of the Arts Mode project. “With their help, I’ve been able to build an organizational structure. So thinking about things like a budget -- which I had but not on a larger scale -- so I now have a two-, three-year budget that I’m using when I’m doing grant writing. We talk a lot about grant writing and funding. We’ve learned a lot about building a board -- I hadn’t even thought about building a board and now I’m interviewing and asking people to be on an advisory board -- which is something I wouldn’t even have thought that my organization was ready for.”

“I feel like the structure and building the foundation of my organization after I already had the creative part and the community outreach was exactly what I needed at that point,” she said in summing up her experience with New Sun Rising.

 

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"Formation" Invites a Bigger Conversation

Friday, 19 February 2016 09:59 AM Written by

Beyonce final
As a black woman originally from the South who has carried hot sauce in my bag, I find the public outrage in response to Beyoncé’s Formation video to be ridiculous, though not surprising. But leave it to Saturday Night Live to ratchet up the ridiculousness in a recent sketch: In a faux movie trailer, “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black,” white people aren’t just shocked by the video’s messages and images. They’re shocked to learn that Beyoncé is black.  In the wake of the Formation video, all hell breaks loose and white people lose their damned minds. The scenes are reminiscent of a disaster flick with white people running amok in fear of a black Beyoncé.


In one scene, a white woman struggles to understand the lyrics in Formation. Her colleague says with alarm, “Maybe this song isn’t for us.”

“But usually everything is!” the woman says, in full panic mode.

The exchange is funny, but also full of truth. Pre-Formation Beyoncé with her blond weaves, light skin, and club-friendly woman-power anthems could comfortably be enjoyed by everyone. No confusing, celebratory references to black culture and black power. No reminders of unpleasant topics like Hurricane Katrina. No pesky graffiti imploring cops to Stop Shooting Us to make things, you know…awkward.

Why would Beyoncé do this to white people?

Because she can. Because she felt like it. Because she’s an artist, and artists, at their best, defy expectations.

Because, as my grandmother used to say, everything ain’t for everybody.

But what is the cost to the artist for defying expectations? If you’re Beyoncé, it might be the cost of private security for a stadium in Tampa because the local police refuse to work your concert. But what about the rest of us?

Making art that isn’t for everybody--in particular, art that isn’t for white people--can be risky business for artists not named Beyoncé. But some of us are brave. Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison is unapologetic about who her books are for. 

“I’m writing for black people,” [Morrison] says, “in the same way that Tolstoy was not writing for me, a 14-year-old coloured girl from Lorain, Ohio. I don’t have to apologise or consider myself limited because I don’t [write about white people] – which is not absolutely true, there are lots of white people in my books. The point is not having the white critic sit on your shoulder and approve it.”

Morrison isn’t writing for everyone, but everyone can (and should) still read Morrison because she is a master storyteller and her books reveal things about history, race, and the human condition that no other books reveal.

I recently interviewed National Book Award finalist Angela Flournoy who advised black writers to “write whatever black-ass thing you want.” As Pittsburghers, we don’t have to go far to see what that looks like. Like Morrison, August Wilson was once asked if he felt limited only writing about black people. And like Morrison, Wilson’s answer was “no.” He said: “There's no idea in the world that is not contained by black life. I could write forever about the black experience in America.”

If what James Baldwin said is true--that artists are here to disturb the peace--then defying expectations is our job.

So the real questions are bigger than the biggest pop star on the planet. Beyoncé is just the messenger, whether she intended to be or not. Can we as artists and as audiences embrace nuance and hard questions and painful truths? Can we embrace criticism as a necessary part of the artistic process? Here in Pittsburgh, specifically, how can we pursue equity and justice through art? These are the transformative conversations I look forward to having in this space.

Deesha Philyaw is a writer and mama. She believes in seeing color, talking about race, and using the Oxford comma.
Deesha final

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

photo credit: Doug Mills/The New York Times, originally printed 2/7/16 in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Caption:

Doug Mills/The New York Times

 "Beyonce, Coldplay and Bruno Mars perform at halftime during Super Bowl 50 between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina, Sunday."

 

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Casey Droege, Cultural Connector

Wednesday, 17 February 2016 12:26 PM Written by

 

woman with glasses in a grey sweater, laughing and leaning toward her left
Cultural Connectors, Cultural Producers, Curators: who and what are they? Casey Droege – artist, curator, events producer – has a clue. 

Originally hailing from Spring Hill, Droege’s art explorations took her to the prestigious Cranbrook Academy, earning a Master of Fine Arts degree in fiber. Returning to Pittsburgh, Droege co-founded CSA PGH, and invented the dinner series called Six x Ate,  a where artists share their ideas and current work over dinner conversation with patrons, other artists and cultural connoisseurs. A mainstay in Droege’s repertoire of creative endeavors is applying her fiber background to teaching fashion at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

It’s there where she encountered Tereneh Mosley, daughter of famed sculptor Thaddeus Mosley. Droege reached out to Tereneh to speak to her students and share about her business to bring people together for common cause through economic development, design, and fashion.  While Mosley has showcased her work in NYC during Fashion Week and has built her business in the fashion industry, her work lands outside the traditional market, incorporating a community model into the design and production of garments: empowerment of women, community development, and collaboration.

Maasai women walking in the countryside in Kenya, over a small hill
Droege was, and remains, inspired by Mosley’s commitment to working with the Olorgesailie Maasai women’s artisan group in Kenya,  where they work in concert to develop accessories and clothing designs. Mosley continues with her Idia’Dega line, too.

“After Mosley spoke with my class, we kept in touch – there’s a passion for her concept and I love the way she’s approaching a collaborative design process with Kenyan women and now the Oneida nation in New York.”

After Droege hosted a fall 2015 Six x Ate at the Mattress Factory Museum, museum director Barbara Luderowski offered up a small property adjacent to the Museum for a series of short artist residencies. Droege is choosing artists and creative workers to come, stay, do a collaborative project, and share it with the public.

This Friday kicks off the first one in the series with Tereneh Mosley’s designs, showcasing her long term project to work in concert with communities of women in Kenya.  Droege and Mosley developed the layout for the exhibit, thinking through the relationships between garments, photography, and history of the women Mosley works with in Kenya.

long, largely empty room with a brick wall and wood floors, artist's easel and chair, a brown leather armchair and boxes

Of interest to this exhibition, which opens this Friday, February 19th, is the coming together of ideas – a hybrid between business, fashion, fine art, and community empowerment. Mosley may not think of herself as a fine artist, more so a fashion designer and collaborator. However, original funding for Mosley’s first collection came from an Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grant, funded by The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments. 

The term “cultural producer” crosses many ideas and genres, the goal of which, as Droege shares, “It’s about bringing people together for dialogue.” She adds, “My personal goal with all of this stuff is to bring people together around an idea/event to engage with each other. Hopefully, they’ll go off and start a project, meet a future collaborator. I really want our community to grow, and part of that is intersecting with every sector of this city, and that happens in conversation.”

Jen Saffron is a photographer, writer, curator, and the Director of Communications at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. 

 

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What are we going to DO, tonight??

Friday, 15 January 2016 02:15 PM Written by

 black rectangle with text that reads "What Do I Want To Do, Tonight"

How do you find free family-friendly events in your area? How do you find the right event - whether it’s comedy, craft, or cinema - for a date? How can you do either of these things without making the task an event in itself?

Artsburgh (Artsburgh.org), a new online listing of arts and cultural events, classes, and happenings throughout the region, was developed by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council to help people access arts and culture easily and with their own preferences.

“Right now throughout the region we have many arts and culture calendars and it’s really hard to locate what’s really going on over all,” said Jen Saffron, GPAC’s Director of Communications. “Artsburgh is designed to be that one-stop hub and, as it grows, that’s exactly what it’s starting to become.”

“It’s also a tool that’s great for arts organizations,” she explained, “because you can put your information into Artsburgh and it will feed out onto other calendars making your life easier.”

Artsburgh came about from a national conversation among colleagues that grew into what is now the Project Audience organization. Tiffany Wilhelm, GPAC’s Deputy Director, was in on some of the early discussions. Project Audience, a national nonprofit with funding from Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, seeks to address the fact that the arts and culture sector depends on audiences.

A recent NEA survey on the arts participation of adults in America reported that this activity had fallen from 39% in 1982 to 33.3% in 2012, a drop that occurred in cities across the country.

Recognizing that two-thirds of Americans do not participate in arts and culture at all, Project Audience and GPAC started to discuss what needed to be done as a sector -- not just locally and regionally -- but nationally to make the arts visible and important.

Said Saffron, “How can we make our art relevant and visible and important to others? Artsburgh is one answer to that question.”

Black square with the word Artsburgh in it and a round bubble of colorful pixels

Any arts and culture organization or artist can list an event on Artsburgh. There is no charge to the organization and they can go online and set up a user account right here.

Users who visit Artsburgh can use filters to tailor their experience and buy tickets and map directions onto their phone. “It’s not just a general listing,” she emphasized. “It’s meant to be customized for you.” It’s also customized for those who list events, with Artsburgh remembering user preferences and allowing for flexible event schedules.

In addition to paying for the development of the product, GPAC has also begun a marketing and advertising campaign to get the word out about Artsburgh. They have a marketing program with WPXI mobile marketing, online marketing programs with Treading Art, and Whirl magazine, and digital billboards on parkways around town. There is also a strong social media campaign with an Artsburgh Facebook page.

According to Saffron, although Artsburgh is only two months old, “it is something that is growing and evolving and we’re looking forward to having more arts and culture offerings so that the arts are more and more at top of mind for choices of what to do with our time, energy, and money. That’s really the goal.”

 

 

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Welcoming the Creative Class

Wednesday, 02 December 2015 02:50 PM Written by

 

street scene of main street with shops, cars parked and lightposts
When Jack Kobistek became mayor of Carnegie six years ago, the town had an active arts scene, but, in his words, “it was kind of under the radar.”

There was -- and still is -- the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall which presented performances from Stage 62, a community theater company that produces traditional plays, the Gilbert and Sullivan group the Pittsburgh Savoyards, the Carnegie Performing Arts Center, and the music hall itself bringing in classical music performances. There was also jazz at the Third Street Gallery and outdoor jazz festivals. “They do a fabulous job of providing arts and culture,” say the mayor.

Three years ago things began to change when Off-The-Wall Productions and, soon after, the Pittsburgh New Works Festival, came to town. “That definitely took us to a new level when it came to arts and culture in the community,” Kobistek remembered. “That was a real turning point for us. When Off-The-Wall Productions came, they provided us with another venue -- and this venue is totally different from the venue at the library.

“This is a small, intimate theater and a professional theater group,” he continued. “Off-The-Wall Productions have professional actors that put on these very original avant garde plays. The plays they put on are very prominent when it comes to supporting women playwrights and different diversity issues. If you love theater, you’ll love what Off-The-Wall does.”

Building on this increase in artistic activity and visibility, the town is currently working with the Carnegie Community Development Corporation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to develop and grow the Carnegie community, to establish a cultural and professional district.

“The goal is to hopefully start attracting more unique artistic-based businesses, also attracting young artists,” states Kobistek. “There is some affordable housing in that area we believe would be very enticing to artists. We’re looking to make the area more of a traditional cultural district where it doesn’t become commercialized or cosmopolitan. We hope this can be a really fresh, unique area for artists.”

“To redevelop any town -- there’s a school of thought out there -- many communities that have used the arts to jump start their town have been very successful,” he says.

Referencing the work of urbanist and author Richard Florida, whose 2002 book “The Rise Of The Creative Class“ gave a name to this issue, the mayor speaks about his thoughts on what artists can bring to a town. “The arts bring in what they call the ‘creative class.’ I believe Richard Florida had the recipe: You bring in the creative class and what they do. They bring to town an energy that you can’t get always get.”According to Kobistek, artists bring to a town an eye for aesthetics: “Right off the bat they want to make your town look better.”

The arrival of the creative class also helps a town’s economy. “When your town looks better, people want to come to your town,” he says. “One of the biggest attractions for any town is the night life, what you have going on. The arts community always has a diversified night life. So it attracts so many different people to your town. It’s like a commercial every evening I guess you could say.”

“When people come to see a show, or a play, or any of the arts, they usually make it an evening, concluded the mayor. “It’s not like you’re coming in to shop at a grocery store -- you pick out a few items and you’re gone. You’re coming to town for an evening and you want to experience all that.”

 

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