Saturday, April 12, 2008

Pittsburgh Public Art and The Sprout Fund.

I'd have to say that I don't remember noticing much public art in the place of my birth (Allentown). There were probably some forgettable sculptures in the city parks. But there wasn't much of an emphasis on arts and culture. This is likely attributable to the fact that this smallish city is sandwiched in between New York City and Philadelphia (a Smithsonian Institute survey reported that Philly has more public art than any other American city). In most ways the place lived in the shadows of these historically significant centers. There is an Allentown Art Museum, which I remember frequenting now and again on school field trips. However I can't visualize a single piece that I ever saw there. The single most noted destination is probably the replica of the Liberty Bell (apparently it was brought through town back in the Revolutionary War days).

I certainly don't remember any public mandate to create murals in Allentown. Apparently there is an organization called Lehigh Valley Community Mural Projects that is trying to get something going in the city. Although from what I've read they have had difficulty getting the necessary funding. I have noticed that nearby Easton has had some success in creating these works. I don't think many people realize just how lucky we are in Pittsburgh to have a vast wealth of quality murals in our city and its environs. Unlike the Northeastern Corridor, this region does not have numerous nodes of cultural concentration. If the 'Burgh didn't make the effort, then Western Pennsylvania would be pretty barren.

Our citizens have a lot to feel proud about here in Pittsburgh. Great efforts have been made over the last decade to start incorporating more public art in our midst. The Sprout Fund was formed in 2001 to enhance the greater image of the city and its surroundings. Every year it provides funding for between 7 and 9 pieces, and the results are starting to accumulate nicely all over town. Many transitioning neighborhoods have been significantly brightened by the artwork completed by Sprout-funded muralists (38 so far). Along with other newly-formed projects, the organization is gradually making Pittsburgh into a "museum without walls". I'm impressed by these efforts- so much that when I was asked to serve as a member of the Public Art Advisory Committee, I happily accepted.

Prior to orientation at the Sprout Fund's new headquarters in Garfield (along Penn Avenue), I really had no idea how their locations or participating artists were chosen. I do know plenty of artists around town, and had heard about some of their experiences with the proposal process. I was anxious to learn how it was all accomplished. A couple of weeks ago the board examined the proposals submitted by individuals and organizations desiring to have a mural completed within their communities. There were many quality sites suggested, and it was a bit difficult to make our decisions. Various criteria are assessed, including location, visibility, community and organizational involvement. Every effort is made to ensure that objectivity prevails. Any inherent bias of a committee member is offset by the diversity and aesthetic variability of the remaining members.

This past week we got together again to review the results of our location rankings, and survey the artists who submitted their portfolios for review. There were a lot of submissions from artists this year. That meant that there was an avalanche of work to consider. I think everybody was heartened by the quantity and quality of folks wanting to create murals. It's a great reflection on the arts scene here that so many talented individuals want to share their gifts with the community. I was particularly pleased by the wide range of styles represented. As with the assessments of locations, we used a standardized rating system to minimize the extension of personal favor. I'm looking forward to seeing who the communities will choose from the selected pool of artists we decided upon. But more than anything else I'm excited to see the finished products of a process I was able to participate in. I can hardly wait to see the 2008 murals unveiled.

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3 Comments:

Blogger jefg99 said...

Good stuff, this. You're making a valuable contribution to (no doubt in my mind whatsoever) diversity.

9:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few more years of "public service " might make you worth 109 million dollars.

10:42 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

jefg,

thanks.

anon,

sorry... I don't follow you. what are you saying?

4:31 PM  

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