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Pittsburg | Artists To Pair With Organizations To Create Works Serving City’s Immigrant Population

July 18, 2016

90.5 WESA Pittsburg | Four resident artists will pair with local organizations that work with immigrant populations to create public art installations.

It’s part of the National Endowment for the Arts’ “Our Town” initiative, which supports programs where artists engage with the community. The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council’s Office of Public Art received a $200,000 grant from the NEA for the resident artists program.

(The Office of Public Art has already done work to support immigrant communities by hosting multilingual art tours in Spanish and Nepalese. CREDIT OFFICE OF PUBLIC ART)

Welcoming Pittsburgh and the Department of City Planning will help place the artists with the host organizations.

“We recognize the wonderful things that can happen when artists and communities are working together,” said Renee Piechocki, director of the Office of Public Art.

She said the grant will allow the OPA to take a new approach with its existing Artist in the Public Real project, aimed at welcoming immigrants and promoting diversity in the city.

The artists will work with organizations for two years starting this January. But first the OPA, Welcoming Pittsburgh and the Department of City Planning will review proposals from organizations in August.

The OPA plans to look for artists starting in October. Piechocki the partnering organizations will participate in a panel review of potential residents so they can start work at the beginning of next year.

Piechocki said the ideal artist has experience collaborating with organizations that aren’t necessarily arts-related.

“It’s about a human connection,” she said of selecting the artists. “It’s a kind of chemistry, people get excited about an artist’s work and it becomes a match.”

(The Pittsburgh Office of Public Art will receive a fully funded grant via the NEA’s Our Town program. “Walk on Through” is located on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, on the Second Avenue Side. CREDIT GERARD TONTI)

The process may seem slow, but Piechocki said the two-year production process is a luxury for artists, who typically don’t receive the ability to familiarize themselves with a specific organization.

Each resident will spend the first year getting to know the community his or her host organization serves. The second year will be spent creating the artwork.

“It’s a very open-ended process,” Piechocki said.

She said so far, program doesn’t have any designated locations or dates of completion for the art pieces. Piechocki said all artistic mediums are welcome, as long as the artists involve community members in the creative process.

She also said the goal is to encourage new Pittsburghers to engage in local decision-making.

“Ideally what happens at the end of these two years and when the projects are all implemented is the people who have participated continue to work in community development in their neighborhood,” Piechocki said. “What if we could get those people and more diverse people involved in those meetings? This project could be a gateway to increasing participation.”

Betty Cruz, deputy chief of special initiatives with Welcoming Pittsburgh, said this is the first time the Mayor Bill Peduto’s office has supported an art residence program celebrating foreign-born Pittsburghers.

“It’s an extension of what’s already there,” she said. “But being brought to life through the arts.”

She said Pittsburgh’s immigrant populations hail mostly from Bhutan, Burma, Iraq, Somalia and Mexico.

Piechocki said the program ultimately aims to help artists engage with the public and to show immigrants they have a voice.

“How else would you know that you are empowered to create actual changes within your neighborhoods?” she said. “I think that’s a really exciting thing about Pittsburgh.”

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