Skip to main content
NewsPress Releases

Newest Cohort of ABSD Artists is Announced

By March 17, 2021One Comment

Three Pittsburgh artists selected for Artists Bridging Social Distance in the Public Realm

Pittsburgh, PA — The Office of Public Art (OPA) is pleased to announce that Naomi Chambers, Lena Chen, and Jessica Gaynelle Moss have been selected for the second cohort of the Artists Bridging Social Distance in the Public Realm initiative. This second iteration of OPA’s Artists Bridging Social Distance in the Public Realm Artists Bridging Social Distance in the Public Realm (ABSD) initiative sought artists who identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color (BIPOC), and whose practices engage their communities and build connections. The selected projects are designed to inspire a sense of community well being, and provide avenues for intellectual and emotional engagement. The scope of the projects range from the intimate act of letter writing between Black mothers across the United States, to honoring Chinese ancestors in a graveside ritual, to hosting an online showcase and sale of artwork by Pittsburgh-based Black artists.

“When we created the ABSD initiative, we knew that the COVID-19 pandemic was going to be an evolving crisis, and that our response would need to similarly evolve. This round of the initiative specifically supports the work of Black and Indigenous artists and artists of color, who are from communities at greatest risk from both COVID-19 and the impacts of quarantine,” said Divya Rao Heffley, OPA’s Associate Director. “We are so excited to be working with Naomi, Lena, and Jessica to support them in realizing their powerful proposals, to build connection within their communities through the transformative power of art.”

About the Initiative

The ABSD initiative was launched in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in direct response to the increased calls for physical isolation to protect against the spread of the virus, and the subsequent loss of opportunities and income for artists. Aware of how quickly communities were being impacted by isolation, OPA released the initial call for proposals on March 30, 2021, the same day that Governor Wolf’s stay-at-home orders were expanded across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and schools were closed indefinitely. The call asked that all proposed projects promote social connection while also following guidelines for public health and safety from state and local government and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. OPA invited submissions for projects in all media and disciplines (including digital, analog, and event-based) but specified that the project had to be widely shareable, whether through digital and virtual platforms or other means.

The first round of the initiative, which was funded by OPA through earned income revenue from their programs, commissioned three artists to create projects that responded to the crisis. In spring 2020, OPA was awarded additional funding for the initiative through the Investing in Professional Artists program of The Pittsburgh Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, and Opportunity Fund. A total of four rounds of artist projects will be commissioned through ABSD.

The artists for the second ABSD cohort were selected by a panel of community members and arts professionals, all of whom also identify as BIPOC. The panel identified the selected artists from over twenty submissions received. A third cohort of ABSD artists selected by the panel will be announced in summer 2021. 

About the Artists & Projects

Dear Mama by Jessica Gaynelle Moss

Dear Mama is a project rooted in connection and rest among Black mothers across the United States. Artist Jessica Gaynelle Moss will send care packages to Black mothers that include a hand-written letter and self-care products from Black artists, designers, and entrepreneurs throughout Pittsburgh. “Letter writing is intimate and requires a lot of trust with your reader,” said Moss. “Those who receive packages are encouraged to extend the reach of this letter writing project by sending their own handwritten letters to other Black mothers.”

Each package will include a vintage copy of The Color Purple by Alice Walker, provided by Bekezela Mguni and The Black Unicorn Library and Archive Project. The packages also include handmade goods from Loukeisa Denise and Triple Moon Alchemy Herb Shop, to encourage self care and connection; day passes to Alecia Dawn’s Yoga Motif, to provide mental and physical support; offerings from Flowers for Black Girls initiative; stationery designed by artist Huey P. Newty; and pre-paid envelopes and pens.

About Jessica Gaynelle Moss

Headshot of Jessica Gaynelle Moss photo Courtesy of sarah huny youngJessica Gaynelle Moss is an artist, independent curator and arts consultant to institutions and private clients. She has an extensive background in program management, production and fabrication, nonprofit leadership, education, community engagement and the advancement of equitable development. Jessica is committed to developing innovative, ethical and responsible solutions to improve the conditions that directly affect Black people, women and underrepresented artists.

Jessica is the founder and director of The Roll Up CLT artist residency program in Charlotte NC, the Administrative Director of Sibyls Shrine artist residency program in Pittsburgh, PA, and the Philanthropic Fellow of the Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grant initiative of the Heinz Endowment and The Pittsburgh Foundation.

Jessica received a bachelors in Fine Art from Carnegie Mellon University; a masters in Arts Administration, Policy and Management from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; and a masters in Studies of the Law from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

HerShe by Naomi Chambers

Artist Naomi Chambers will host a web broadcast of a live review of Black Pittsburgh artists. Titled HerShe, this two-hour broadcast will celebrate Pittsburgh’s Black artists by showcasing their work and providing space for artists to create new connections between themselves and potential patrons. “I want to help grow an intentional market for Black art that allows Black artists to create a sustainable lifestyle for themselves by pursuing their passion to create art,” said Chambers. 

This broadcast will take place on Sunday, May 23, 2021 from 4:00 – 6:00 PM via Zoom. This event will also be available via livestream through Facebook and Instagram. All artwork will be for sale with 100 percent of the sales going to the artists. Advance registration is required for attendance. Please visit to register. 

About Naomi Chambers

Headshot of Naomi Chambers photo courtesy of the artistNaomi Chambers is a painter and assemblage sculptor born in Pittsburgh in 1987. She graduated with a double degree from the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in Studio Arts and Marketing in 2009. In 2012, she took the leap to be a full time artist, and had her first solo show in January 2013. In 2017, she and her husband worked with a collective of artists to open FlowerHouse, a community art studio and creative space in Wilkinsburg where they offer workshops and classes for the predominantly black community. In 2017, she was also awarded the Investing In Professional Artist grant from the Heinz Endowment and Pittsburgh Foundation. In 2018, She had her first solo exhibition, Communal Futures at an arts institution, August Wilson Center: African American Cultural Center.

Journey of the Hungry Ghost by Lena Chen

Artist Lena Chen will host a participatory ritual, Journey of the Hungry Ghost, based on Chinese ancestral worship practices and the Hungry Ghost Festival traditionally held on the 15th night of the seventh lunar month. Journey of the Hungry Ghost will take place in late summer/early fall of 2021 at Homewood Cemetery, which contains one of the earliest Chinese cemeteries in the Eastern United States. In 1901, the Chinese Funeral Association purchased a plot at the Cemetery as a temporary burial site for Chinese migrant laborers who passed away abroad. However, the deceased often lacked the resources or connections to have their remains sent home. Therefore, Homewood Cemetery has become a permanent resting ground for 283 early migrants, mostly from the Taishan and Kaiping region, where the artist’s own ancestors originate.

Aimed to unify the past and present narratives of the Chinese in the Pittsburgh region, the event will be an interactive, physically-distanced, site-specific ritual that will adhere to CDC guidelines. “The outdoor nature of the event will allow community members to be together on a significant day and in a climate of racism and pandemic, to celebrate our continued survival and resilience,” said Chen.

About Lena Chen

Headshot of Lena Chen; photo courtesy of the artistLena Chen (born San Francisco, 1987) is a Chinese American artist working across performance and social practice. Raised by immigrant parents working in the hospitality and garment industries, she grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, an Asian enclave of Los Angeles. Named “Best Emerging Talent” at the B3 Biennial of the Moving Image (Frankfurt), she has performed and exhibited at Transmediale (Berlin), Museum of Modern Art (Antwerp), Färgfabriken (Stockholm), and Baltimore Museum of Art, among others. She has spoken at Oxford, Yale, Stanford, and SXSW and been an artist-in-residence with performance space (Folkestone, UK), INVERSE Performance Festival (Bentonville, Arkansas), and Construction Festival (Dnipro, Ukraine).

In 2018, she co-founded Heal Her, which works with artists, activists, and survivors in seven countries to convene storytelling circles for collective healing from sexual violence. As a member of the collective Maternal Fantasies, she received the 2019/20 Arthur Boskamp Foundation Advancement Award. In 2021, she will be the inaugural Vance Waddell artist-in-residence at Cincinnati’s Wave Pool Gallery. She earned a B.A. in sociology from Harvard University, and is currently pursuing her MFA at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Art, where she holds the Lea Simonds Fellowship.




News from OPA & from the field

Read the latest news from the Office of Public Art and the wider public art field.



Boots on the Sound: Covid-19

This two-year collaborative project by artist Ricardo Robinson is part of the OPA’s Artist Residency in the Public Realm initiative.


Eden Hall Walking & Writing Tour

April 25, 2020, 12–2 p.m.

Writer Sherrie Flick will lead a walking tour throughout Eden Hall’s grounds.


Artists Bridging Social Distance in the Public Realm

March 1, 2020

OPA is seeking proposals from visual and performing artists for projects that aim to bridge the social distance created by efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.