Artist in the Public Realm Residencies with Immigrant and Refugee Communities

Pittsburgh is home to a new wave of immigrants and refugees. To help newcomers connect with Pittsburgh and its residents, the Office of Public Art partnered with Welcoming Pittsburgh and the Department of City Planning to organize four artist residencies in the public realm. Over two years, four artists deeply engaged with four community-based host organizations that serve Pittsburgh immigrants and refugees.

These Artist Residencies in the Public Realm supported a collaborative process to identify and address needs within the community. In the first year, the artists engaged with their host organization’s stakeholders and community members to build relationships and understand challenges. In the second year, the host organizations learned how to work with the artists to develop a collaborative creative project based on the first year of learning and engagement.

Organization Selection

OPA collaborated with the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning (DCP) and Welcoming Pittsburgh (WP) to develop an open call for organizations interested in hosting an artist. Organizations applying for this program had goals that included increasing participation in civic life, building greater access to and understanding of American culture, raising awareness of Pittsburgh’s cultural resources, and learning how to collaborate with an artist.

The team interviewed applicants and ultimately selected four organizations based on their interest, goals, and capacity to host an artist:

  • Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh
  • Community Assistance and Refugee Resettlement program of the Northern Area Multi Service Center (closed December 2018)
  • United Somali Bantu of Greater Pittsburgh
  • Literacy Pittsburgh (formerly Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council).

Artist Selection

We worked with our collaborating team members to develop a call for artists, which was circulated nationally and received over 60 applicants for the four positions. OPA hosted a first selection meeting that included the four host organizations, DCP, WP, and outside arts professionals. Each organization identified and then interviewed a shortlist of four artists, with support from OPA and the team.

Based on these interviews, each organization selected the artist with whom they wanted to work. The four selected artists – Christine Bethea, Molly Rice, Lindsey Peck Scherloum, and Mary Tremonte – were on board by May 2017.

During the first few months of their residencies, artists worked onsite with their host organizations several days a week, joining staff and community members for daily activities and meetings. This included participating in the refugee resettlement process by meeting new arrivals at the airport and sharing meals with community members.

Engagement

Each artist developed a plan for community engagement that grew from their early observations and conversations with their host organizations. This plan was implemented in the first year of the residency. These plans included hosting arts workshops, visiting different cultural institutions in the region, and attending theater events. Through these activities, the artists and their hosts began to test ideas for the final creative project.

Creative Projects

Towards the end of the first year of the residency, artists and hosts developed a creative project proposal based on the ideas that they had tested in the community engagement process. The proposals included a budget, timeline, and plan for implementation. Each proposal was reviewed by the full project team.

The second year of the residency was dedicated to the implementation of the creative projects. All four teams successfully completed implementation of the creative projects in the summer of 2019. You can learn more about the projects via the project links below.

The Office of Public Art’s Residencies with Immigrant and Refugee Communities program were made possible by funding from: the Our Town program of the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency; the Buhl Foundation; City of Pittsburgh; The Fine Foundation; Mary Hillman Jennings Foundation; Opportunity Fund; PA Partners in the Arts; and The Pittsburgh Foundation. The program is a partnership between the Office of Public Art, Welcoming Pittsburgh, and the Department of City Planning.

Image credits

Top to bottom, left to right:
(1) Screen printing workshop by artist Mary Tremonte, photo courtesy artist; (2) Khūrākī by artist Molly Rice, photo courtesy Heather Mull; (3) Residency cohort meeting with artists, organizational partners, and OPA staff, photo by OPA; (4) Quiz Bowl with artist Christine Bethea and Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh, photo by OPA.

Artworks & Partnerships

Christine Bethea with the Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh

Bethea collaborated with Bhutanese youth to create a Youth Arts Team that developed arts related programming rooted in civic engagement for their community.

Mary Tremonte with Literacy Pittsburgh

Tremonte engaged ESL students at Literacy Pittsburgh in arts-based lessons, workshops, field trips, and projects that built a sense of community and supported their explorations of the world around them.

Molly Rice with women of the Pittsburgh Afghan refugee community

Rice’s residency with women of the Afghan refugee community was rooted in sharing their stories of home, family, food, and the refugee experience with Pittsburghers.

Lindsey Peck Scherloum with United Somali Bantu of Greater Pittsburgh

Scherloum collaborated with residents of the Northview Heights public housing complex, including Somali Bantu refugees, Central African refugees, and generational African American residents, to gather and share their stories of migration.