Artists Bridging Social Distance in the Public Realm Initiative

On March 30, 2020, the Office of Public Art launched the Artists Bridging Social Distance (ABSD) in the Public Realm initiative as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Three artists or artist teams—Black Dream Escape, Deb Monti, and Sculpture Support System—were selected through an open call process to produce projects that responded to the ongoing crisis and proposed new approaches to bridging social distance.

This initiative sought to support artists at a time of critical need, when social distancing was causing widespread isolation and creative projects were being canceled or indefinitely postponed.

Call for Proposals

Aware of how quickly our communities were being impacted by social isolation, we released the initial call for proposals two days prior to Governor Wolf’s announcement of stay-at-home orders for the State of Pennsylvania on April 1, 2020. Our 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. We 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.

Artist Selection and Project Development

In early May, a group of independent, Pittsburgh-based arts professionals selected Black Dream Escape, Deb Monti, and Sculpture Support System for the three commissions from among a competitive application pool of visual and performing artists. OPA worked closely with the selected artists, assisting with project development, implementation strategies, and outreach plans. The artist projects were launched in June 2020 and continued to unfold over the summer.

Continuing Response

In October 2020, OPA launched a new call for artists titled BIPOC Artists Bridging Social Distance in the Public Realm. In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate effects on individuals who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), this call commissions three BIPOC artists to produce projects that respond to the current crisis and propose new approaches to bridging social distance in the community(ies) with which they identify. To learn more about this call, please visit our Artist Opportunities List.

We believe that art can build community and increase social connection, and that human creative expression can be transformative. In the face of containment measures that restrict gatherings in the public realm, these projects bridge social distance, increase community well-being, and provide avenues for intellectual and emotional engagement.


Black Rest ThoughtPathways by Black Dream Escape

An online video series dedicated to Black and Indigenous rest practices, each 30-40-minute session was uploaded to YouTube every Wednesday over the course of June 2020.

Screenprint of two people embracing

One Last Thing by Deb Monti

This correspondence-based public art project was aimed at giving Pittsburgh area residents the opportunity to share, via postcard, the one thing they regret not saying or doing for a loved one before the Covid-19 crisis.

Candy dispenser on the sidewalk

The Quarantine Companion by Sculpture Support System

When the quarantine began, an artist team led by Sharon Massey and Sean Derry began distributing “kits” consisting of needle, thread, googly eyes and instructions for how people could create their own companions using leftover fabric and other scraps.

Image credits

Top to bottom, left to right:
(1) Artist Deb Monti, photo courtesy artist; (2) Visitor to The Quarantine Companion, photo courtesy artist; (3) Black Dream Escape artwork courtesy artist; (4) The Quarantine Companion at Assemble, photo courtesy artist