The Environment, Health, and Public Art Initiative

The Environment, Health, and Public Art Initiative is one of the Office of Public Art’s Civic Engagement programs. Through this initiative, three artists—Ginger Brooks Takahashi, Aaron Henderson, and Mary Tremonte—are collaborating with Pittsburgh-area organizations to create three works of temporary public art. These artworks address several distinct yet intersecting issues of environmental health: water pollution, air pollution, and lead toxicity in the soil.

These artworks will catalyze change and build support for these critical environmental health issues in the Pittsburgh region, with particular focus on impacts to at-risk and susceptible populations.

Building Partnerships

This initiative began in 2018 with an open call for organizations. We worked closely with an advisory committee of representatives from the Breathe Project, Green Building Alliance, Neighborhood Allies, and Women for a Healthy Environment to select three organizations that had environmental health and advocacy at the heart of their missions. Our advisory committee has remained involved throughout our process, sharing resources and providing support and assistance to the initiative’s artists and organizations alike.

Ultimately, the committee chose organizations with diverse missions and geographical footprints:

  • Center for Civic Arts in partnership with Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, both based in Wilkinsburg, build awareness and steward efforts for improved water and air quality in their community and the larger watershed.
  • North Braddock Residents For Our Future, based in North Braddock, PA, seeks to promote community health and clean air while fighting unconventional gas drilling and major source polluters in the Mon Valley.
  • Grow Pittsburgh advocates for healthy land and healthy communities by raising awareness of soil health in neighborhoods across the Pittsburgh region.

Onboarding Artists

We worked closely with the selected organizations and our advisory committee to release a call for artists, which attracted submissions from across the country. Each organization chose their artist with the assistance of a panel that was composed of members from each organization, representatives from the advisory committee, and several local arts professionals. The three selected artists—Ginger Brooks Takahashi, Aaron Henderson, and Mary Tremonte—were on board by summer of 2019 and engaging with stakeholders and community members by early fall.

Launching the Artworks

Inspired by community meetings, stakeholder conversations, and their own extensive research, the artists developed the vision, concept, and form of their artworks. Ongoing conversation and collaboration with their partnering organization informed each artist’s final design proposal. The proposals were officially approved in early 2020 and the final artworks will launch between the summer and winter of 2020. Each artwork will remain within the community served by each organization for between one and two years.

This program is generously funded by The Heinz Endowments.

These projects will increase awareness and advocacy of environmental health issues in our region. Together, they will offer several ongoing strategies and tools that will continue to build awareness of these issues long after the initiative concludes.

Image credits

Top to bottom, left to right:
(1) Dirt is Beautiful workshop by artist Mary Tremonte, photo courtesy artist; (2) Project Mon Valley by artist Aaron Henderson, photo courtesy artist; (3) “Viewfinder: Before the stream was made underground/ Workers line the completed sides of the Nine Mile Run trench with liner plate, May 21, 1931,” original photo by Pittsburgh City Photographer, image courtesy artist Ginger Brooks Takahashi; (4) Dirt is Beautiful workshop by artist Mary Tremonte, photo courtesy artist

Artworks & Partnerships

Nine Mile Run Viewfinder by Ginger Brooks Takahashi

A portal for seeing, hearing, and smelling the waterway beneath our feet, this artwork was created to bring attention to the connections between Nine Mile Run, the stormwater and sewer systems, the Monongahela River, and the water we drink.

Top 10 worst air pollution in USA

Project Mon Valley by Aaron Henderson

The project aims to raise awareness of the environmental challenges affecting communities in the Mon Valley. This unprecedented time raises questions about relationships with our friends, neighbors, communities, governments, industries and the environment.

Dirt Is Beautiful by Mary Tremonte

The project is designed to increase the visibility of new and established community garden participants within Grow Pittsburgh’s service network, and provide them with more resources.