Dirt is Beautiful
Greater Pittsburgh, PA
As part of the Office of Public Art’s Environment, Health, and Public Art Initiative, artist Mary Tremonte collaborated with Grow Pittsburgh to create Dirt is Beautiful, a project that advocates for healthy land and healthy communities. Developed through community engagement, research, and collaborative design, Dirt is Beautiful consists of two main elements: SHEd, a Soil Health and Education Cart, and Dirt Tales, a zine publication and broadsheet series.
Dirt is Beautiful raises awareness of soil health, remediation, and contamination in our neighborhoods, including lead and heavy metals contamination. 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. The gardens of focus during this project include Food City, East Allegheny Commons, the Children’s Museum on the Northside, Whitaker, McKeesport, Duquesne, and Amity in the Mon Valley.
SHEd: A Soil Health Education Cart
SHEd is a garden event resource and soil health information center on wheels. In consultation with Tremonte, the cart was designed and built by master cabinetmaker Gerty Tonjum and decorated by artist Gina Favano. The mobile cart, which can be borrowed from Grow Pittsburgh’s Garden Resource Center, contains all of the elements and activities needed to host a fun and informational community garden event.
SHEd was designed to be modular and mobile. It can be easily disassembled, transported in a car, and set up at any community garden. SHEd includes copies of the Dirt Tales zine; garden banners and other event decorations; outdoor games; and activity kits with hands-on activity supplies and instructions. These elements were developed in collaboration with Grow Pittsburgh staff and community garden participants to provide educational and entertaining activities that build knowledge about soil contaminants and soil health, from lead to nematodes.
Dirt Tales is a publication and broadsheet series about soil contamination and healing practices that investigates the soil, land histories, and cultures of various community gardens within Grow Pittsburgh’s network. These histories include that of neighborhoods, industry and contamination, indigenous relationship to the land, geological makeup, and remediation and soil building techniques, as well as general pointers for improving soil health. The content of the zines was generated through a series of community garden events, interviews and consultations with soil health experts, and Tremonte’s independent research.
Starting in spring of 2021, Copies of Dirt Tales will be available on the SHEd cart, through publication distributors such as Justseeds, and in future zine and art book fairs.
About the Artist
Mary Tremonte is an artist, educator, and DJ based in Pittsburgh, with a piece of her heart in Toronto. A member of Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative, she works with “printmaking in the expanded field,” including printstallation, interactive silkscreen printing in public space, and wearable artist multiples such as queer scout badges. Through her work she aims to create temporary utopias and sustainable commons through pedagogy, collaboration, visual pleasure, and serious fun. Formerly the youth programs coordinator at The Andy Warhol Museum, and recently an artist in residence with Literacy Pittsburgh, she values art education as a means of empowerment and social change. As DJ Mary Mack she strives to make safe(r) spaces on dance floors for embodying a body politic with pleasure. Both independently and with Justseeds, Mary has exhibited, presented lectures and workshops, and performed in Pittsburgh, Toronto, throughout the United States, and internationally.