Public Art and Communities: Place-Based Strategies at Work

The Public Art and Communities program (PAC) supports the development of place-based strategies and temporary artworks in Pittsburgh communities that respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and address its intersection with other public health issues. PAC engages artists to collaborate with communities to address their needs through public art and creative placemaking practices.

People talking near the artwork Hilltop Waddle

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented public health crisis that has overturned lives and work.

The Role of the Arts

Arts and culture projects and programs can play a powerful role in shaping our response and addressing the vast needs that have been exposed. The arts and the creative practices of artists are some of our most powerful tools when faced with earth-shifting events such as this.

Our most vulnerable populations are already subject to a myriad of public health risks, including mental health, racism, food insecurity, housing instability, and social isolation and exclusion. By mobilizing artists to collaborate with these communities, we can enhance connection, coping, and wellbeing and create new tools and methods for addressing the current challenges. We can strengthen our communities’ responses and build their resilience.

Public Art and Public Health Advisory Group

To better understand and develop an integrated response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, OPA assembled a Public Art and Public Health Advisory Group. The Advisory Group includes leaders in the fields of public health, community development, and environmental and social justice. As a critical member of the project team, which also includes OPA, Neighborhood Allies, and the Borough of Millvale, the Advisory Group meets regularly with the partnering organizations and artists selected for the program.

Process & Approach

PAC builds on the framework established by OPA and Neighborhood Allies in the pilot Temporary Public Art and Placemaking program launched in 2016. Following this model, the project team selects four partnering organizations who are addressing public health needs in target communities, with the Advisory Group playing a significant role in the selection of the organizations. Through an open-call process, the project team and organizations then select the artists or artist teams with whom they wish to collaborate. The four selected artists or artist teams then work with the organizations to develop place-based projects that address the public health needs identified by the community. Ultimately, four place-based public art and creative placemaking projects will be implemented that increase community resilience and strengthen community responses to the pandemic.

Public Art Training Camp & Workshops

Educational workshops on public art and creative placemaking are a critical component of PAC.

An initial Public Art Training Camp will offer training sessions that are open to both emerging and mid-career artists interested in working in the public realm. Sessions will feature national and local speakers and cover topics including national trends in public art, finding and applying for opportunities, contracts and agreements, insurance for artists and organizations, project budgets, and permits and permissions. Attending Public Art Training Camp is not required to submit an application, but it will prepare artists to submit applications for the PAC open call for artists.

The partnering organizations and artists who are selected for the program will later attend Creative Placemaking Academy. This PAC-specific training provides in-depth training on creative placemaking and public art with a particular focus on the ways in which the arts can contribute to improving local place-based public health outcomes. Project teams will also be trained on developing public art projects, creative placemaking best practices, community engagement strategies, and project implementation. The goal is to build the capacity of the organizations and artists to work in the public realm beyond the program.

Next Steps

Please check back for more information on this program, its upcoming calls for organizations and artists, and project updates, which will be posted on this website when available.

The project is a collaboration between the Office of Public Art, Neighborhood Allies, and the Borough of Millvale, and is funded through the generous support of The Heinz Endowments, the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, and the Our Town program of the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

“Artists are influencers and trusted community members, which is especially important at times when trust in government institutions is in question.”

Image credits

Top to bottom, left to right:
(1) Larimer Seniors, photo by Renee Rosensteel; (2) Opening of Penguin Waddle by artist James Simon, photo courtesy Neighborhood Allies; (3) Homecoming: Hill District, USA by artist Njaimeh Njie, photo by OPA; (4) Larimer Stories by artist John Peña, photo by Renee Rosensteel