Public Art and Communities Program

The Public Art and Communities program (PAC) supports artists and communities in working together to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and its intersecting public health crises. From 2021-2023, four artists – Jason McKoy, Nola Mims, Rell Rushin, and Lindsey Peck Scherloum – will be working in collaboration with their community-based partners to develop and implement four works of temporary public art in Pittsburgh communities. These artworks will address not only the immediate impact of COVID-19 on these communities, but also intersecting crises such as racism, food insecurity, social isolation, and mental health.

People talking near the artwork Hilltop Waddle

Through partnerships between artists and communities, creative place-based strategies will be developed to strengthen community response and build resilience to the many public health issues that have been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

An Arts-Based Response to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented public health crisis that has overturned lives and work. 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 multiple public health risks, including mental health, racism, food insecurity, housing instability, and social isolation and exclusion. By supporting artists to collaborate with these communities, we can enhance connection, coping, and wellbeing and create new tools and methods for addressing the current challenges.

Creative Placemaking and Place-Based Strategies

Through PAC, artists will collaborate with communities to address their needs through place-based strategies and creative placemaking practices. Place-based strategies respond to the immediate context of a specific community or neighborhood. Creative placemaking, like place-based strategies, is closely tied to a specific place. Creative placemaking occurs when the creative practices of artists are fully engaged to collaboratively shape the public spaces of our region and catalyze community-led change.

Call for Organizational Partners, 2020

PAC builds on the framework established by OPA and Neighborhood Allies in the pilot Temporary Public Art and Placemaking program launched in 2016. In Fall 2020, the following four community-based organizational partners were selected through an open call process:

  • The Brashear Association
  • Etna Community Organization with Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization (ECO + SNO)
  • Frogang
  • Steel Smiling

Each of the organizational partners identified a specific public health issue as a focal point for their collaboration with an artist. To read more about each partner’s mission and issue of focus, follow this link to the Public Art and Communities Program press release: https://opapgh.org/news/public-art-and-communities-program-release-call-for-artists/.

Call for Artists & Project Development, 2021

After the organizational partners were onboard, a Call for Artists was released on February 1, 2021. The project team supported the organizational partners in selecting the artists with whom they wished to collaborate.

Artists Jason McKoy, Nola Mims, and Rell Rushin, and Lindsey Peck Scherloum will work with their organizational partners from 2021 through the end of 2022 to develop and implement 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 from 2022 to 2023 that increase community resilience and strengthen community responses to the pandemic.

Public Art and Public Health Advisory Group

To better understand and develop an integrated response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, the project team 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 contributor to the program, the Advisory Group meets regularly with the partnering organizations and artists selected for the program.

Public Art and Communities Symposium

In October 2020, OPA and Neighborhood Allies presented a symposium on the intersection of public art and public health as part of the Public Art and Communities Program. The Public Art and Communities Symposium, offered online, featured two days of national and local speakers. Presenters discussed socially and civically engaged public art practices and shared place-based projects aimed at supporting and improving community public health. To learn more about the Symposium, please visit this link: https://opapgh.org/news/public-art-and-communities-virtual-symposium/.

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

All images are from Temporary Public Art and Placemaking, a pilot program co-led by OPA and Neighborhood Allies from 2016 to 2019.

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) Terri Baltimore leads tour of historic Hill District, photo by OPA; (4) The Village, part of Homecoming: Hill District, USA by artist Njaimeh Njie, photo by OPA; (5) Larimer Stories by artist John Peña, photo by Renee Rosensteel

Artworks & Partnerships

Jason McKoy with Etna Community Organization and Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization

Installations of digital windows in public space will promote connection, collaboration, and creativity in two sister neighborhoods.

Lindsey Peck Scherloum with The Brashear Association, Inc.

Founded on community members' stories of food, this project builds awareness of and support for a local food pantry.

Nola Mims with Steel Smiling

This trauma-informed creative workshop series explores art and movement as a form of healing for an inaugural group of Black mental health advocates in Pittsburgh.

Rell Rushin with Frogang Foundation, Inc.

Created in collaboration with the girls of Frogang, a series of visual artworks installed in the neighborhood of Beltzhoover affirm the importance of self-love and sisterhood.