Art Strolls: Garfield & East Liberty
A second in a series by Buffalo transplant David Neimanis taking a deeper dive into PGH’s public art community.
While walking around East Liberty you’ll see a unique blend of old and new housing, shops and restaurants, along with surprising pops of public art around each corner. The older shops and murals give a small snapshot of what the area once was, while the newer developments create a completely different feel to the area. These community changes have created controversy in the area, notably within the arts community upon the recent removal of multiple public art installations like Jon Rubin’s cooperative art project, “The Last Billboard.” This raises the question: can development and cultural preservation have a cooperative relationship?
In 2017, development company Alphabet City reached out to one of East Liberty’s cultural treasures, the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, in hopes of creating a public art piece that represented the neighborhood that they were inhabiting. Alphabet City had previously received backlash from the East Liberty community when removing the popular Jordan Monahan mural, “Lend Me Your Ears,” while renovating the building where Duolingo now resides. Aware of the implications of their surroundings, the development group’s partnership with the Kelly Strayhorn Theater has resulted in a widely welcomed installation by artist Deavron Dailey, titled “The Arms of East Liberty” seen below.
Positive efforts made to blend the past and present can be seen at the Ace Hotel, while walking through the lobbies of the century-old YMCA building, and gazing at the reimagined walls full of local art and historic photographs from Pittsburgh’s past. The thoughtful design and inspiring repurposing of space is refreshing, though also serves as a reminder that this part of town has been faced with many changes.
Westward down Penn Ave, in the streets of East Liberty’s neighbor, the conversation is in full force within the Garfield community. The first local gallery that I visited when I moved to Pittsburgh was BOOM Concepts. My first thoughts were that BOOM didn’t quite seem to know what it wanted to be, or perhaps I didn’t know what I wanted it to be. Is it an art gallery? Is it a studio space? Is it a community center? Is it a hangout to test out poetry, music, and new ideas? Well as a matter of fact, yes, it seems to be all of the above, and artists Julie Mallis and D.S. Kinsel have found a way to open up a space that’s welcoming to all ages, ideas, and of course…concepts. As one of the younger groups on the block, they have been able to make their impact by being intrepid and letting go of the limitations that art spaces often present themselves with.
DakaraiAkil’s show at BOOM Concepts
Walking into Silver Eye Center for Photography can be almost overwhelming your first time. At the westbound entranceway to the Penn Ave Arts District lives an impressively curated, perfectly lit, little oasis for professional photography. The clean professionalism creates an amusing juxtaposition to my can of Yuengling on that First Friday’s Unblurred Gallery Crawl. Photographs from all over the world, taken by local, national, and international photographers. Photographs that make you think, awe, and often pull you back for a second look.
Silver Eye’s migration to Penn Ave allowed them to become neighbors with the community-driven galleries that deserve recognition for the area’s art movement. Founded in 2007, Most Wanted Fine Art has flourished by not only providing a home to great art but creating acts of community service and activism, such as providing general contracting training to young men recently released from prison. These men are given the opportunity to earn a wage while learning a trade. Not many “galleries” can proudly take credit for building homes and futures.
These community efforts are worth noting while walking down Penn Ave, whether it be on a lazy afternoon, or on this First Friday’s Unblurred Gallery Crawl, sponsored by the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation. While the Gallery Crawl is a great time to celebrate the artwork of local artists, the efforts of restaurants, and the sounds and smells of the Garfield Night Market, it’s also a great time to talk. Talk to the founders of these galleries and learn about their missions, talk to the locals that have welcomed you into their neighborhood, and talk to those around you about how we can move into the future without losing sight of the cultural identity of these neighborhoods.
Garfield Night Market
Personally, I like to start my stroll in Bloomfield and wander through Garfield to East Liberty, extending beyond the gallery crawl’s boundaries, stopping in galleries, gazing at public art, meeting familiar and unfamiliar faces alike, and then ending the night at the Ace Hotel for one last gallery, a couple drinks, and a reminder of what once was.
Here you can see a few of my favorite spots, with many gems between to the dots. Find your own route and share your favorite art stops in the area!