Each year artists are encouraged to submit applications to Sprout Public Art in hopes of being selected to share their artistic vision by completing a mural in a local community. Eligible artists must reside in the Western Pennsylvania region which includes Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Bedford, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Mercer, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties. The guidelines of the Sprout Public Art project state, “Artists that are chosen as final muralists by the communities are paid competitive artist fees determined by the size of the mural. All supplies, materials and design and artist fees are provided by Sprout Public Art and murals are provided at no financial cost to participating communities.”
“The first comment out of everyone’s mouth is usually, I’m so happy we’re finally going to cover up this run-down wall with something pretty!” Taylor Shields, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s Fine Arts program, was one of the artists selected to participate in this year’s Sprout Public Art project. She speaks for “Dormont: 100 Years Young,” a spiritually enticing mural which spans across the wall of the Antique Exchange at 2938 West Liberty Avenue. “Dormont is interesting because it’s a historic neighborhood with a lot of pride but it is also experiencing a kind of renewal . . . as the city expands; Dormont is changing and featuring different age groups, business types, community interests, etc. I wanted to stress the history while also keeping the focus on the future—so Dormont is viewed as 100 years young instead of 100 years old.”
Dormont is one of eight neighborhoods Sprout Public Art has selected for “visual landscape enhancement,” a.k.a. building-size murals which not only showcase qualities of the targeted neighborhood, but hope also to inspire passersby. Since 2003, Sprout has been awarding grants to communities in an attempt to strengthen the bond between the communal spirit and the flourishing public artist—something which has resulted in the astonishing development of over 45 enriching works of public art. In an attempt to bridge the disconnect between community members and urban landscapes within Pittsburgh, Sprout has funded artists like Shields who, when asked to express her own experience, replies, “The community has been great! Everyone is so excited about the mural and has given interesting input. When I’m painting, many people stop to ask questions or voice their support. It really makes a difference to know that the community is so invested in this project, and it makes the value of Sprout’s organization extremely clear.”
Jeffrey Schrekengost, a graphic designer who has lived in Pittsburgh since 1987, enjoyed both the experience and challenge in developing a hand-painted mural in the small business district of Morningside.
“It was a really rewarding experience. Most of the time when doing artwork and music, I deal with the same groups of people—they know what to expect from me and I know what most people want when they request a piece of art for a project. The subject matter of my work is usually strange since I’ve been obsessed with horror and sci-fi movies since I was a kid. Working with this community was quite a different experience for me. Doing a large public art piece, I knew it wouldn’t/couldn’t be too strange. It was great to work with them—creating an image that all of us would enjoy.”
The title of Schrekengost’s mural is “Good Morning” and can be found on the corner of Greenwodd and Chislett street on the wall of a small, locally owned convenience store. The mural features large soaring birds (one blue and one red) above a small sun-layered hilly village. According to Schrekengost, his original mural-design involved three large garden gnomes riding zoo animals. “Three large garden gnomes riding zoo animals are a hard match for any community, but they were still very interested in having me paint something.”
Garden gnomes aside, many residents of Morningside have since welcomed Schrekengost’s mural with much praise. “A compliment can go a long way and I hope the mural I’ve left behind compliments the town. After spending so much time there, Morningside is my new favorite Pittsburgh neighborhood!”
On Sept 16, numerous citizens of Greenfield, Pa gathered at the wall of the PNC bank on Murray Avenue to partake in the festivities surrounding the dedication of the neighborhood’s second Sprout Fund Mural. Western Pennsylvanian artist, Ian F. Thomas, was the man behind the 40 x 90 ft. mural which turned out to be a considerably vibrant community spectacle. Food and music-friendly events were organized by local volunteers from Connect Greenfield. Pittsburgh’s City Council President, Doug Shields, was just one of many guest speakers who crashed the party.
“Whether you’re new here or a life-long resident, we provide opportunities to get involved in your community.” Volunteers of Connect Greenfield effectively demonstrated their mission statement by providing performances by local musician, John Young, as well as a performance from “funk” rock band, Argyll’s Revenge. Sprout’s Public Art Program manager, Curt Gettman, also made an appearance at the unveiling of Thomas’ mural. Since joining the Sprout staff in May of 2007, Gettman has also co-founded the Pittsburgh-based Unicorn Mountain collective, which is a literary venue best known for its national distribution of anthologies featuring work from musicians, comic illustrators, painters, writers and screen print artists.
Thomas’ mural received heavy praise from Greenfield residents—some members of the community even stopped by to lend a hand during what was referred to as, “Community Painting Day.” Thomas is also known for his sculptures, paintings and ceramic works which often explore the stylized innocence of childhood imagination.
One thing is certain—it seems imagination is one element this year’s muralists have put to good use.