Artisan Leaves a Mark on Awesome Pittsburgh Trustees

ArtisanIn 2011, in an empty store front on Penn Avenue in Garfield, artists Meliora and Jason Angst opened Artisan, a tattoo shop and art gallery. Artisan has since grown into a community of artists whose renowned abilities are considered “sophisticatedly stylish.” Plans were in place to open a café and a hostel hosting global artists and to continue using the renovated, vintage-inspired first floor to showcase local and global artists. However, these dreams were deflated upon receiving news that their building needed to comply with city code, which would require ADA-accessible bathrooms, a 3-story fire escape, and other small projects. Artisan, along with other businesses, suffered because of the recent Penn Avenue re-construction project and this news made their future that much more bleak.

Enter their indiegogo campaign, Mellora explains:

“Our story is one of passion and of pursuit of beauty in the face of obstacles. Artisan’s community is dedicated to creating beauty – on the body, in the building, and in the city of Pittsburgh. We have done well so far, but the difficulty has been in maintaining the momentum.”

Awesome Pittsburgh’s $1000 grant will be added to funds from their recent campaign to help Artisan complete the required rehabbing of 5001 Penn Avenue.

Longtime Awesome Pittsburgh trustee Leah Helou was impressed with Artisan’s dedication, persistence, and potential:

“We liked Artisan’s project not just because of what they have already done for the community, but also because of their potential to do so much more. And they want to do more. They are a unique group of people with fantastic ideas and a wealth of talent. Artisan has struggled a bit recently and this grant signifies a moment for us, as community members, to show that we value Artisan and its contributions.”

Awesome in Braddock: Our Live Pitch Night Happens June 15th!


Every month, Awesome Pittsburgh trustees award one $1,000 grant to a project that will make Pittsburgh a more awesome place. The selection process has always happened behind closed doors… until now!

Please join us for a Live Pitch event at The Brew Gentleman in Braddock on June 15th from 6:00 to 8:30 PM. Four Awesome Pittsburgh finalists will pitch their ideas to the crowd and our panel of superstar Braddock judges:

  • Phyllis Brown, lifelong Braddock resident and community advocate
  • Gisele Fetterman, founder of The Free Store in Braddock and cofounder of Food Rescue 412
  • Kevin Sousa, celebrated serial chef and founder of Superior Motors

Food and beer will be available for purchase from the PGH Taco Truck and (of course) the Brew Gentleman themselves.

Let us know you’re coming by registering here.

May 25th! Special deadline this month for upcoming Live Pitch event

new deadline

Planning to apply for an Awesome Pittsburgh grant for June? Apply by May 25 and you will be considered for a chance to pitch in front of a live audience and panel of judges at our next party on June 15th.

Award #40: Pittonkatonk Collaborative Educational Workshop

Pittonkatonk crowd 2“Pittonkatonk” does not roll off the tongue easily. It sounds like an unfamiliar Native American tribe or perhaps a mechanical part to repair an obscure instrument. But it is neither. What it is, however, is worthy of an Awesome Pittsburgh grant.

So what is it? Pittonkatonk is a first-of-its-kind brass festival which is completely volunteer run.The event itself has no stages, no vending, and there is no admissions fee. The festival is supported by crowdfunding, on-site donations, and CMU’s Center for the Arts in Society. Also missing are food trucks or catering; instead attendees are encouraged to contribute a dish to the potluck. This year’s event will include over 100 performers, including national and local bands and takes place this upcoming Saturday, May 2 in Schenley Park.

Pittonkatonk is the brainchild of Pete Spynda and Rich Randall. Pete is one of the city’s most prominent event producers and DJs who is responsible for Pandemic, Weather Permitting and has served as the Director of Operations for the Bayardstown Social Club. Rich works as a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and works with the Listening Spaces Project to understand how music can be used at grassroots levels for positive social change.

The inaugural festival first took place in May 2014 and this year hopes to be just as free and family-friendly but attract larger crowds. Pittonkatonk is more than a musical festival; its focus is on community. “It’s about bringing together people who might otherwise never convene, and blurring the line between performer and spectator,” says Spynda.

Awesome Pittsburgh’s grant supports a youth workshop component to the festival. On April 20, students learned how street music has been used to send a message for change and discussed the strengths and limitations of an acoustic mobile band.  On Friday, May 1st, one of the visiting bands will meet with students and rehearse for a collaborative performance to take place as part of Saturday’s festivities.  This educational component has been a longtime goal of Mr. Spynda’s and he’s thrilled to see this goal materialize.

To learn more, visit

Award #39: Busk Street Stage

You may be hearing some soulful tunes emanating from a corner in Squirrel Hill in the near future, thanks to our latest grantwinner, Busk Street Stage. Eric Sloss is the man behind this idea; an artist, writer and creative strategist for Shift Collaborative, he started a busker advocacy program for buskers over a decade ago but is now reworking the effort to be more performance-based. Busk Street Stage is an effort of Busker Street Union, a program of Shift Collaborative.buskstreetstage

Busking, or street performing, is a centuries-old tradition of entertainers performing for tips in public areas. Buskers attract the public into an area and encourage them to browse from performer to store to restaurant and back to performer. This creates a mutually beneficial commercial environment for the stores, performers and the public. According to Sloss:

“Public performance enlivens city streets, makes urban areas safer because of the activity, and provides an alternative venue to those who traditionally perform indoors. With the wonderful support of Awesome Pittsburgh we will be able to explore new ways to support those performers who want to take to the streets and make our city neighborhoods sing.”

As a way to encourage street performance in Pittsburgh, Busk Street Stage will brand and build an outdoor area in which diverse performers will have the freedom to perform on city streets legally. They plan to work with local civic leaders, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill and NextGen:Pgh to build and promote the effort. This will offer a safe place for performers to busk and find new audiences. Awesome Pittsburgh trustee Pete Maher recaps:

“Awesome Pittsburgh is proud to support Busk Street Stage and its efforts to preserve the centuries-old tradition of street performance.  Buskers play an important role in vitalizing the streets of Pittsburgh, and we hope that our grant will help support local performers, provide a meaningful source of public entertainment, and draw audiences to local business districts.”

Money will go toward building an outdoor staging area on the corner of Murray and Forbes Avenues, with additional support going toward promotion and performer recruitment. The hope is to launch the stage by late May. Shift Collaborative also hopes to deploy stages in more area neighborhoods. Email Eric Sloss if your community is interested in hosting a street stage.

Award #38: Gender Wage Inequality Made More Palpable by 76<100

76<100 sample merchandise76<100, a retail pop-up shop created to raise awareness of gender wage inequality, is the latest recipient of an Awesome Pittsburgh grant. The eponymous project reflects the U.S. Dept. of Labor statistic showing that the median earnings of full time female workers in Pennsylvania are 76% of that of males.

During the month of April, 76<100 will sell work by women artists, including many from the region.  Handmade ceramics, textiles, stationery, packaged food and more will be available, and their prices will reflect the current wage gap: male shoppers will be charged 100% of the retail price of an item, while women will be charged just 76%.

Graphic designer Elana Schlenker, the project’s progenitor, recognizes the wage gap as a complex issue: “Beyond simply raising awareness of the wage gap, we hope to serve as a hub for local women and girls. We’ve organized programming that fosters dialogue, provides practical advice related to this issue, and empowers women to recognize their full value.”

Programming will include a negotiation workshop with CMU’s Program for Research and Outreach on Gender Equity in Society; a panel with local women entrepreneurs hosted by Kate Stoltzfus and Emily Levenson of Propelle; an intergenerational community reporting project lead by Margaret J. Krauss, producer of 90.5 WESA Celebrates Inventing Pittsburgh; and a bus tour of Pittsburgh lead by artist Casey Droege. Details can be found on the 76<100 website.

The project runs from April 1-30 at 4901 Penn Avenue in Garfield and coincides with Equal Pay Day (April 14). An opening reception will be held during Unblurred First Fridays on Penn from 6-10pm on April 3.  Store hours will be 12-7pm Tuesdays through Sundays.  

Award #37: Operation Valor Arts

OVarts at work

Monuments interpreting the experience of the American soldier and sailor are typically designed and built by professional artists with no military experience. That’s why Operation Valor Arts’ grant-winning project struck a chord with the trustees this month. Operation Valor Arts: A Veterans Initiative is a new veteran non-profit in Pittsburgh wherein public artwork is produced by veterans, for veterans. OVArts puts the creative power in the hands of the men and women who have lived as soldiers and sailors; they are being given access to design education and guidance from experts in design, fabrication, and documentation of monument construction. As a byproduct, OVArts helps veterans transition to meaningful civilian careers. Participating veterans receive hands-on training and experience, meet local professionals in the region, and are paid a training stipend.

OVArts aims to highlight the incredible skill and strength of veterans. Says Board Secretary Christina Sarson:

“I am committed to making this project succeed. There are currently no monuments dedicated to OEF/OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom] veterans. As the yellow ribbons come down and negative perceptions about veterans’ issues abound, I want to have big, elaborate public art pieces all over Pittsburgh–and eventually nationally–that scream, ‘Look at what veterans can do!’”

Christina herself is a U.S. Army veteran (OIF II and 06-07) and landscape architect (graduate of Chatham University). She and the OVArts team not only want to send a positive reminder of all veterans’ service, but also a recognition that most veterans are not broken or in need of charity. Instead, OVArts sees veterans as they are – extraordinarily motivated, capable, and creative members of the community.

OVArts is launching its pilot project in honor of Sergeant Thomas E. Vandling, Jr., who gave his life during his second tour in Iraq. Their project design team has secured a project site and plans to begin construction this summer. Awesome Pittsburgh’s grant money will pay for training stipends and office/classroom space. ALL efforts are in direct support of the pilot project for Sergeant Vandling.

Operation Valor Arts is a 501c3 non-profit organization committed to assisting Veterans with education, training, and entrepreneurship while they design and construct public art to honor those who served. OVArts was created in 2011 by a diverse group of community leaders, health scientists, and Veterans who came together to explore an innovative approach to addressing issues facing transitioning Veterans. To learn more, visit or Like us on Facebook at