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 #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 www.ovarts.org or Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/OVArts

Award #36: Pittsburgh’s Smallest Jazz Club

Tiny Jazz ClubImagine hearing jazz outdoors. Not too difficult since Pittsburgh offers many jazz concerts that take place outdoors in nice weather. Take that image up a notch, and picture yourself listening to jazz on your headphones while waiting for the bus in January. Then take your imagination one step further:  your fellow bus patron presses a button attached to the bus shelter; a great swing band tune begins to play. People start tapping their feet. Hips sway. Everyone waiting in the shelter suddenly smiles. Selfies are snapped. It’s unlike any bus shelter experience ever. This could revolutionize the “bus wait.”

This is the idea brought forth by MCG Jazz, whose mission is to preserve, present and promote jazz. According to marketing manager Amy Kline:

“My job is to make a bunch of noise on behalf of MCG Jazz and raise our public profile. Hare-brained ideas are my current specialty. The intent is to promote jazz music as Pittsburgh’s greatest arts export, and to remind people that jazz music–and art–is fun, familiar and everywhere.”

Awesome Pittsburgh’s trustees smiled unanimously when they decided to choose the proposal for one of 2014’s $1000 grants, envisioning a bus patron who pushes a button, only to have an iPod play jazz music from one of MCG Jazz’s Grammy Award winning recordings. The interior walls of a bus shelter will feature images of Pittsburgh’s jazz legends, and a blank “Your Face Here!” space to take a picture of yourself at “Pittsburgh’s Smallest Jazz Club.” Lamar Outdoor, owner of the bus shelters in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, is already on board to help make the project happen.

MCG’s wish is that these recordings reach both a national and international audience. Dean of Awesome Pittsburgh Emily Keebler reports:

“Every Awesome Pittsburgh trustee enthusiastically agreed that this project will strengthen the long time Pittsburgh jazz community and contribute to the overall cultural and artistic diversity of the region.”

To learn more, visit Pittsburgh’s Smallest Jazz Club’s Facebook page. Pittsburgh’s Smallest Jazz Club is on Centre Avenue, less than a block from Consol Energy Center.

Come celebrate with us: Awesome Pittsburgh turns 3!

Celebrate Awesome Pittsburgh’s third anniversary at the Pittsburgh Public Market along with former and future grantwinners, partners, and friends!

Monday, November 10 at 5:30pm – 8:30pm
Pittsburgh Public Market, 2401 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15222

Awesome Pittsburgh is honored to have given grants to 35 awesome projects in Pittsburgh over the past three years. Hear from some of our past winners and learn about our 36th and most recent awardee. In addition, you can get a taste for how hard it is to pick a winning project every month when four awesome projects will pitch their ideas to guest judges who will select a $1,000 grant winner at the party!

We are excited to hold our party at the awesome Pittsburgh Public Market in the Strip District! The Market Kitchen at Pittsburgh Public Market will host tours of their new facility and vendors will be open for snacking and shopping. We hope you’ll join us to support these local businesses and celebrate our third anniversary!

Visit our Facebook page for the latest updates about the event and let us know you are coming. Bring a friend or ten!

Introducing Awesome Asides: Jeb Feldman

Awesome Pittsburgh is only possible because of the people who make it happen – from the grantwinners and trustees to the volunteers and other patrons of awesome who keep this thing going month after month. We decided it was time to find out more about these folks in a new feature called Awesome Asides, where we find out what really makes awesome Pittsburghers tick.

Our first profile features Jeb Feldman, a trustee of Awesome Pittsburgh since its founding in 2011.

Who are you? What do you do for a living?
I’m a New Mexican desert kid who now lives in the shadow of a steel mill in Braddock PA. I live in an old schoolhouse which doubles as Braddock’s only gallery and artist studio spaces. I’ve spent the last 8 years in Braddock working to create or attract positive activities or investment. I’ve found that it’s terrifically satisfying to me to have the opportunity and space to work on creating a better hometown.

Do you have any Sunday morning rituals?
I’m almost always in Frick Park on Sunday morning with my dog. After grabbing some coffee I can wander around mostly foggy headed while the canine lopes around on the trails and in the trees. The woods are a great outdoor spot for waking up.
Jeb
What food or meal could you eat 7 days a week?
Without coffee I’m not sure that I’d even be awake to eat food. Not sure I’ve got a favorite food that completes a meal but I can snack on pistachios and carrots all day long.

What’s the last book you read/piece of music you listened to?
Music: Usually Pandora is playing whatever it wants but I’m still not over listening to Kendrick Lamar.
Book: I just finished a book called the Professor and the Madman. It’s a great book about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. I’m still amazed that English great writers in the 18th century didn’t have a dictionary to reference. I’m reading the latest Lapham’s Quarterly now. Revolution is a great theme to build a curated publication around.

Favorite time of year and why?
Spring is the best. Everything is coming out of the winter including people from their hibernations, days get longer, and it all comes with an awesome collective optimism. People all begin to start thinking about all the projects and things they want to do with long productive and happy warm days ahead.

Why are you glad you are a part of Awesome Pittsburgh?
I like the idea of being involved in micro-funding since macro-funding can be so unwieldy. Having a small group of people pitch in together to do this on a monthly basis is an ingenious way to make this happen. I like that we can affect and benefit greater Pittsburgh by providing this as a local resource for projects here. I also personally really like seeing all the projects that people in the area would like to see happen here.

Can you name a project (whether it be an applicant or grant winner) that you found to be most awesome?
Without specifying a project, I’ve always appreciated the projects that are a little more renegade and are intended to make Pittsburgh cooler through quirky or pleasing interventions or amenities that may not even be overtly attributable to someone.We’ve got a lot of room in Pittsburgh to do cool things if people are interested in using this space.

Announcing our 16th Winner: Knit the Bridge

We all know our bridges are pretty awesome. So, how do you make them even more awesome? Take color and fiber and an army of knitters and turn one of the “three sisters” into an enormous community-led public art installation: you Knit the Bridge.

KnittheBridge

Led by an idea sparked by Amanda Goss, a growing community of knitting enthusiasts plan to attempt one of the largest “yarn bombs” in the world. In recent years, yarn-bombing–a type of street art where everyday objects and fixtures in public spaces are covered with yarn–has become a popular movement that has drastically increased the popularity of what was once deemed a lost art form.

The group behind Knit the Bridge hopes to “literally and figuratively weave the region together,” by yarn-bombing one of the three sisters bridges in the summer/fall of 2013.  The installation will be made by over 400 volunteers from across the region in advance, and many segments have already been submitted.  When it is removed, sections will be distributed to local shelters and community living facilities to be reused as blankets and wall hangings.

“Knit the Bridge is a dynamic art project that brings together diverse groups from throughout our community and embraces one of Pittsburgh most distinct assets, our bridges,” said Mary Ellen Solomon, Awesome Pittsburgh Trustee. “It’s a colorful way to engage people and to celebrate the region’s thriving arts scene. Knit the Bridge is just one more cool idea that makes Pittsburgh awesome.”

Awesome Pittsburgh is excited that Knit the Bridge will be giving a demonstration at its upcoming quarterly award party on Tuesday, April 30th.  The Awesome Pittsburgh party is from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Union Project at 801 N. Negley Avenue in Highland Park.  The event is free and open to the public.

For more information on the Knit the Bridge project and to volunteer to knit a section, interested parties can visit knitthebridge.wordpress.com or facebook.com/knitthebridge.  

Announcing our 14th Winner: Juice Up 412!

Juice_Up_412_Staff_and_Customers
More than just an awesome way to quench your thirst, Juice Up 412 is a social enterprise that uses their products – delicious and unique fruit and vegetable juices – to educate underserved communities about health, wellness and nutrition as well as food justice.

Juice Up has already generated buzz with their pop-up juice bars around the city -including a featured appearance at Awesome Pittsburgh’s 1st Birthday Party – but they have even bigger plans to engage the community and find ways to remedy health disparities in low-investment communities. Juice Up 412’s Majestic Lane explains:
Our vision is to bring innovative juices to the area through diverse, creative media and inspire a broader conversation about access & behavioral norms in order to educate and empower traditionally underserved demographics regarding health & wellness.

The grant money will help to fund their first effort: the “I Juice” Campaign, a short video that highlights local thought leaders and changemakers to explain the importance of ‘juicing’ as well as the benefits a healthy diet can provide.  This short grassroots video will be shared throughout social media to raise awareness of the Juice Up 412 project as well as introduce general health and nutritional concepts to the community. In addition, the Juice Up crew will host a three-part film series, showing topical films in open neighborhood spaces. These Movie Nights will also feature juicing demonstrations, presentations from local food and health industry experts, and a forum for conversation and community action.

Find out more about Juice Up 412 by following them on Twitter or liking them on Facebook and try some of their juice today!

Awesome Pittsburgh awards $1,000 grants on a monthly basis to individuals or groups who propose ways of making Pittsburgh stand out in the global economy, connect our communities, or celebrate art or technology and make the city a better place to live, work and play. Submit your short proposal here.