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

EVENT: New-Fashioned Funding – Which One is Right for Your Awesome Idea?

New-Fashioned Funding partners

Calling all artists, innovators, entrepreneurs, dreamers…

Do you have an awesome idea in need of funding? On February 4th, Awesome Pittsburgh and Fygment invite you to learn about some of the nontraditional funding sources available to Pittsburghers.  Special guests from Indiegogo will give tips for running a successful crowdfunding campaign and will then be joined by a panel of representatives from local funding sources to discuss the in’s and out’s of their programs.  A q&a session at the end will help you to figure out which option is the best fit for your project.

Visit the event page for additional details and to register – space is limited!  We hope to see there!

New Fashioned Funding: Which One is Right for Your Awesome Idea?

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.

Award #35: Iron Garden Walk


Our 35th awardee celebrates the partnership of the Penn State Master Gardener Program, local Pittsburgh artists, and Rivers of Steel. The Iron Garden Walk interprets the interplay between wild gardens and a living laboratory, and explores the ideas of sustainability at the Carrie Furnaces, located in Rankin, PA.
The partners have created interpretive cast iron plaques that tell an interactive narrative to the wild gardens that have overtaken the former industrial site. This project harkens back to the original use of the blast furnace and the role of cast iron in our region. The $1,000 grant supported the creation and installation of the stands for the cast iron plaques. The plaques were created with input from the Master Gardeners and a multi-disciplinary team of professionals and volunteers from science, art, history and industry. The result is a series of twelve cast iron plaques that will lead visitors on a guided tour of the wild gardens in 2015.

“The Iron Garden Walk at the Carrie Furnaces illustrates the evolution of a derelict blast furnace into a cultural and historical landmark. With the installation of the interpretive plaques, visitors to the site will be able to understand the reclamation of the area by nature and how it has contributed to the overall renaissance of the Carrie Furnaces.  For years, it was thought that nothing would ever grow at the furnace and it has since become a refuge for plants and animals, as well as a gathering space for those who celebrate its place in history and in the future,” explains Evelyn Castillo, one of Awesome Pittsburgh’s newest trustees.

The cast iron plaques, created during the October event “Carrie Furnaces Iron Pour” will include botanical illustrations of the local plant community that highlight identifiable features such as bark, fruit and leaf. The plaques’ three-dimensionality allows visitors to take rubbings with charcoal and paper.

To learn more about this project, visit

Award #34: Ramble League


Katie Ford’s recent project, Ramble League, uses the intimate, co-working experience of a tandem bicycle ride as the start for conversations with local artists. Ford is an artist and printmaker exploring social and spatial relationships. She moved to Pittsburgh in 2012, intrigued by its emergent cultural scene and what she senses is a “collective momentum” of artistic growth. Ford invites participating artists to plan a bike route based on places that resonate with their work— whether through personal, historical, or conceptual significance.

Ford will chronicle the ongoing project through short video features at  Over time, the accumulation of this documentation will form an evolving portrait of Pittsburgh’s artist community.

Says Ford, “With this open format and irregular context, we invite chance encounters and unplanned interactions. Tandem biking demands communication, trust, and a surrendering of control—as do great conversations. It will be humble and candid, equalizing and intimate.”

The Awesome Pittsburgh grant is being used to obtain the equipment necessary to make the bike road-ready and to document each ride. As co-founding trustee Mike Capsambelis explains, “We loved this because it starts with a great conversation – an artist discussing their work – and takes it on location around the city in such a unique and elegant way: on a bicycle built for two.”

You can also follow Ramble League at its Tumblr site.