Award #27: An Orchard for Isaac

31 Jan


Behind every awesome idea stands an awesome pig.  Or so veterinary surgeon Karen Phillips would argue.

Her work at both the Western PA Humane Society and the Animal Rescue League opened her eyes to the growing number of unwanted farm animals. Inspired by Isaac, a stray pig found on the Pittsburgh city streets in mid-winter, Dr. Phillips founded the Hope Haven Farm Sanctuary in 2013. Hope Haven’s mission is to rescue neglected pigs, goats, sheep, and poultry who have been surrendered at animal shelters, confiscated by local humane agents, or saved from factory farms. It took Karen over three years to find a property in Franklin Park with enough pasture land for a farm whose proximity was close enough to the city to entice visitors.  She spent an additional year clearing the property (an old junkyard), acquiring proper zoning, installing the barn and fencing, and filling out the paperwork to become an official non-profit organization.

Karen applied for an Awesome Pittsburgh grant, requesting funds specifically for an orchard in Isaac’s memory. Unfortunately, Isaac only lived on the sanctuary for two months before he died from a neurological disorder. He was a wonderful ambassador for the farm, and a new fruit orchard will honor him and ensure that he continues to inspire and educate all who visit.

The plan is to situate the orchard next to a pond.  A variety of fruit bearing trees will be planted, i.e. apple (a pig favorite), pear, and peach.  The orchard will provide nutritious fruit for all the sanctuary’s deserving animals and will help control feed costs.  In addition, the trees will act as protective cover to over 30 ducks and geese who frequent the pond.  The fruit trees’ substantial branches will shield them from predators such as hawks and owls. A natural walking path through the trees will be part of the visitor experience, expanding the sanctuary’s tours out of the barn and onto the land.

Says Awesome Trustee Leah Helou,

“This project really spoke to me because there is such a strong need for places offering sanctuary to farm animals who are turned over to shelters.  Karen’s idea to plant an orchard that will help feed more than 80 animals, give them shelter from predators, and beautify their haven is fantastic.  This is such simple and pure project, and yet it meets several needs and provides critical sustainability to Hope Haven Farm.”

The grant will enable the purchase of large, mature fruit trees from a reputable local nursery, and will pay for planting and maintenance equipment and organic insect sprays and fertilizers.  In order to ensure a proper installation of the orchard, Karen plans to collaborate with the knowledgeable staffs at both Grow Pittsburgh and The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation.

Karen shared her unbridled enthusiasm with all the trustees after she found out she had received the grant:

“We are extremely excited about this opportunity to strengthen our non-profit sanctuary, nourish our deserving animals, and educate and enlighten a Pittsburgh audience. We are very appreciative for the opportunity to bring this project to fruition, and we are honored to be the first animal-oriented project funded by Awesome Pittsburgh.”

Hope Haven Farm invites you to track its progress, volunteer, and even donate through its website and Facebook page

Award #26: Kiss for Peace!

14 Jan

Kiss for PeaceLast month’s Awesome Pittsburgh grant was awarded to Nima Dehghani and Behzad Tabibian, for their winsome Kiss for Peace! Project. It seemed particularly well-timed for the holidays; the project promotes peace, love and hope—ideas which are especially inspirational between the end of an old year and the start of a new one.

Nima is an artist, director and playwright who is currently enrolled in the MFA program at CMU. Behzad Tabibian is a Master of Information Science student at the University of Pittsburgh. Their goal? To reduce misunderstanding and bring people in Iran and the United States closer together.

The project asks both Iranian and American citizens to post photos of themselves blowing kisses. On November 4, the anniversary of the 1979 embassy takeover in Tehran, Nima and Behzad used their web site and Facebook page to motivate readers to blow a kiss and post the photo. “Come on – 34 years of hostility is enough. Let’s move on,” the site declares. To show their willingness to overcome a history of hostile relations, participants added personal messages of friendship. The site enthusiastically received more than 300 pictures in two days from Iranians and Americans, including sentiments such as:

  • “Let’s start a new era with a kiss”
  • “Iranian people love American people”
  • “After 30 years of distrust now it’s time to shake hands”

The mutual affection which was visually revealed made a huge impact; the story was picked up by several international news agencies including the BBC. In fact, more than 168,000 people have visited its site since the launch.

 “Promoting peace and mutual understanding between the people of Iran and the U.S. is both smart and downright awesome. Kiss for Peace! is a successful online project and this public performance invites Pittsburghers to participate in a timely political dialogue,” says former Awesome Pittsburgh Trustee Ayanah Moor.

This public performance component is part of a broader project called Netformance, in which political issues are taken out of their conventional context and infused with a fresh perspective dependent entirely on user participation.

Explains Dehghani, “In light of Pittsburgh’s long history in embracing creative art works, we would like to project images on a city building, to invite observers and pedestrians of Pittsburgh to participate in real time and post their photos (their kisses!) on the website which then will be projected back on the building. With enough public participation, the campaign could receive wide media coverage and to help create a more positive political atmosphere for the two countries to resolve their differences and move towards a warming of relations.”

Netformance places audience at the heart of an art work and looks to use innovative technology in an effort to have people’s opinions heard. The founders are looking for an appropriate building location for the project; they are currently considering Bakery Square, Market Square, Station Square, the cultural district or downtown as potential spaces. You can follow their current project, “Letters from Iran,” at

Award #25: The Drop Project

14 Dec



Our 25th award goes to Ann Payne and Kristen Reynolds, two graduate students of Chatham University’s Falk School of Sustainability. Their vision is to grow and diversify watershed stewardship by increasing awareness of the human-water relationship as well as promoting lifestyle choices that support a healthier watershed.

Their vision will come to life through The Drop Project, an interactive exhibit designed by Payne, Reynolds, and their faculty mentor, Dr. Molly Mehling, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Sustainability at the Falk School. The award-winning project idea will include a month-long series of exhibits and activities held at Assemble, a community space for arts and technology, in Garfield’s Penn Avenue arts district. This project serves as their master’s thesis and it is the first exhibit of Water Connects, Mehling’s long-term, art-science project to improve water quality in the region.

Ann is a visual storyteller, marketer, and wordsmith. Kristen is a geoscientist, avid kayaker, and water nerd. Dr. Mehling is an aquatic-landscape ecotoxicologist, photographer, and sustainability professor. Together, their goal is to demonstrate the plausibility of a collective sustainable future for all. The Drop Project will allow the participants to have a sensory experience that draws them into a stream ecosystem. Visitors will bump their way through stream rocks made from used fabrics and will learn about the visible and invisible pollution that stress our waterways, which includes everything from plastic to pharmaceuticals. They will engage in creative, unconventional approaches to allow visitors to understand the problems, but also the personal practices, or “little drops” that can truly make a difference.

A major objective for The Drop Project is to connect stakeholders and provide a playful experience to learn about water. Water is a valuable and contentious resource in the Pittsburgh region and around the world. The Drop Project seeks to connect communities to action organizations, government agencies to non-profits, artists to scientists, and recreationalists to resource managers. Ann and Kristen plan to use goods from Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse and make as much by hand as possible, thereby using the grant money to go towards the purchase of additional materials for the April exhibit at Assemble, as well as toward web site and basic project promotion. The Drop Project is to be completed by mid-summer of 2014, with the exhibit in April.

You can join Awesome Pittsburgh in donating to the project by visiting its website and you can follow its project on Facebook and Twitter.

Award #24: PittMesh

8 Nov

PittMeshTwo years ago, Meta Mesh founder Adam Longwill wanted to make a private Wi-Fi connection to his friends’ houses. After testing various antenna designs and routing technologies for a year, he decided not to limit his network to just his friends. He recruited a team on-line, and one year ago, founded his company, Meta Mesh, LLC, to build a free, public wireless network. One month ago, he became a Certified Wireless Network Administrator. Today, Awesome Pittsburgh is backing this awesome idea.

Adam’s idea has grown into a project to build a city-wide wireless mesh network, called PittMesh, wherein each access point is independently owned so that there is no single point of failure or control.  Anyone with a wireless-enabled device can connect to the network and anyone with a compatible wireless router will be able to expand the network. His team designed the PittMesh so that anyone can join by buying and configuring inexpensive, commercially available Wi-Fi hardware.

A mesh network eliminates the centralized middleman of a traditional Internet Service Provider (ISP). Instead of traffic going through a series of Internet routers potentially hundreds of miles away, a mesh network’s traffic is routed by the shortest and fastest possible path locally.  By eschewing a traditional ISP, users can enjoy the benefits of more secure privacy and of low-cost connectivity within a geographic area. Members of the PittMesh Network will gain access to all the local resources and anonymity that an “off-the-grid” network affords, while simultaneously expanding the network even further.

Adam provides background:

“This is a novel but not new method of networking. Mesh networking has the potential to change the way we communicate within a geographic area, to disrupt ISP monopolies, and to solve the networking privacy issues that have recently come to light. The solution is low-cost, low-maintenance, community-owned wireless routers placed throughout neighborhoods.”

Says Awesome Trustee Mike Capsambelis,

“We are excited to help Meta Mesh pilot a wireless mesh network in Pittsburgh. We were impressed by the technical elegance of their approach — a distributed, intelligent wireless network with no single point of failure — and by the fact that it shifts the power of connectivity from corporations to the community. We’d love to see this spread through neighborhoods throughout the city and offer people a true alternative to traditional Internet providers.”

Awesome Pittsburgh’s $1,000 grant will enable the purchase of necessary routers and antennas.  While the project is in early stages, there are ways to become involved now. Meta Mesh has produced a short video about PittMesh which concisely explains the basic principles behind the project.  Currently, interested parties can contact Adam directly to donate or volunteer to be a wireless node host in the South Side. Meta Mesh will provide and install a free wireless router.

Join Us at the Awesome Pgh Party Nov. 7

2 Nov

Our next Awesome Pittsburgh party is:

Win Prizes!  Match your wits and trivia skills with other Awesome Pittsburghers as we all play along with Buzz Worthy Pub Trivia.

Meet Our Recent Award Winners!  Jasmine Cho of Cupcakes and Culture / Yummyholic, will be there to talk about her series of Asian culture inspired events for young professionals. Brandon Boan will tell us about Tip Type – the Linotype and photo lithography studio he is re-creating out of the former business of his mentor, Rudy Lehman, with help from an Awesome Pgh grant. And, we will announce our yet-to-be-revealed October award winner – our 24th award!

Meet the Awesome Pgh Trustees! Do you have an awesome idea and are wondering if it would be a good candidate for an Awesome award? Is your project all planned out but you aren’t sure what information to include in your application? Come to the party to catch one of our Trustees and get his/her feedback so you can optimize your application.

Meet Other Awesome People!  Just come to the party to meet others excited by innovative ideas and have an awesome time!

Award #23: Tip Type

25 Oct

The study of language and objects looms large in the life of local artist Brandon Boan, who currently lives and works in Wilkinsburg. Recently dedicating himself to the practice of typesetting and lithography, Boan plans to have a working linotype shop with photo lithography capabilities up and running by next year. Brandon named the shop “Tip Type” and will carry on the practice of “hot metal type” started by his friend and mentor, Rudy Lehman.

Rudy Lehman ran his business, Lehman Typesetting, in Wilkinsburg from 1957 until his death in January 2013. His shop housed a complete and classic working Linotype machine, a rarity in modern America. Following Rudy’s death, Rudy’s family told Brandon that metal scrappers were coming to haul away the Linotype equipment in the shop. Brandon asked them to please cancel that plan. Rudy’s wife, who is a graphic designer by trade, was delighted that someone wanted to save the shop and ever since that conversation, Brandon has been raising money to buy the shop and the equipment while developing new work to be produced in the space.

Tip Type will be a working Linotype and photo lithography studio, available for projects by artists in Pittsburgh and beyond. Since the learning curve of linotype-casting is quite steep, Brandon attended Linotype University, an intensive course held at the Working Linotype Museum in Denmark, Iowa during the entire month of September. The course was a labor of love and preservation and offered at no cost to people who have the equipment.

Each step of the learning process provided meaningful discoveries for the artist. Brandon explains, “Linotypes are amazing and beautiful machines! The Linotype is sometimes called a typesetting machine, but that term is misleading as it does not set type. It is actually a substitute for typesetting. Strictly speaking, a linotype is a composing machine. Text is molded and cast into printers-metal, and after the printing process, the metal is melted back down and recycled. I am extremely excited to work with this extraordinary and evocative process and to be able to make it available to other artists.”

Awesome Pittsburgh’s $1000 grant will help cover the costs of the Linotype University and will stock Tip Type with consumable materials in preparation for opening to the public in January 2014, the one-year anniversary of Rudy’s death.

Awesome Pittsburgh trustee Ayanah Moor speaks of this project with great enthusiasm: “Rudy Lehman’s Legacy is an awesome idea! Brandon not only preserves the legacy of a mentor and friend but extends his knowledge of technical and artistic skills to support local and visiting artists. The Tip Type project will serve as a wonderful addition to Wilkinsburg.”

To learn more about Tip Type, follow Brandon on Facebook or email him at branshealthy [at]

Jan. 2014 Update: Make sure to stop by Tip Type’s grand opening on Wednesday, February 5 from 7-10pm! The Tip Type team, Wilkinsburg area artists, and Boxcar Press have really helped the shop come alive. Check out the details on the new web site

Award #22: Cupcakes & Culture Series

30 Aug

Jasmine Cho decided to ride the wave of cupcake popularity by putting her own Asian-American spin on things, and the payoff has been quite a surprise to the Korean-American, Los Angeles, CA native.  To raise awareness of Asian-American culture in Pittsburgh, she began the Cupcakes & Culture Series, the first of which was held in late July at Biddle’s Escape, a coffee and bead shop in Regent Square (Wilkinsburg).

DSC01716Jasmine has three goals for the series:  to bring the local Asian American community together, to bring the wider Pittsburgh community in touch with Asian-American population and culture, and to build retention of young diversity in Pittsburgh by enriching its multicultural atmosphere.

With more than 200 people attending, the first event was a complete success. Three weeks later, Jasmine found out that Awesome Pittsburgh had awarded her idea with our most recent $1,000 micro-grant. She had applied for the grant at the same time as planning the series, and the timing could not have been better.   Says Jasmine,

“After the initial shock [of winning] faded, I was totally ecstatic and giddy.  Afterwards, I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. I’ve been working so hard and trying to overcome certain challenges coming at me at every angle, so when I found out that I won the grant, it felt like that toil paid off. Overall, I was just so moved that my efforts are being recognized and supported.  Right now I’m just so grateful and want to live up to the awesomeness!”

She’ll use the $1000 grant to help transform each of the future venues into something spectacular.

Jasmine Cho moved to Pittsburgh from Hawaii in 2009 and soon afterwards, formed the Pittsburgh Asian Network with a vision to strengthen the local Asian American community as well as raise the network’s visibility in the mainstream. Through her business, Yummyholic, she hopes to enhance Pittsburgh’s multicultural atmosphere with Asian-inspired fun and sweets.  Cho believes that the Cupcakes & Culture Series can blend education and entertainment together into something fun, vibrant, and enlightening for the city of Pittsburgh; her primary target audience is college-aged students and young professionals.  The series’ five events will each feature a different element of Asian-American culture, free cupcakes and finger foods from Asian eateries, free music and entertainment, and free information and literature from local Asian diversity organizations.

The next Cupcakes & Culture Series event will offer an Asian horror theme and take place on Thursday, October 24, at Cavo (Strip District).  Jasmine hopes to find volunteer artists or art students who could build décor, and would also appreciate help with set-up and break-down duties on the day of the event. Potential volunteers, partygoers, and partners can contact Jasmine through Facebook or email helloyummyholic [@]



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