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Union Project celebrates MLK Day with focus on art

| Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Janiisa Stephens, 7, of East Liberty, creates poetry on the wall at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, as part of the seventh annual 'East Liberty Celebrates MLK' events throughout the neighborhood on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. Community organizations came together with local artists, performers, schools, and activists to showcase activities, music, and performances free of charge to the public, part of festivities throughout the East End to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Luke Field, 3, of Morningside, plays with his mother, Jessica, 41, as he works on making a birthday crown for the 'Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Bash' at the Mattress Factory on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. The museum's annual celebration included birthday cake, Pandemic Pete spinning tunes, and crafts alongside pay-what-you-want admission to the collection.
Children's Museum of Pittsburgh
In 2016, children made their own protest posters at Freedom Corner in the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh during Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities. This year, they can make their own zines.

With a stated mission to bridge the gap between communities and the arts, the Union Project has celebrated Martin Luther King Day for some 15 years with a big, artsy event.

Since Dr. King — the slain civil-rights leader whose birthday is celebrated with a national holiday on the third Monday of January — promoted social justice and change, his teachings fit the Union Project's mission perfectly, says Jeffrey Dorsey, executive director of the center in Pittsburgh's Highland Park.

“We're really focused on creating programming that we say is at the intersection of arts and social change,” Dorsey says. “We try to create great art and great quality community experiences. It's art with a capital ‘A' and community with a capital ‘C.'”

The Union Project's free, all-ages event, from 2 to 7 p.m. Jan. 16, at 801 N. Negley Ave., features several creative and interactive activities, where participants can explore how to build a more inclusive community through words, poetry and art with local artists. Children can engage with artists by listening to stories they read, while the adults can attend workshops to do things like make T-shirts; meanwhile, they learn about issues involving diversity. Then, participants will eat food together from Conflict Kitchen, a multi-ethnic restaurant in Oakland.

“I would say, first and foremost, we have always been of the mind that the most important thing about the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King was the idea of building an inclusive community for everyone,” Dorsey says.

Details: 412-363-4550 or

Union Project is one of many community organizations and attractions that are hosting Martin Luther King Jr.-themed activities, mostly on the actual holiday of Jan. 16.

• The Carnegie Science Center on Pittsburgh's North Shore is teaming up with Duquesne Light Company on Jan. 16 to offer free admission, in an event called Duquesne Light Community Day. Visitors will get free general admission, parking, and the Omnimax film “Sea Monsters” from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. All four floors of the center's exhibit will be open for exploration, and some live-demonstration shows will happen in the Works Theater and on the Body Stage. Details: 412-237-3400 or

• The Mattress Factory in the North Side will host a Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Bash on Jan. 16, with free admission for everyone. Family activities include creating birthday crowns, dancing, making magnets and readings with Sydelle Pearl. Birthday bash participants also can make clay birds inscribed with messages to participate in the “1,000 Birds Project,” a program of the Mattress Factory and Union Project, which will bake the clay birds in a kiln. All galleries at the Mattress Factory, usually closed on Mondays, will be open for the event. Details: 412-231-3169 or

• The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh in the North Side is hosting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, with themed activities throughout the day on Jan. 16. Kids can read excerpts from King's speeches from a podium from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and create their own “zines” inspired by Pittsburgh civil-rights images. Starting at 1 p.m., kids can listen to local teens talk about civil rights through the Saturday Light Brigade's Social Justice webcast.

• The Society for Contemporary Craft, an arts organization in the Strip District, is offering a special MLK Day Clay Workshop, 1 to 4 p.m. Jan. 16. Kevin Snipes, an award-winning ceramicist, will be teaching the class and talking about his experiences as an African-American artist. Participants will listen to King's famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and make small Friendship Bowls out of clay. The cost is $45, plus a $25 materials fee. Register at 412-261-7003 or

• The Kelly Strayhorn Theater is hosting its eighth annual East Liberty Celebrates MLK event, from noon to 4 p.m. Jan. 16. The event features live performances with theater, singing and dancing beginning at 2 p.m. The event also includes discussions about ways to impact the East Liberty community. Admission is Pay What Makes You Happy. Details: 412-363-3000 or

The day before, on Jan. 15, a theater partner — Repair the World — will host an MLK Listening Party, with readings of King's speeches, from 2 to 4 p.m. at 6022 Broad St., East Liberty. The event is free. Details:

Kellie B. Gormly is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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