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Tentacles to jut from iconic Sewickley building's roof

| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

When Sweetwater's marketing committee members were brainstorming ideas to increase awareness about the Sewickley arts center, they knew they had to go big.

And what could be more noticeable than eight green tentacles — four at 18 feet long and another four at 33 feet long — jutting from the building's rooftop?

“We hope people will sit up and take notice,” Sweetwater Center for the Arts marketing-committee chairwoman Barb Pontello said.

Beginning next week, the public art installation will kick off “Wild Things” — a summerlong campaign to drum up awareness about Sweetwater and its offerings.

Graduate students in Robert Morris University's marketing program did a study two years ago and found that 40 percent of community residents didn't know where Sweetwater was located or what it offered.

“We were amazed that people didn't know about us,” Executive Director Michelle Peters said about Sweetwater, which opened in 1975.

“We wondered, ‘How do we change that?,'” Pontello said.

The marketing committee explored several options, including flying flags in town, but ultimately decided to commission British street artist “Filthy Luker” — who has decorated many buildings with inflatable tentacles, eyeballs and more through his “Art Attacks” project — for custom-made tentacles specifically for Sweetwater.

“And then the (Pittsburgh) rubber duck came along,” said Pontello, adding that the popularity last fall from the duck cemented the idea that inflatable tentacles would draw people to the building at the corner of Broad and Bank streets and steps from Route 65 in Sewickley.

“It might seem like we're copy-catting, but we've been working on this for a couple of years.”

This is only the second time Filthy Luker's art will be installed in the United States, Peters said.

The tentacles, which Sweetwater received last week, are scheduled to be placed next week by Airborne Promotions of Pittsburgh, which also helped with the duck project.

The tentacles officially will be unveiled to the public at 6 p.m. April 4 during the spring gallery walk. They are expected to remain up through July but might have to come down earlier if they get damaged, Peters said.

“They're pretty durable, but they're usually up for only a couple of months,” she said.

The tentacles will be lighted at night, and volunteers will watch the weather and deflate them if winds exceed 20 mph.

In addition, classes and camps tied into the “Wild Things” theme will be held throughout the spring and summer, and several free events are planned.

A “Wild Things” art exhibition, juried by artist Cynthia Shaffer, will run from April 4 through June 21, and “Art Blooms,” a flower show by the Village Garden Club, will be April 4 and 5. Receptions for both will be held during the gallery walk.

Sweetwater will collaborate with several Sewickley-area nonprofits for “Wild Things Family Day — Adventure to the Wild Side,” to be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 7.

“We are encouraging people to physically visit the center,” Peters said.

The cost of the “Wild Things” project, including the tentacles, is around $35,000, Peters said. Sweetwater received a $15,000 grant from The Pittsburgh Foundation and donations from the Sydney Leigh Braksick Memorial Fund, Clearview Credit Union, Prudential Preferred Realty and Heritage Valley Health System.

Sweetwater leaders said they hope the tentacles and events also will boost awareness about shops and restaurants in Sewickley.

“We want people to be excited about (the project),” Pontello said.

Kristina Serafini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1405 or kserafini@tribweb.com.

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