Nontraditional settings bring art to the audience
Several decades ago, musician and future Nobel Prize recipient Bob Dylan famously suggested that art should not be tucked away from our collective view.
“Art should be everywhere,” he said. “Paintings should be on the walls of restaurants, in dime stores, in gas stations, in restrooms. Great paintings should be where people hang out. … Just think how many people would really feel great if they could see a great painting in their daily diner.”
In many suburban areas outside of Pittsburgh, where there may be few traditional galleries, artists struggle to find places where they can share their work with the public.
In response, they are heeding Dylan's still relevant call.
A variety of spaces, unexpected or otherwise, are becoming “art where you are” experiences.
Libraries in Greensburg, New Kensington, Lower Burrell and Oakmont are regularly used to display art.
The city tax office in Lower Burrell is being used to hang art. And in Greensburg, art is being celebrated on the walls of an alley outside of the Palace Theatre and at The Headkeeper tapas bar and restaurant.
In New Kensington, a fitness center is about to open a dedicated space for art.
Somewhere, Dylan may be smiling.
Takin' it to the Valley
“Bob got it right!” says Ted Scanga, veteran Lower Burrell artist and a gym member who started the ongoing exhibit at USA Fitness Center, New Kensington, whose gallery has its official grand opening from 6 to 9 p.m. April 20. It had a soft opening last November.
“The walls were bare and there was not much to look at,” he explains.
Now gym members walk and run past the art and photography of members of the Allegheny Valley League of Artists and East Suburban Artists League.
“The best view is from the track,” says owner Jordan Shields.
Shields says gym members “absolutely love seeing the art” and are pleasantly surprised when they learn it is local, even perhaps from a fellow member of the gym.
“Non-traditional spaces can really change the atmosphere of a place,” he adds.
“Art is everywhere if you only look,” Scanga says. “It also gives the artist a chance to show their work instead of storing it in the basement.
“I think the art groups that I am part of enrich our area well beyond the effort it takes in displaying the art. We all get to enjoy each other and have a better life.”
Art is everywhere
Art, after all, “is life,” says Casey Sirochman, executive director of Greensburg-Hempfield Area Library, which showcases art.
“I agree with Bob Dylan's sentiments that art can and should be found anywhere,” she says. “Being able to display art beyond traditional means is critical for an artist to share their passion and talents. We welcome them into the library.”
She also is looking into ways to share books and information literacy in new and different venues as well.
Not only should there be art in public places, says painter Peter Cehily of Allegheny Township, “there should be more of it.”
“Paintings are like people. They like to get out and be seen once in a while,” says Cehily, who currently is displaying his work at USA Fitness and the Lower Burrell Tax Office. “And artists want and need to show off their work and the public benefits from seeing it. It enriches the aesthetic of a space and the community and minds of the viewers.”
It's very much a win-win situation for everyone, Cehily says. “It gives people a chance to experience art in their daily lives. Where they might not have had an opportunity to go to a (traditional) gallery or museum, it comes to them unbidden as it were.”
He believes nontraditional spaces should be used for art more than they currently are.
“It is so enjoyable to come upon any kind of art unexpectedly,” he says. “Perhaps it makes someone think of something they otherwise never would have, or gives them a different perspective from what they normally have.”
Patti Giordano of Lower Burrell — president of Allegheny Valley League of Artists, past president of East Suburban Artists League and current art coordinator for Peoples Library, New Kensington and Lower Burrell — says art in non-traditional spaces “can catch you off guard and lift your spirits.”
“I have displayed in hallways at senior citizens residences, a community college, hospitals and libraries. My biggest surprise years ago was finding art in a ladies room. It was such fun and made me smile.”
Outside and accessible
Hanging out in an alley is a creative experience in downtown Greensburg, especially if it is the pathway behind the Palace Theatre, home to the year-round Art in the Alley project.
“I always say that art improves community, which is one of the main reasons the project was started,” says Kelli Brisbane, coordinator for the Westmoreland Cultural Trust's Incubator for the Arts. “It's giving local artists a platform for everyday community members to view their work and be immersed in art, whether they know it or not.”
Twenty two-year-old installation artist and curator Nick Silvis of Greensburg, who is about to graduate from Seton Hill University with his bachelor of fine arts, is pleased to be represented in Art in the Alley.
“The more public we can make art, the better off our society will be,” he says. “Putting art outside of traditional gallery spaces could lead to a better understanding of art, and help reduce the stigma that not everyone can enjoy it.”
There is no reason for a community to be without artwork, he says.
“Non-traditional galleries can solve this problem, often in ways that traditional galleries cannot,” Silvis says. Those ways can include free admission, higher traffic areas for the public to view and larger locations for artwork to be displayed.
A vital need
Artist Dan Overdorff founded The Headkeeper Tapas Bar Artist Initiative in 2011 at the Greensburg bar and restaurant, and has curated shows there and at other venues around the area. The art, mostly solo shows, changes every two months.
“It is vital for original work to be displayed in many public spaces, whether it be restaurants, bars or a tiny dog grooming establishment (where he also has seen art),” he says. “As an artist it's great to get a viewpoint from people that are not your usual art viewer.”
It also can open a new market for people who may purchase an artist's work, he says.
“I highly enjoy traditional galleries and museums, but for an up-and-coming individual or even an established artist, these spaces offer a place to stay relevant in the public eye and serve as a proving ground to getting into those places.”
He believes a business owner demonstrates an understanding of what culture can add to their setting when they invite art into their establishments.
“I've always found myself more comfortable eating at a restaurant or visiting a doctor's office that had something more engaging on the wall,” Overdorff explains.
He also finds that hanging artwork in a restaurant adds to the conversation of a dinner party.
“From the restaurant side, it adds an updated look to the space that keeps it from becoming mundane,” he adds.
Sparking the conversation
Award-winning Monroeville artist Larry Brandstetter, who has been juried into the Three Rivers Arts Festival for more than a decade and exhibits his work throughout the region, including the Greensburg and Latrobe art centers, is an advocate for local artists and encouraging businesses to display their work.
“Artists shouldn't feel it is a come down to exhibit in nontraditional spaces,” says Brandstetter, who happily also hangs his creativity in a Cranberry orthodontics office, libraries and many other locales.
“They are another way to bring attention to you and your creative offerings. You are your best promoter and the more you get out there, the more chances you have to get noticed,” he says.
When he first started his small commercial screen printing company in Penn Hills, he took the advice of an old salesman who visited him.
“He said, ‘The more stuff you throw on that wall, the more chances something'll stick.' It doesn't cost money to be excited talking about your art.”
Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.