Turnpike service plaza in Plum serves as canvas for Riverview art students
Motorists traveling through the Alle-Kiski Valley on the turnpike now have a reason to stop at Oakmont Plum Service Plaza — even if they don't need gas or coffee.
Through the work of students from the Riverview School District, that service plaza is home to a one-of-a-kind art installation.
Unveiled Thursday, a tile mosaic created in just 20 days by Riverview art students is now a permanent part of the service plaza.
The mosaic — a picture made of broken tile and mirror fragments — stands 9 feet tall and is almost 22 feet long.
Titled “A Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood,” the piece incorporates iconic Pittsburgh natives, landmarks, geography, sports figures, industry and architecture.
The mosaic was designed by students with the help of artist Laura Jean McLaughlin and Riverview art teacher Glenn Garrison.
Parents and community members, along with local elected officials, put the mosaic together one broken piece of tile at a time.
The artwork came together as part of the Art Sparks program, which is a partnership between the Turnpike Commission and the state Council on the Arts.
“It can never be said that art is not engaging and exciting,” Turnpike Commission CEO Mark Compton said during the unveiling ceremony.
Riverview School District Superintendent Margaret DiNinno said that when the organization behind Art Sparks reached out to see if her students would participate, she jumped at the chance.
“Our small school district takes pride in being able to provide our students with opportunities that extend beyond the walls of the classroom,” she said. “The opportunity that Art Sparks and the PA Turnpike commission have provided for our students and our community will serve as a memorable and valuable learning experience.”
Sydney Reyes, a senior Advanced Placement art student, pulled the curtain on the mosaic she helped build.
Reyes said that arts are the first thing cut at schools when money gets tight, but that the piece she and her fellow students made will serve as a reminder of why art still matters.
“I think it's wonderful,” she said. “I think art is very important. It's a form of expression, and we tend to glorify things like sports a lot.
“But art is part of our culture, it's part of who we are. So we have to keep going for other people.”
The Art Sparks program pairs art students with teaching artists from the Council on the Arts' Art in Education roster, with the aim of installing a similar work of student-created art at every service plaza over the next five to eight years.
The King of Prussia and Somerset service plazas are slated to have art installed in the next year.