By Jon Engel, co-curator of the Homestead Streetside Gallery | Featured Image: Mural by Darryl Bennett, installed on Seventh Avenue, Homestead.
Art for Everyone
Especially these days, I often find myself taking long walks to nowhere. The destination is not a place, but an intimacy with one’s surroundings. To know the streets you live in—the houses and the trees and the slopes in the curb—is to know a part of yourself. And though I am always quiet on these walks, that connection makes them very social.
That’s the value we wanted to convey in the Homestead Streetside Gallery. One of my co-curators, Douglas Lopretto, came up with the idea as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. What if we could take an art exhibit, usually held in small rooms and ticketed at the door, and crack it wide open? He came to us at Rivers of Steel with this plan: a massive show of temporary public art that could be viewed outside, at the leisure of its audience. Together, we realized exactly that. We commissioned a series of 11 temporary murals and curated 10 displays of works on canvas. The murals were installed on the sides of buildings on Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Avenues and the canvas displays were placed in the windows of several storefronts throughout downtown Homestead.
For me, this show echoes a long history of unconventional art in Pittsburgh. Black artists like the those from the Watt Lane Art Club and Barbara Peterson, during the 20th century, worked around a segregated gallery system by hanging their works on community fences and leaving them on the curb. This guerilla philosophy is also the core of graffiti, a tradition that many of our Streetside artists came up in. The works that they created often borrow heavily from neglected “low arts”—of course graffiti, but also comic books, tattoos, and cartoons. All 26 of the creators featured in this show are from southwestern Pennsylvania, many of them working artists in those fields.
Art by everyone, for everyone. That is the core of the Homestead Streetside Gallery. This goes beyond the artists we featured or the subjects they chose—the community of Homestead makes this show what it is. More than any show in a traditional gallery could ever be, the Streetside Gallery is alive and rooted. As you walk from piece to piece in this show, you are also walking by your neighbors and through their lives. The friendly waves, the sounds of traffic, the chatter at bus stops, in shops, and on stoops—that’s all part of this show too. Our hope is that you will explore the whole town, searching not only for the pieces we have put up, but also for the art and the comradery that was always there. When you turn a new corner, that is what you find.
Please, slow down and smell the flowers with us.
The Homestead Streetside Gallery will be on display until December 1. It is presented by Rivers of Steel in partnership with the Steel Valley Arts Council. It was curated by myself, Douglas Lopretto, and Shane Pilster, with love to our friends in Homestead.
Also, love to the artists in the show:
Jared Altamare – Ashley Hodder – Shane Pilster
Latika Ann – Edina Kurjakovic – Jameelah Platt
Darryl Bennett – Jasmine Kurjakovic – Zack Rutter
Jerome Charles – Minuet Kurjakovic – Kyle Rybak
Jon Engel – Douglas Lopretto – Phil Seth
Trenita Finney – Christian Miller – Tom Ski
Sadie Flower – Danielle Nichols – Valkyrie Williams
Brian Gonnella – Cue Perry – Jason Wright
Max Gonzales – Eden Petri
All images of Homestead Streetside Gallery are by Rivers of Steel. For more information on the exhibit, including a map of the installation locations, click here.