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Introducing Industrial Grit and Graffiti

By January 13, 2022Blog
a man stands with sculptures in front of a small scale iron furnaces with an industrail former blast furnace behind them

By Carly V. McCoy, Director of Communications   |   Above: Artist Carlos Mare, one of the two lead artists for the Industrial Grit and Graffiti residency, stands with cast iron sculptures created at the Carrie Furnaces in 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

Carly V. McCoyA Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts will Fund Industrial Grit and Graffiti Program

In the decades following the collapse of big steel, the Carrie Furnaces became a laboratory for experimentation—a time on the site when graffiti writers crossed paths with urban explorers, scrappers, and sculptors who recognized the latent creative potential in abandoned mills.

Through a variety of arts initiatives, Rivers of Steel celebrates this post-industrial era and its influence on a generation of artists and community leaders who continue the difficult work of channeling that energy into creative solutions for the community. Now we’re excited to announce a new program that will explore the connections to this era through the unique convergence of graffiti and metal arts—the Industrial Grit and Graffiti artist residency at the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark.

With support from the recently announced Grants for Arts Projects award from the National Endowment for the Arts, the residency will pair two lead artists, New York-based artist Carlos Mare and Pittsburgh native Michael Walsh, with up to four regional artists to explore the unique convergence of graffiti and metal arts. Designed to explore the intersectionality of the two art forms, the residency’s scope also considers the connections with residents of the adjacent Monongahela Valley communities—communities whose character has been shaped by both their industrial and post-industrial heritage.

Graffiti on the Stock House wall at Carrie, as it appeared in 2006.

“The story of both graffiti and metal sculpture is woven into the post-industrial story of the Carrie Blast Furnaces, and Pittsburgh alike,” said Chris McGinnis, director of Rivers of Steel Arts. “During the 1980s and 90s the shuttered furnaces, and countless other abandoned mill sites, became an unlikely catalyst for the creation of new ideas that pushed the boundaries of both mediums. As the steward of this National Historic Landmark, Rivers of Steel is uniquely positioned to tell this story and establish an ongoing program, like Industrial Grit and Graffiti, that provides support for today’s artists to take similar risks in their creative work.”

The Industrial Grit and Graffiti residency is among 1,248 projects across America totaling $28,840,000 that were selected to receive this first round of fiscal year 2022 funding in the Grants for Arts Projects category.

“The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support arts projects like this one from Rivers of Steel that help support the community’s creative economy,” said NEA Acting Chair Ann Eilers. “Rivers of Steel is among the organizations nationwide that are using the arts as a source of strength, a path to well-being, and providing access and opportunity for people to connect and find joy through the arts.”

With the funding from the Grants for Arts Projects award, Rivers of Steel will connect the lead and community artists for a weeklong metal arts residency at the Carrie Blast Furnaces in June, followed by extended metal arts workshops for the community artists. July through September will engage the artists in a series of community events, dubbed the Community Learning Series, which includes an open house at the Carrie Blast Furnaces and off-site Hot Metal Happenings, among other activities.

In late summer, Mare and Walsh, two pioneers of the graffiti sculpture movement, are scheduled for a public engagement at The Warhol Museum to share their experiences with the residency and reflect on the national graffiti sculpture movement and history.

Carlos Mare, Rodriguez, also known as Mare139, grew up between Upper Manhattan and the war-torn South Bronx; he was part of a group who revolutionized subway graffiti during its peak in the 1970s and 80s. Combining his passion for contemporary art with graffiti style-writing, Mare began creating metal artworks inspired by his unique approach to lettering.

Artist Michael Walsh was born in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1974, and his career as a graffiti artist and sculptor evolved throughout the late 1980s and 90s during the collapse of the American steel industry. He has worked diligently over the past two decades to develop his work and to forward the trajectory of the graffiti sculpture movement.

After the completion of the residency, the newly created metal artworks will be on display at the Carrie Blast Furnaces for the remainder of the 2022 season and possibly beyond.

Stay tuned—in early spring, we will announce which community artists have been selected for inclusion in the program, along with dates and event details for the Community Learning Series.

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