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New Funding for an Art Barge and Other Local Awesomeness

The Awesome Pittsburgh Foundation, a new local chapter of a national project, is on a citywide search for one thing: new projects it thinks are awesome.

Each month the group awards a $1,000 grant to an individual or group proposing a new way to help Pittsburgh stand out in the global economy, connect its communities, or celebrate local art and technology.

This month, they've written a check for a barge.

The public art project, called "The Drift," was proposed by a group of eight art students from Carnegie Mellon University. The team, consisting of artists, designers, and engineers, plans to construct a 12-foot square platform from wood and barrels that will serve as a floating venue and present a slew of art and entertainment projects this year. Their hope is, as the barge bobs down Pittsburgh's rivers, it will bring each new installation to a broad audience beyond the typical gallery crowd.

"When you go to a gallery you know what to expect. It's a controlled space for the artist and the audience. When you work in the public space with audiences that are involuntary, there is a much more interesting exchange, because none of them are expecting the encounter," said contributing artist Felipe Castelblanco. "There is an opportunity for audiences to re-imagine what the art and the landscape means to them."

The group of CMU students wants to make the project as collaborative as possible and will hold an open call for guest installations starting in March. Possible ideas thus far have included a "paddle-in" movie theater, a concert stage, a museum for objects dredged from the river bottom, and a miniature campsite.

Four projects will be chosen for installation beginning in May.

The artistic team was advised by public art innovator Jon Rubin, the mind behind projects like The Waffle Shop and Conflict Kitchen in East Liberty.

The Awesome Pittsburgh Foundation was inspired by the project's creative approach to engage the community around one of the region's most important public assets — its waterways.

"[The Drift] is a really interesting and unique way of looking at our rivers and riverfronts and how they can be better used to be interactive with our community. Hopefully, people will feel enjoyment not only for the art, but for the setting in which it's being provided," Awesome Pittsburgh Foundation Trustee Mary Ellen Solomon said.

Castelblanco said he hopes the project catalyzes new conversations about the condition and accessibility of our waterways and their connective role in the region.

The team expects the barge to hit the waves by May 2012.