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Arts, Sports & Culture

Downtown Exhibit Puts A Face On Pittsburgh's 'Invisible' Homeless Population

Deanna Garcia
90.5 WESA
CMU art student Daniel See unpacks the mugs he made using clay impressions of the hands of homeless people.

A new exhibit at Future Tenant aims to put a different face on Pittsburgh’s homeless population.


“The homeless are often seen as invisible people on the street, we ignore them, we walk by them, we just do our own thing,” said Daniel See, an art student at CMU.


See is one of six Pittsburgh artists showcasing work in the “Walk on By” exhibit. He is originally from Singapore, where he said homelessness is not as visible as it is in the U.S. See decided to learn more and came up with an idea.


“I went around Pittsburgh speaking to different people experiencing homelessness from shelters and on the streets,” See said. “I brought them slabs of clay, they formed a cylinder out of them and then used their hands to put a hand print on them.”


He turned those imprinted cylinders into mugs. They are on display as part of the exhibit, but are also for sale with the proceeds going to homeless services. But, he said it’s not about the money, but rather what people get out of it as they grasp their mugs and their hands fit into the impression left by a homeless man or woman.


“When they’re holding the cups and drinking from them, their hands inevitably connect with the hands of the homeless people on the streets,” he said. “That tries to bridge the gap and barriers between these two groups of people.”


Other media include photography, paintings and video. But Curator Jay Poliziani said there’s a larger goal beyond the exhibit.


Credit Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Paintings by Sarah Beck Sweeney at the "Walk on By" exhibit.

“Part of the mission behind this event is to open up the discussion about homeless and affordable housing,” said Poliziani who is also the director of North Side Common Ministries.


A point-in-time count conducted in 2016 found more than 1,100 homeless people in Allegheny County, nearly half of whom were living in unsheltered conditions such as an underpass or park.


“Most people have a difficult comfort level when they see people on the street and it’s easiest just to ignore it,” said Poliziani.


By highlighting their faces, their stories and the overall issues of what it means to be homeless, Poliziani said it helps people who may not understand the issue see the humanity in people who may be struggling.


“Whatever their situation, they’re still individuals and they deserve that basic level of respect,” he said.


“Walk on By” opens Friday at Future Tenant in the Cultural District and runs through April 2.