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Kids, Seniors Team Up On Public Art Project In Beechview

Photo by Bill O'Driscoll
90.5 WESA News
Several Color Beechview images now hang outside the Beechview Healthy Active Living Center.

Ann Gurske has lived in Beechview for 58 of her 75 years. This fall, there was something new at the city-run Healthy Active Living Center where she often goes for lunch and socializing: a public art project.

Color Beechview was designed to get neighbors across generations making art together. Gurske said she participated in two of the three workshops held at the community center on Broadway Avenue. Artist Lori Hepner led dozens of neighbors, ranging in age from 4 to 84, in making art with wearable LED lights and a 6-foot glow stick resembling a lightsaber.

Credit Bill O'Driscoll / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Longtime neighborhood resident Ann Gurske, 75, was one of the participants in Color Beechview.

“We went with a lot of bright colors on the LEDs, and just let the community members use the lights themselves to draw, and then sort of be drawn, with the light to become portraits for the outside of the building,” Hepner said.

While participants danced and played with the lights, Hepner recorded long exposures of the resulting light patterns with a digital camera and special software. “It was a lot of improvising,” Hepner said. “There was music.”

The result was a series of abstract shapes – for instance, fan-shaped forms tracing the arc of the glow stick – incorporating white silhouettes of participants themselves.

“It was really neat watching some of the people,” said Gurske, who attended the project’s ribbon-cutting last week. “The kids especially, when they would move the bar, the light bar ... that was interesting to watch.”

Also in attendance at the ceremony was City Councilor Anthony Coghill, who represents the neighborhood, and by representatives of the organizations behind the project: the Public Art and Civic Design Division of Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning; Citiparks; and the group Age-Friendly Pittsburgh. This is the city’s first collaboration with Age-Friendly, said Yesica Guerra, who manages the city’s Public Art and Civic Design Division.

Several Color Beechview images – including one incorporating Gurske’s silhouette – now adorn the railing outside the center, in shades of blue and green. Another piece serves as sort of welcome mat for the place, while a large-scale version decorates one of the commuter-rail cars on the Port Authority’s Red Line, which passes right by on the commercial strip. The works are temporary; Hepner said she expects them to last about a year.

For now, though, Gurske is pleased. “I think it turned out beautiful,” she said.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: bodriscoll@wesa.fm
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