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New Grants For Pittsburgh Art About Social Issues Announced

Scott Goldsmith
TDW, 2017
"Keys" is a photo from Brian Cohen's "Out of Many: Stories of Migration" exhibit.

A local foundation is sharpening its focus on promoting art that addresses social issues.

Just Arts information sessions at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh branches: Tues., July 9 (Hill District); July 19 (Hazelwood); and July 26 (Homewood). All meetings are at noon.

The Heinz Endowments this week announced its new Just Arts initiative. The program will provide $500,000 over two years to partnerships between artists, organizations and communities spotlighting issues including inequity, injustice, the environment and more. The funds will be awarded in grants ranging from $1,000 to $150,000.

“The idea was, how do we get community members, or get social-service organizations, not just arts organizations, involved in transforming society?” said Shaunda McDill, the foundation’s program officer for arts and culture.

“Artists have always been in the vanguard of that type of work,” she added, “and we often find that when there is a movement, people seek out the artists to help amplify the voices of community, or people, or cause.”

Heinz Endowments has long funded art projects about social issues. They’ve included “Out of Many: Stories of Migration,” Brian Cohen’s photography exhibit about the immigrant experience in Pittsburgh; Alisha Wormsley’s “The Well: River Roots,” a community art project exploring life in the Larimer neighborhood; and Andrea Polli’s “Energy Flow,” a wind-turbine powered light installation on the Rachel Carson Bridge.

But not all that work, said McDill, was “necessarily deeply rooted in the community, intentionally partnering artists with organizations, and making sure to actually say, ‘We want to elevate this as important work and therefore we’re going to ask people to apply specifically for this kind of work.’”

Just Arts does not fund individual artists, but rather pairings of lead artists with arts organizations, community groups, or social-service nonprofits working with the community.

The first step for applicants is to file a “letter of inquiry,” a short form supplied by Heinz. Those letters are due by Aug. 1. Selected applicants will be invited to fill out a final application. Awardees will be notified by Nov. 30.

“It’s critical for us to be able to in these times just figure out a way for us to come together and address some of the injustices that we hear about in community and also do it in a way that can inspire, enliven, and envision change, envision solutions,” McDill said.

Prospective applicants can learn more at a series of three informational sessions, starting Tue., July 9, at the Hill District branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

For more information, see the Just Arts web page.

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: