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Getting The Hang Of It: Program Marks A Decade Of Helping Artists With Exposure -- And Sales

These days artists have plenty of ways to put their work out there. Some, for instance, do pretty well with online sales.

Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council presents the Art on the Walls exhibit "Past, Present, Future." Opening reception: 5-8:30 p.m. Fri., Jan. 24. 810 Penn Ave., seventh floor, Downtown. Part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Gallery Crawl

Still, there’s nothing like exhibiting work in real life.

Tori Hirsch found that out a year ago, when a few of her oil paintings were exhibited as part of “Owning,” a three-person show staged as part of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council’s, or GPAC’s, Art on the Walls series.

“For me, just out of college, and really excited, it put me on this map and people were recognizing me, and it was so surreal, and so strange, and very exciting,” says Hirsch, who graduated from Carlow University and lives in the South Hills.

Art on the Walls is marking its tenth anniversary. The program was conceived by GPAC staffers Dek Ingraham and Christiane Leach as a way to help local artists who had yet to gain access to the traditional gallery system. Its first incarnation was as a twice-annual solo show at the nonprofit advocacy group’s own Downtown offices. It’s grown to include group shows and six venues, including the offices of Mayor Bill Peduto and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

Nearly 150 artists have participated, GPAC executive director Mitch Swain said at a press event this week. Exhibiting the art is free for venues and artists, but the work is for sale; Swain said proceeds have totaled about $60,000, with 80 percent of that going directly to artists (a much better deal than they’d get in most galleries).

Participants have included both young artists and those who’ve begun concentrating more on fine art later in life.

“It opened doors for me, to put it simply,” said Francis Cleetus, an advertising creative in his mid-50s who’s exhibited in two Art on the Walls shows. “This was a fantastic opportunity.” Cleetus said his showings led to phone calls and leads for commissioned artwork, including a ceiling mural, and larger versions of his paintings.

Art on the Walls has also been part of painter C.B. Perry’s recent transition from pre-school teacher to full-time artist. “It’s been amazing,” said Perry, who lives on the North Side, of Art on the Walls. “I got to network and I get to show my art.”

Art on the Walls' shows at GPAC’s offices, on the seventh floor of a Penn Avenue office building, stay up for months but are usually open to the public only by appointment. They get most of their traffic during the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s quarterly Gallery Crawls, when several hundred visitors come by.

Some of the city’s best-known artists have participated over the years, including Christine Bethea, Cory Bonnet, Seth Clark, Ron Donoughe, Richard Kelly, Ricardo RobinsonBlaine Siegel, and Mia Tarducci.

Art on the Walls is coordinated by GPAC’s Erin O’Neill. The project’s oldest and largest client is the Allegheny Conference, which since 2012 has held four exhibitions at its offices.

“It’s really important that we can connect the corporate community to the creative community,” said Conference CEO Stefani Pashman. “[N]ot only can we forge that connection, and open up doors for folks, but it also makes our corporate offices much more exciting and much more interesting and vibrant.”

The Conference itself has purchased multiple artworks from these shows over the years, Pashman said.

Other Art on the Walls clients include Accenture, the Benedum Foundation, and Visit Pittsburgh. GPAC continues to seek new clients, said Swain.

Two Art on the Walls shows open Friday. One is the fifth exhibit at the Allegheny Conference, with 18 works by six artists. The other is “Past, Present, Future,” which showcases works by three dozen artists at GPAC’s offices. The latter exhibit will be open to the publicduring Friday’s Gallery Crawl.

More information is here.

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: