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Pittsburgh arts group's name changes but mission remains

The Three Sisters Bridges lit up at night with lights.
Allegheny County
"Observing Light," Rob Long's new light-based artwork on the Three Sisters Bridges, is among the public artworks facilitated over the years by the Office of Public Art, now known as Shiftworks Community + Public Arts.

This is WESA Arts, a weekly newsletter by Bill O'Driscoll providing in-depth reporting about the Pittsburgh area art scene. Sign up here to get it every Wednesday afternoon.

If you’ve never heard of Pittsburgh’s Office for Public Art, you’re not alone: The group, though an important part of the city’s art scene for nearly two decades, operates largely behind the scenes.

Also, be apprised that as of this month, no group of that name any longer exists. The nonprofit is now called Shiftworks Community + Public Arts. But the new label doesn’t indicate a new mission so much as it more accurately signifies what the group’s already been doing.

“We wanted to reflect better where we are now versus where we were 20 years ago,” said Sallyann Kluz, Shiftworks executive director.

The OPA was created in 2005, as a partnership of the City of Pittsburgh and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. At first, its functions included things like providing technical assistance on public art projects. But it evolved into an advocate for what public art can be and for how it can shape our environment.

“We aim to impact not only physical landscapes and cityscapes, but also shift perspectives and expectations for what is possible when artists, communities and organizations work together,” said Kluz.

For example, when plans began to rebuild the Fern Hollow Bridge after its collapse, in January 2022, OPA approached the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation about incorporating public art into the project.

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Art wasn’t originally in the picture, due in part to the rebuild’s expedited timeline. But OPA persuaded PennDOT to set aside 1% of the $25.7 million budget to commission new artworks, then managed the artworks’ approval process with the city’s Public Art and Civic Design Commission. Then, because artists and engineers don’t always speak quite the same language, the group helped artists Carin Mincemoyer and John Peña work with the project’s engineers. (Peña’s “400 Million Years of Water” adorns the bridge’s walkways, while Mincemoyer’s “Trail Meander” enhances the Frick Park pathway that runs below.)

OPA also worked with the Allegheny County Chief Executive’s office to commission a new light-based artwork for Downtown’s Three Sisters Bridges. (Designer Rob Long’s work was unveiled in November.)

OPA has also supported initiatives including Arts Excursions Unlimited, artist Edith Abeyta’s project to increase cultural connectivity for Hazelwood residents. Along with organizing cultural outings to other city neighborhoods and beyond, AEU has changed its own community by collaborating on the creation of murals in the neighborhood and even programming activities at Hazelwood Green, so that the sprawling new development on an old mill site neither overwhelms nor ignores the existing community. (One program was an overnight camp-out on the site for neighborhood kids.

In all, over the years OPA has managed more than 100 temporary and public artworks, done 75 projects for clients, and held 325 events. Other ongoing OPA programs include artist talks, lunch-and-learns, and walking (and biking and kayaking) tours of artist studios, parks, and public art in various neighborhoods.

Just as Arts Excursions became its own nonprofit in 2022, so OPA attained independent 501(c)3 status in July. It has seven full-time staffers including Kluz and a part-time research associate, and its budget of $1.36 million is funded through a mix of grants, individual donations, and earned revenue from client projects. The next time you read about a public art project around here, there’s a fair chance you’ll find “Shiftworks” in the fine print.

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: