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Emerging and established Pittsburgh artists win big cash awards

Colorful quilt
Courtesy of the artist
"Breath of Truth" is a 2020 quilt by Tina Williams Brewer.

Fiber artist Tina Williams Brewer and theater artist Adil Mansoor are this year’s winners of the Carol R. Brown Creative Achievement awards for Pittsburgh-based artists.

Woman in head wrap
Frank Walsh
Tina Williams Brewer

The winners were selected after a process that produced 225 nominations for 70 different artists from a panel of working artists and cultural professionals. Each will receive an unrestricted prize of $50,000.

Brewer began making her vibrant stories quilts about four decades ago. The works in fabric evoking women and children, spirituality and Black culture have been exhibited nationally and even overseas.

Brewer, 75, was born in West Virginia. She graduated from the Columbus College of Art and Design, in Ohio, in 1971, and moved to Pittsburgh shortly thereafter.

“Pittsburgh had such a strong connection to culture,” said Brewer, who has lived in Homewood-Brushton for a half-century. “It made me want to dig in and understand my African roots.”

She started quilting as an adult, about 45 years ago, with pieces that incorporated photography as well as reclaimed fabric.

“This made me feel so alive, to be able to give dignity to the community, to my ancestors, the community that I came from in West Virginia,” she said.

Her current projects include teaching for Civic Arts in Wilkinsburg, where she is leading a community effort to fashion quilts representing past, present and future leaders of the borough.

Brewer said she is not yet sure what she’ll do with the award money.

Man in glasses
Beth Barbis
Adil Mansoor

Mansoor came to Pittsburgh in 2010, at age 24, and has worked in theater here for more than a decade. He specializes in directing formally innovative contemporary plays, often about queer people and people of color.

He’s worked with Quantum Theatre, the Pittsburgh Playhouse and more. Mansoor says he’s drawn to plays about families and relationships.

“When audiences come to see my plays, the response I hope they have is that they call a loved one after, they call their mom or a squeeze or their sweetie, that they think about the people around them,” he said.

Mansoor, who was born in Pakistan, also sometimes performs. In 2022, he debuted “Amm(i)gone,” an adaptation of Sophocles’ “Antigone” he developed with his mother to explore how his relationship with her changed after he came out as queer. The show debuted at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater and went on to productions in Washington, D.C., and New Haven, Conn.

The Creative Achievement Awards are named for Carol R. Brown, the first president of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. Brown herself initiated what were then called simply the Creative Achievement Awards in 1991. They went on hiatus from 2002 to 2011, but were restarted (and renamed) in 2012 by the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments.

No awards were given in 2020, 2022 and 2023.

Mansoor noted that several other Creative Achievement winners in recent years include artists he has worked or taught with or whom he worked for: choreographer Staycee Pearl, visual artist Alisha B. Wormsley, costume designer Susan Tsu, artist Lenka Clayton, and Quantum Theatre founder and artistic director Karla Boos.

“It’s so many folks I so deeply admire and respect, and to be included in their company feels really special,” he said.

Mansoor said he will use the money “to center my practice more in the coming year. Because it means I don’t have to take as much rent work as I would in a normal year.”

He said he also plans to pay down some debt — and buy a refrigerator.

His next project is directing Agnes Borinsky’s 2023 play “The Trees” at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in October.

“It’s a really sweet play about siblings who turn into trees,” said Mansoor.

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: