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Artists working with Pittsburgh-area organizations to address public health issues

Apr 12, 2022

Public Art and Communities Program announces artist & organization partnerships

Press Release | Written with Office For Public Art

April 6, 2022 – Pittsburgh, PA – Five Pittsburgh area community organizations are collaborating with four Pittsburgh artists to address public health issues within their communities through temporary public artworks. The collaborations, launched in summer 2021, are part of the Public Art and Communities (PAC) program. PAC was developed by the Office for Public Art (OPA) and Neighborhood Allies, in collaboration with the Borough of Millvale, Millvale Community Library, and the Triboro Ecodistrict. Through the PAC program, artists and communities are supported to work together in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its intersection with other public health crises.

The collaborating artists and organizations are:

Jason McKoy with the Etna Community Organization and Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization on the topic of social isolation;

Nola Mims with Steel Smiling on the topic of Black mental health;

Rell Rushin with Frogang Foundation, Inc., on the issues of mental health, racism, social isolation, and exclusion for Black women and girls ages 6-16; and

Lindsey Peck Scherloum with The Brashear Association, Inc. on the issues of food insecurity and social isolation.

“This important collaboration has highlighted the critical impact of visual arts in addressing pressing public health issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic”, said Dr. Ashley Hill, Assistant Professor, Department of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh. “These partnerships with artists and community organizations are giving light to important issues such as mental health, food insecurity, social isolation and racism pervasive throughout the Pittsburgh region. Through powerful partnerships with community organizations, artists have collectively reimagined ways to describe, evaluate and propose innovative methods to address these systemic and pervasive public health issues in the neighborhoods these organizations consistently serve.”

Each of the organizational partners, selected in Fall 2020 through an open call process, identified specific public health issue(s) as a focal point for their collaboration with an artist. In Spring 2021, artists were selected through a second selection process, in which each organizational partner selected the artist with whom they wanted to work.

Since that time, the organizational partners have been collaborating with the artists to build trust, engage community stakeholders, and develop project concepts. To begin the collaborative process and build the teams’ capacity to undertake creative placemaking and public art projects, the organizational partners, artists, and project managers participated in a training program called Placemaking Academy in summer 2021. Over the course of six weeks, OPA brought together speakers from across the country who actively work in community-engaged art. Their practices span multiple media and disciplines that address social and/or public health issues.

Each partnership will result in a work of public art that addresses the public health needs identified by the community. The artworks and the process to create them are intended to increase community resilience and strengthen community response to the public health crises magnified by the pandemic. Artists are currently in the process of developing their final designs and implementation plans for their respective artworks. Projects are expected to launch in Fall 2022 and conclude during Summer 2023.

“The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support the efforts of organizations nationwide to strengthen communities through the integration of arts, culture, and design,” said NEA Chair Maria Rosario Jackson. “NEA Our Town projects such as the Public Art and Communities program demonstrate the value of partnerships that advance equity and position artists and arts organizations to help communities address important issues.”

The Public Art and Communities Program is made possible through the generous support of the National Endowments for the Arts, a federal agency; The Heinz Endowments; and the Henry L. Hillman Foundation

About the Artists

A headshot of artist Jason McKoy, a Black man wearing a green jacket and hat, as well as glasses.

Jason McKoy
Jason McKoy is a brand consultant, ARTvocate, social innovator, and self-proclaimed weirdo. Living with major depressive disorder has informed how he navigates the world creatively. He is the founder of, McKoy Creative, a warm hug for your business providing creative services from concept to completion that benefit communities. When not making stuff, he’s either playing video games or sleeping. He hails from NYC.

A headshot of artist Nola Mims wearing a sparkling green dress and nude heels. They are crouching, resting on their heels.

Nola Mims

Pittsburgh-based artist, Nola Mims, has a research-based creative practice that centers themes of the psyche and social justice. With a BA in Psychology and Studio Arts, Nola uses a variety of mediums to explore identity as a psychological and cultural concept. Mims also produces creative educational resources to advocate for harm reduction and science-based drug education.

A headshot of artist Rell Rushin, a Black woman wearing a black t-shirt.
Photo taken by Njaimeh Njie

Rell Rushin

Rell uses a variety of mediums such as oil, acrylic, and fiber to relay her personal experiences. She primarily focuses on subjects such as beauty standards, maladaptive daydreaming, and the representation of Black people in global media. Rell is a classically trained singer and studied voice for six years at Rogers CAPA and Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. Rell discovered her passion for drawing and painting when preparing her portfolio for Art and Design College.

A headshot of artist Lindsey Peck Scherleoum, a white women wearing glasses, a black shirt, with long wavy hair.

Lindsey Peck Scherloum

Lindsey Peck Scherloum is a North Braddock based artist who works in sculpture, installation, media arts and performance to create participatory experiences that prompt storytelling and human connection to one another and their environments. She has done this with audience-collaborators at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Center for Creative Reuse, The Mattress Factory, Carnegie Museums of Art and of Natural History, and with rural, incarcerated and otherwise underrepresented communities across the US and internationally. She is currently researching explorations of the future, handwork, and group creativity as means to collectively examine, introspect, and share stories around hard topics.

About the Organizational Partners

Brashear Association, Inc.

Based on the core belief that everyone deserves a fair shot, Brashear provides South Pittsburgh residents and community groups with access to quality programs and services that address social, educational, health, and economic issues.

Etna Community Organization + Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization (ECO + SNO)

ECO’s mission is to make Etna a more vibrant place to live, work, and play by 1) supporting projects and programs that integrate equity, sustainability, and resiliency into the fabric of our community, and 2) engaging, empowering, and activating Etna’s community members to take ownership over their futures.

Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization works to strengthen and engage the community of Sharpsburg through work that focuses on improving the quality of life for residents by targeting sustainable, equity-driven projects that prioritize inclusive community engagement and grassroots local leadership.

Frogang Foundation, Inc.

Frogang’s mission is to promote and create positive self images for young girls of color so that they can recognize their self worth and see beauty when they look in the mirror. Based in Beltzhoover, Frogang serves Black and Brown girls, women, and femmes in the Hilltop and across Greater Pittsburgh.

Steel Smiling

Steel Smiling bridges the gap between Black community members and mental health support through education, advocacy and awareness. Their 10-year vision is to expose every Black resident in Pittsburgh to a positive mental health experience that improves their quality of life by 2030.

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About the Office for Public Art

The Office for Public Art envisions a region in which the creative practices of artists are fully engaged to collaboratively shape the public realm and catalyze community-led change. OPA builds capacity for this work through civically engaged public art, artist resources, public programming, and technical assistance. Learn more at opapgh.org.

About Neighborhood Allies

Neighborhood Allies’ vision is for all neighborhoods to be resilient, thriving and equitable. Our mission is to engage Pittsburgh area residents and organizations with innovative tools that expand opportunity for transformative community change. We believe the elimination of barriers begins with uplifting creative community ideas. We promise to create pathways of opportunity that lead to healthy neighborhoods.

For more information, visit: neighborhoodallies.org.

About the Millvale Community Library

Established in 2007 and opening in 2013 after years of resident volunteer efforts, the Millvale Community Library is more than a library – it is an agent for positive change. In 2012, the Millvale Community Library hosted and helped create the Millvale Ecodistrict community education and engagement program to build capacity and leadership. Today over 20,000 annual visitors of all ages enjoy free resources, literacy, arts, and making programs. http://www.millvalelibrary.org/

About the Borough of Millvale

Established in 1868, the Borough of Millvale is a municipality immediately adjacent to Pittsburgh and located on the Allegheny River. The Borough works closely with individuals and organizations to advance projects and ideas for the benefit of its community members, and regularly partners with neighboring communities on inter-municipal planning and development initiatives. In 2013, the Borough of Millvale launched the Millvale Ecodistrict Pivot Plan, a community revitalization strategy that includes the development of regenerative infrastructure, education, and art to create and enhance sustainable planning and development solutions. https://www.millvalepa.com/

About the Triboro Ecodistrict

The Triboro Ecodistrict promotes coordinated sustainable community development throughout the Boroughs of Millvale, Etna and Sharpsburg. With over 10,000 residents combined, the Triboro builds on a strong collaborative history to promote equitable, sustainable community development through the shared lenses of: Equity, Food, Water, Energy, Air Quality, and Mobility. The Triboro Ecodistrict is a collaborative project of New Sun Rising, Etna Economic Development Corporation, Etna Community Organization (ECO), and Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization. https://www.newsunrising.org/project/triboro-ecodistrict/

Top Header Image Photo Credit: Prototyping Larimer Stories by artist John Peña, photo by OPA