Monongahela River towns can be a mecca for budding artists, initiative’s leaders say |
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Joe Napsha
This public art at the Monongahela Aquatorium is an example of a project that aims to help position Monongahela River communities to attract new businesses and jobs.

For Monongahela River towns such as Brownsville and Monongahela, finding incubator space for budding artists to live and work could be an economic boost, as well as a way to make the communities more attractive.

“We are an untapped resource in the area for artists and aspiring creativists,” said Brianne Mitchell, a representative of the Brownsville Area Revitalization Corp., which operates a museum at the historic Flatiron Building in downtown Brownsville.

“We have so much wonderful space for artists — space that overlooks the National Road (Route 40) and the Monongahela River, with gorgeous views and perfect natural lighting,” Mitchell said, noting the Flatiron Building and remodeled pharmacy on Market Street could be among the sites.

The Mon River Towns Program, along with the National Road Heritage Corridor in Uniontown, has joined with the Touchstone Center for Crafts in launching the initiative to place “meaningful public art” in river towns in Allegheny, Washington, Westmoreland, Fayette and Greene counties. The program has several thousand dollars to help launch the public art effort, said Cathy McCollom, director of the nonprofit program.

“We are always talking about connecting communities with the river and history. When it all comes together in public art, that’s great,” McCollom said.

The river towns program focuses on the river as an asset to attract visitors and businesses, promoting tourism and economic development.

“The goal is to repurpose unused and abandoned properties — using art and artists to stoke the economic fires that have been ignited in those communities,” said Donna Holdorf, executive director of the heritage corridor. The nonprofit promotes the historic, cultural, scenic and recreational resources and potential of communities as a tourism destination.

“Public art is intended to start a conversation within a community and usually invites a collaboration of some sort between the artist and the viewers/participants. Often it engages with a particular location or subject, although sometimes it is purely meant to beautify and/or activate a locale,” said Judith H. O’Toole, the Richard M. Scaife Director/CEO of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.

Public art is created to engage the public “with art in their own arena, outside the walls of a museum, with the hope that it will draw them closer to art in their own lives and entice them to be more aware of the benefits of creativity and imagination,” O’Toole added.

An example of public art can be seen at Monongahela’s riverside Aquatorium, a gathering spot and the site of many activities, including riverfront concerts held on summer Saturdays.

Touchstone’s residential artists and staff and about 60 students created a piece of public art that reflected the city’s history — a mosaic of a railroad train chugging alongside a river. They used metal and clay and finished the project in ceramic, sheet glass and glass tiles, said Dean Simpson, a spokesman for Touchstone.

“The meaningful public art installation will be shared with community residents and visitors for years,” said Claudia Williams, the Aquatorium’s director.

That artwork in Monongahela shows that “you can make a career out of (producing public art),” Simpson said. “We’re hoping to make more public art, like murals, in the spring.”

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter @jnapsha.

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