One of the most comforting ways I made Pittsburgh my home after moving here roughly sixteen years ago, was by getting to know the city’s various artist communities. Many artists from Andy Warhol to actress and writer Lena Waithe have nourished their creative and emotional selves by bonding with the “chosen families” of their homes away from home. As a then young mother and new spouse, I spent many days in museums, and several nights at any open mic or reading I could slip away to experience. Before podcasts, there was Jan Beatty’s Prosody on WYEP, which introduced me to countless poets in the region when slipping away from home wasn’t an option. As an “outsider” or transient resident, the relative ease of learning my way around and discovering new artists delighted me. After my second child was born, I spent more time reading comics and graphic novels and roamed Phantom of the Attic in search of the latest releases. Pretty soon, the beginnings of a kind of artistic roster of who’s-who formed in my head: public and private school teachers who wrote and published fiction and poetry or created and exhibited visual art; high school students studying creative writing through the Pennsylvania Writers Project; glass blowers and mosaic artists exhibiting at Three Rivers Arts and in the airport; and many more. Our region is filled with these artist superheroes, many of whom shop for groceries and work beside us undetected. As the Office of Public Art’s first curator for the Sift project, I thought placing myself in the shoes of a new transplant or someone in search of kindred spirits might be a good idea.
Because the “goal of Sift is to both increase exposure to its members and enhance the critical dialogue between the art world and our region,” I had to include the photograph of Kim El and August Wilson in the first installment. Steelers and Alka-Seltzer commercials aside, Wilson is a Pittsburgh symbol for many who’ve never set foot here. “Enhancing a critical dialogue about the art world and our region” certainly has roots in Wilson’s life, history, and magnum opus. As for the other selections, I thought, “whose work would spark a conversation in and of itself and lead the Sift viewer to another artist, institution, or critical dialogue—both regionally and internationally?” The idea that this particular moment in digital curation has given us the gift of Sift seems like a near-perfect intersection of communal interests, gazes, and perspectives. So take a look. How many connections can you find or create? How many conversations can you spark? Register.
Yona Harvey is the author of Hemming the Water, winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award in poetry and the Lucille Clifton Legacy Award from St. Mary's College of Maryland. Her poems and essays have been anthologized in The Force of What’s Possible: Accessibility and the Avant-Garde and Writing Away the Stigma: Ten Courageous Writers Tell True Stories About Depression, Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, OCD, PTSD & more. She contributed to Marvel's World of Wakanda, a companion to the bestselling Black Panther comic, and co-wrote with Ta-Nehisi Coates Marvel's Black Panther & The Crew.