The Pittsburgh Foundation

Foundations invest $169,000 in Pittsburgh-based professional artists

PITTSBURGH, June 12, 2019 – A book of photography of LGBTQ African migrants, a moveable installation of medicinal plants, and contemporary dance productions are among the latest projects to receive funding from Investing in Professional Artists, a shared program of The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments.

The foundations have awarded a total of $169,000 to 15 local artists and organizations through the program this cycle. A panel of artists and scholars at both the national and regional levels, listed below, chose the 15 grantees from a pool of 123 local individuals and organizations. The grantees were selected based not only on the quality of their work, but also on the potential of their proposals to advance their careers. Recipients come from a wide range of artistic disciplines.

Since 2011, 133 artists and organizations have received about $2 million through the Investing in Professional Artists program. The projects meet four key goals: supporting creative development for professional artists; creating career advancement and recognition opportunities for artists; encouraging creative partnerships among artists and local organizations; and increasing the visibility of working artists.

The 2019 Investing in Professional Artists grant recipients are:

  • Cameron Barnett ($8,500) to support a second full-length book of poetry centered on the historical and racial roots of the artist’s heritage in the U.S. and Canada, and the histories of slavery, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. The book will explore how mythologies are created about Black people and the Black experience. As part of the project’s research phase, Barnett will travel to five locations to interview elder relatives and archivists, historians and museum personnel.  
  • Asia Bey ($10,000) to support the completion and production of the graphic novel "EXA," which explores identity and rebellion among Black femme youth and Black "others" who are misrepresented and omitted in comic media and mythology. The fictional work will be inspired by the artist’s own experience.
  • Shikeith Cathey ($10,000) to support the production of new and ongoing experimental artworks that, through sculpture, video and photography, examine the subconscious lives of Black queer men. Works created will be included in the artist's first solo exhibition, which will be presented at Jacksonville University's Alexander Brest Museum & Gallery in Jacksonville, Fla.  
  • Kevin Clancy ($10,000) to develop a new body of interdisciplinary work culminating in an October 2019 solo exhibition titled “Utopia or Oblivion” at Bunker Projects gallery in Bloomfield. This new site-specific installation will feature a series of mixed-media sculptures, immersive lighting and ambient sound scores that explore the complex effects of rapid technological acceleration on the human species. The title is an homage to Buckminster Fuller’s essay “Utopia or Oblivion” in which he calls upon humanity to continually envision and enact the futures we wish to inhabit.
  • Anthony DePaolis ($10,000) to support composing, recording and producing a new work, “Life Unbound,” which is grounded in the jazz diaspora and informed by the artist’s spiritual growth after the May 2018 death of his best friend and musical collaborator, Michael Murray. Murray’s death reverberated across the entire jazz community. By enlisting Pittsburgh musicians, the artist hopes to create communal healing and catharsis, and a recording that be shared across many platforms.
  • Phillip Andrew Lewis ($10,000) to develop new work about the complex relationship between humans and plants, leading to “Planthouse,” a living, sustainable sculptural installation and greenhouse that contains more than 100 species of medicinal plants from around the world. The greenhouse will be modular and transportable to serve as a public installation artwork and a community resource.
  • Clayton Merrell ($6,400) to develop a new body of visual art that explores global ecology by re-imagining and transforming images of classical and sublime landscapes. The artist will paint over his own etchings and engravings, using the images as starting points for a series of large traditional landscape paintings. The works will be delicate and precious so that their subsequent alteration and obliteration will bring attention to the poignant loss of the natural environment.
  • Njaimeh Njie ($10,000) to support the production of a documentary about Blackness in Rust Belt cities, with Pittsburgh as the center point for comparison. The film will explore how Black Pittsburghers have distinguished themselves in industrial and technological innovation, education, medicine, housing and the arts, and if and how Pittsburgh lags behind other Rust Belt communities.
  • Mikael Owunna ($10,000) to support the publication of “Limitless Africans,” the first-ever photography book focused on LGBTQ African migrants and complex narratives about race, sexuality, gender and migration. The book and related educational programming will feature images taken over the last five years in 10 countries across North America and Europe of more than 50 LGBTQ African migrants. The artist is a queer Nigerian immigrant who grew up in Pittsburgh and struggled with intersectional identities as an immigrant, a person of color, and the prevailing myth in that it is “un-African” to be gay.
  • Adriana Ramirez ($10,000) to complete research and a manuscript for a book on the history of violence in the Americas, from Pittsburgh to Colombia and back, blending family oral histories with larger national narratives. The work considers the role that U.S. American imperialism and colonialism has had in shaping Latin America, and how these ramifications can still be felt in neighborhoods as near as Pittsburgh’s East Liberty and as far as the Lower 50s in Barranquilla, Columbia.
  • Martha Rial ($10,000) to support production, organization and community programming for the Millvale expansion of “Beyond the Ceiling,” a temporary photographic mural project that will feature images of local women who have challenged the status quo and are role models for their neighbors. This builds on the initial 2018 installation of the project in Sharpsburg, another working-class river town in transition. The mural will be presented in conjunction with the Millvale Community Library and Triboro EcoDistrict.
  • Anjali Sachdeva ($10,000) to support development of a novel set in a near-future world where people are segregated by gender. The book will explore how advancements in assisted reproductive technology, modern weaponry and even robotics have changed the ways in which women and men relate to one another, and will consider how the lives of trans and non-gender-binary people would be affected by a world that has dispensed with traditional gender roles but is built on rigid gender loyalties.
  • Joy-Marie Thompson ($10,000) to fund a new live contemporary dance performance and dance film called “TIED,” in which two feminine bodies will be tethered together. Binding bodies together involves trust and a huge amount of vulnerability for the dancers, displaying discomfort and power dynamics between the bodies performing. The dancers will be challenged to remain true to their physical abilities without letting the bind hinder their physical expression.
  • Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight of the performance entity slowdanger ($9,000) to support the process, documentation, touring and premier of a new group multidisciplinary performance work, “empathy machine,” premiering in Pittsburgh and New York City in summer 2019. “empathy machine” aims to desexualize intimacy and examine empathy through movement, sound, text and physicality to build a world where the performance and performers live and interact.  
  • Children's Museum of Pittsburgh Artist Residency with Seth Clark ($35,000). Housed in the former Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny, the Children’s Museum’s new Museum Lab has uncovered opportunities to engage visitors in hands-on learning about history, architecture preservation and decay. During a four-month residency, visual artist Seth Clark will work in public view to conceive, fabricate and install a site-specific artwork that uses found objects to explore architectural deterioration with Museum Lab and also celebrating the historic building’s past.

The national panelists were:

  • Joseph Hall, deputy director at BAAD! The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance and a producer, curator and performer working in New York and Pittsburgh.
  • Bakari Kitwana, senior media fellow at the Harvard Law-based think tank The Jamestown Project, executive director of Rap Sessions and a thought leader in the area of hip-hop, youth culture and Black political engagement.
  • Anne Kraybill, the Richard M. Scaife director/CEO at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art.
  • Kate Loewald, founding producer of New York City’s The Play Company, which develops and produces adventurous new plays from the U.S. and around the world.
  • Sadia Nawab, a community organizer, youth and arts educator, artist and a mother, who serves as manager of arts and culture at the Inner-city Muslim Action Network (IMAN) on Chicago's South Side.
  • Dean Otto, the founding film curator at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, and a 24-year staff member at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
  • Sa-Roc, a recording artist, rapper and MC who tours regularly around the country and is getting ready to release her first full-length recording.

The Pittsburgh-based panelists were:

  • Angie Cruz, author and associate professor, department of English, University of Pittsburgh.
  • Andrew Fouts, artistic director, Chatham Baroque.
  • Garfield Lemonius, chair, dance department, Point Park University.
  • Anya Martin, founding artistic director, Hiawatha Project.
  • Jason Mendez, visiting assistant professor of education, Center for Urban Education at the University of Pittsburgh, and non-fiction writer and interdisciplinary theater artist.
  • Imin Yeh, interdisciplinary and project-based artist and assistant professor of art, Carnegie Mellon University.
  • Sarah Huny Young, creative director, interdisciplinary artist and photographer.

More information about the Investing in Professional Artists program, including previous grantees and application guidelines and deadlines, is available at



Kitty Julian 
The Pittsburgh Foundation

Carmen J. Lee
The Heinz Endowments