Sparking Creativity and Diversity in Pittsburgh's Art Scene
SARIKA GOULATIA’S morale was at an all-time low. The artist was questioning everything: her ideology, her goals — even whether the emotional and financial sacrifices she had made for her artwork were worth it.
When Goulatia found out she had won the 2017 Carol R. Brown Creative Achievement Award for emerging artists, which includes $15,000, her mood shifted to elation and gratitude for the validation from the artists who chose her from among the many nominees. The award gave her the strength to continue installations and other work.
“As artists, we are rarely compensated for our work,” says Goulatia, who was born and raised in India and moved to Pittsburgh in 2002. “Perseverance, hard work, dedication and a true belief in my art keeps me going. The award demonstrates that my community embraces and supports my endeavors.”
Making a living as an artist is notoriously difficult. The Pittsburgh Foundation is one of only a few organizations regionally to fund individual artists, especially artists of color. The works of women artists and those of color often sell for less and are exhibited less frequently by museums and galleries. The Carol R. Brown Creative Achievement Awards and Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grants help create an environment in which these artists can be elevated, thereby promoting work that critiques society or amplifies the voices of those who are not often heard.
“The richness and vitality of Pittsburgh’s cultural community is dependent upon the excellence and diversity of the community of individual artists, both emerging and established,” says Carol Brown, award namesake and founding president of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. As the driving force behind the organization that turned Pittsburgh’s downtown core from a seedy red-light district into the thriving Cultural District, Brown knows the importance of the arts in building strong communities.
The Carol R. Brown Creative Achievement Awards is a partnership between The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments, and is part of the larger Investing in Professional Artists program, which both foundations direct. The Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grant-making program, another joint effort supporting artists, has awarded $4.5 million since its inception in 2010.
Advancing Black Arts also gives organizational grants, but focuses on individual awards toward the goal of fostering collaboration in the black arts sector, addressing racial disparities in the arts community, and increasing general community awareness of black arts and culture.
“Thematically, the intent is to put the resources in the hands of the creator of the work rather than in the organization to hire the creator,” says Dr. Jeanne Pearlman, the Foundation’s senior vice president for Program and Policy. “It gives the artists the resources to take time to make new work or refine their practice. It also is a type of affirmation that the artists can use to introduce their work to new audiences.”
In addition, The Pittsburgh Foundat ion’s Investing in Professional Artists program and A. W. Mellon Fund grant about $1 million each year to individual artists. All are helping sustain the larger-than-average population of artists in Pittsburgh as compared to similarly-sized cities. According to the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, there are 248 artists per capita here compared to about 148 per capita in cities such as Minneapolis and Baltimore. Yet, despite the larger community, problems facing artists are the same as elsewhere: rising housing costs, underemployment, lack of health care and financial instability.
“Investing in Professional Artists and the A. W. Mellon Funds help bridge these gaps by offering working artists needed capital,” says Celeste Smith, program officer for Arts and Culture. “That support allows them to produce artwork that addresses social justice issues, sets a human connection or satisfies the inherent human attraction to art.”
In fact, the popularity of art in all the various cultures and ethnicities that make up Pittsburgh’s societal mosaic is a key factor in a program such as Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh, which funds residencies that place working artists directly in communities.
“These collaborations between artists and presenting organizations are opportunities to train artists whose work may not be well-known, or not developed enough to be introduced to new audiences,” Pearlman says.
Improving the arts ecosystem is just one of the many goals of the Foundation’s programs that have directed millions of dollars to individual artists over the years. The funding is important, and the awards affirm artists’ work and encourage them to continue to pursue their passions and talent.
As costume designer Susan Tsu, who won the 2017 Carol R. Brown Creative Achievement Established Artist Award, said at the December ceremony, “Long after a culture has perished, the artists who held the mirror up to life remain — both as conscience and treasure — to remind us of the humanity of the age.”
Original story appeared in Forum Quarterly - Winter 2018