In recent years, the importance of science and technology education has dominated the conversation, but those who live in this culturally-rich city know that the arts are critical to a literate society and are an essential component of a well-rounded education.
“The arts play a crucial role in the world by fostering creativity, self-expression, and emotional growth and well-being. From the books we read, the photos we admire, and even the little doodles we draw, the arts have a long history of being able to bridge gaps between different communities and create a common ground,” said Chris Uhren, marketing manager with Pittsburgh Center for Arts and Media, a nonprofit adjacent to Mellon Park in Shadyside.
Indeed, the PCA&M’s mission is to ‘cultivate a thriving arts community by bringing people together through education, exhibitions and experiences.’ The nonprofit is a result of a merger of two arts organizations, Pittsburgh Filmmakers, and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, both of which were founded on the premise that arts are a crucial element of community life.
“For a combined total of over 100 years, both organizations served as destinations for local artists, visiting artists, and the public in order to access and engage in the arts as a means of connecting as a community and thriving as individuals,” said Uhren.
Including their programs that happen primarily offsite throughout Allegheny, Beaver, Greene and Washington counties, Artists in Schools and Communities, the nonprofit typically serves or impacts approximately 15,000 persons per year.
Though it is a membership organization, the Center is open to the public. However, members are offered discounts on classes or camps and purchases in the onsite shop, and the membership component helps support programming. Members are allowed to use the ten studios, but nonmembers are welcome to take classes, workshops and attend camps.
Participants are able to try out a number of classes and workshops covering a wide range of mediums, from drawing to painting, ceramics and printmaking, to fiber art, jewelry making and more. Even if you don’t know a paintbrush from a hairbrush, you’re still welcome to join in a class.
“We welcome artists of all skill levels! We work with some of the best teaching artists in the city who are able to meet you where you’re at and help you reach your artistic potential,” said Uhren, adding that there is an artist in everyone. “We think it’s important to offer a place where people can explore their creativity, express themselves in new ways, and help each other grow into their own work.”
PCA&M is currently offering an in-house residency for established ceramicists who can access the studio space and equipment and are offered the opportunity to have an exhibition. The Center also places teaching artists in residency positions via its program, Artists in Schools and Communities, a fully funded state program that has been running for 22 years.
Over 80 camps are offered each summer for children ages 6-17. For example, young artists can choose from a stained glass camp, learning such techniques as soldering, overlaying and glazing; an Art of the Meme class; or the ever-popular Clay Play camp.
“This summer we were happy to add our Digital/Analog Illustration camp to the schedule, where campers were able to work with two different artists who specialize in different mediums to cover the full spectrum of illustration,” said Uhren.
Also in the summer is the nonprofit’s annual half-yard sale, half art show, appropriately entitled yART. Scheduled for Saturday, August 26 from 10-4, it is a marketplace for artists to sell their seconds or materials taking up space in the studio. “It’s also a great opportunity to buy original work from artists at a discounted price,” said Uhren.
This fall, PCA&M will offer its largest term ever, including a professional development class taught by the Gallery Director for Chautauqua Institution. It is also gearing up for the September 22 opening of an exhibition with The Pittsburgh Critique Group, ‘Ever Evolving.’
“For over 40 years this group of artists has met at the center to review their work and take classes with us. A few have even been awarded our Artist of the Year award. The exhibition is going to highlight the long history the center has with working with local artists and showcase the diverse range of work the city has to offer,” Uhren said.
Between the camps, classes, and artists-in-residency programs, what also sets the PCA&M apart is its spirit of collaboration, as it is based on the notion that people can learn from each other.
As Uhren put it, “While some of your best ideas can be had by yourself, the work doesn’t begin to develop and grow until an artist is able to share with their community and receive the support that helps establish it. We like to think of it like a garden. You can plant the seeds yourself, but without the help of all the different elements, nothing may grow.”