06 September 2015

The History of PghMurals

A few years ago a friend and I were riding our bikes on the trails around Pittsburgh, Pa. We stumbled onto a list of 32 public art murals and decided to leave the trails and go find them.  It gave us destinations for our bike rides rather than just riding up and down the same trails day after day. It took us to new neighborhoods and introduced us to new businesses along the way and we really started to get an appreciation for the city.  

On the way to those initial 32 murals we kept finding more murals that we knew nothing about. Lots more murals. We went home and tried to learn something about these other murals and in the process of researching them, we found information on yet more murals.  Before long we were well down the rabbit hole.  We were finding references to artwork all over the city.  Sometimes it was just a picture someone posted on Facebook or instagram with no address or hint to where it was.  We had to do a lot of hunting to locate some of these.  Each new clue we found led us to new places and some great bike rides.

There are 90 neighborhoods in the Pittsburgh area and in all the time I've lived here I probably hadn't spent any significant time in more than five of them. I'd driven through some on occasion. Others I not only had never been in, but I wasn't all that sure exactly where they were. This public art 'scavenger hunt by bike' project of ours turned into a discovery of my own hometown for me.  I saw so much more from my bike than I ever did driving.  Cycling allowed me to interact with pedestrians, stop to look at things, and generally just begin to get a feel for the distinct personality of each of those neighborhoods.

We initially wanted to share the art we'd found with other cyclists in the area, but as we brainstormed how to publish the directions and general information, things snowballed. First it was uploading pictures to a personal Facebook account and linking to a simple spreadsheet with the addresses. That didn't satisfy us for long though because once we found the artwork, we wanted to know more about it.  We spent hours and hours researching the murals on line, digging through the clippings files at the Carnegie Library, and finally contacting artists to interview them. The more we learned about the art the more we wanted to see. So we set out to explore neighborhoods searching for undiscovered art and more hidden treasures.

We realized that this wasn't just interesting to local cyclists. We could envision people walking around some of these neighborhoods to see the murals. Perhaps just enjoying the photos and information on line if they weren't able to go in person, or using the resource to learn more about a mural they might have seen from the bus window on the way to work.  Early on in the project we had a teacher looking for an idea for a field trip and she decided to plan her class outing using the information we'd published.

My friend and partner for the project was the IT specialist and he came up with the idea of making an interactive map with pop up thumbnails showing people where the murals were.  It made it much easier to plan a bike ride or walking tour with the map.  Unfortunately after two years he needed to quit the project and when an IT issue came up I just didn't have the background to solve it.   After the site was off line for a month I decided to go back to basics and publish the information in a format that I could easily maintain and update by myself.  There's still an interactive map - it's just not quite as elegant as the one we were using.

So this is the new home/format of Pgh Murals. (For anyone wondering about that name, “Pgh” is the old abbreviation for Pittsburgh. Locals have used it for decades, but anyone new to the city may not recognize it.) The intent of this project is to provide an educational resource for anyone that enjoys public art, and to encourage people to explore the many interesting neighborhoods that comprise Pittsburgh.  We rode our bikes to each of the murals and sculptures and had a great time doing it.  Bike, walk, take a bus... just get out and explore.  There's a lot to see if you take the time to do it. 

This spreadsheet organizes the murals and sculptures by neighborhood and provides location information and more.  The neighborhoods are color coded simply to make it easier to distinguish between them.  The column marked “URL” on the spreadsheet provides the link for the corresponding blog post.  No link means I haven't moved the information over to this format yet.  There are more than 500 entries on the old website so this could take a while.  This map shows you where everything is and will provide basic information in the pop up windows (eventually).  If there's nothing in the pop-up it's because I'm still transferring the information.  Patience, grasshopper.  When completed, each piece of art will have it's own blog post with photos and whatever information I've been able to find on it.  Between the map and spreadsheet, all the information you'll need to locate the artwork will be provided.

Note that public art does not last forever. Murals get painted over, buildings get demolished, sculptures get moved or sold. Rather than deleting those entries, I've marked the “Status” as “GONE” to designate that you won't find it there anymore. This spreadsheet will be updated as new art is discovered or old art is lost. Understand that I'm not riding my bike through every neighborhood every day. It could be months before I know that someone painted over something or that a new mural was installed. If you find art that isn't listed - send me an email. If you go to look for something and discover it's gone – send me an email.

With very few exceptions, only outdoor public art is listed. Hey, we were riding our bikes to this stuff. If we couldn't take the bike in it probably isn't included.

Please don't ask me to paint something for you (I'm not an artist); to sell you copies of the art (I don't own any of it); to find someone to paint your house (I'm not an agent or contractor) – or anything of the sort. This is again – educational. It's a journalistic blog about the public art in my home town. If you're searching for an artist for a public art project, I would suggest you start with the Pittsburgh Artist Registry.

I won't try to sell you anything here and I'd prefer if you don't try to sell me anything. I don't want or need advertisements on this. I'm not looking to make money. This is just a hobby – a love of my hometown and all the cool stuff within it – that I'm sharing with whomever is interested.
Welcome to the new PghMurals!

Twitter: @PghMurals