15 January 2016

Whitney Ave Tunnel Mural by Andres Ortiz Ferrari, Multiple Artists

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We rode our bikes right past this tunnel one day and didn’t realize what was there. It’s a relatively narrow, 100 foot long, pedestrian walkway that runs beneath the east end busway in Wilkinsburg. It’s not far from the Hamnett Park and Ride in fact (where there’s another mural). We spoke with a couple of the artists that worked on this one and they told us that there were some drainage issues. When they started painting, water leaked in and ruined the artwork. Eventually it was done again with some different paints and now there’s only minor damage evident from the water.

This mural taught some valuable lessons. Much like artist Anthony Purcell discovered when he did Trainscape: Community and Industry, the backers on this mural found out that they failed to consider the entire community’s feelings when this project went forward. Several local philanthropic organizations (The Heinz Endowments, Grable Foundation, Poise Foundation) had their eyes opened when the complaints started to come in and when residents had to be thrown out of a town meeting because the fight over this mural had become so heated. It had never occurred to any of the people involved in approving and financing this mural that it would offend a portion of the local population. Some described it as an eyesore and said that it was no better than graffiti. What they ultimately realized was that there must be more community participation in the decision process. Future projects like this would need to have a credible organization (based within that specific community) to oversee it. The organization used would have to be respected and acceptable to a broad base of the population. Because of what happened with this mural, changes were made to the process for deciding on public art in this and other local communities. In a report from the Heinz Endowments they came to this conclusion: When it comes to art, beauty certainly is in the eye of the beholder. But in a public art setting, the eye of the grant maker needs to be focused on how well artists and project commissioners deal with an entire community of beholders.

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