Pittsburgh Galleries Project opening

Avonworth seniors Alexis Monroe and Jake Morrison work to complete glass mosaics for exhibition in Avonworth’s Pittsburgh Gallery Project, where students were mentored by professionals from the city’s museums. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

Imagine having five local art galleries all in one building, all at the same time. The Warhol, Carnegie Museum of Art, the Mattress Factory, the ToonSeum and the Pittsburgh Glass Center will arrive at Avonworth next Tuesday, April 22, with an opening reception beginning at 6 p.m.

But to clarify: The museums themselves will not be there. Instead, they will be there in spirit through the Pittsburgh Galleries Project, which developed out of the desire to promote the arts as being critical to students' learning, to infuse project-based learning, to further exposure to careers in art, and to provide an opportunity for students to exercise 21st-century skills.

As Dr. Kenneth Lockette, high school principal explained, "Through the project, students have had to practice skills such as working with museum professionals and creating visions for their exhibits. They also had to problem-solve, collaborate, negotiate, prepare professional proposals, create a budget, plan, and execute. What they are creating is real and will be displayed and judged by the public."

The project came about via a $10,000 Sprout's Hive Fund grant application written by Lockette with assistance from graphic arts teacher Gabrielle Nicely and studio art teacher Kerri Villani. Funds were used to visit partnering institutions, to host museum professionals, and to supply materials for the project, helping the students to learn about multiple facets of the art world.

Students have been working with the museums, which have served as mentors in preparing them to design, create, curate, and manage exhibition spaces throughout the school. The end product will be fully curated spaces that will reflect the characteristics and mediums of the partnering museums.

Among the installations that will be spread throughout the high school: a pop culture-themed area that will celebrate female music icons in a Warhol- inspired style; an exhibition of 160 photographs of members of the community, on display in the cafeteria, created by the group working with Carnegie Museum of Art. Also in the cafeteria, students working with Pittsburgh Glass Center created 10 mosaic glass windows, which all come together to create a unified scene.

The ToonSeum work is themed, "The Dark Knight Throughout the Decades: The 75th Anniversary of Batman." The pieces came from various sources, including art on loan from the Toonseum, from Batman artists, and from private collectors. A few pieces were purchased, as well.

Students in the Mattress Factory group have made five stands that will be scattered around the school, juxtaposing older pictures of the building in their original location. They also have created a large vinyl banner that will be placed in front of the high school entrance, juxtaposing photos of the original building with its modern counterpart.

The overall project was entirely extracurricular, but students involved found it to be a great learning experience.

The results have been worth it. "It has been wonderful to watch the students commit to a creative vision and really dedicate themselves to completing it," Nicely said.

Agreeing with her teaching colleague, Villani said, "This project has been a unique and wonderful experience for our students. They worked incredibly hard and the final outcome is a testament to their artistic talent."

A district-wide art show running concurrently will be taken down April 24, but work involved in the Pittsburgh Galleries Project will remain indefinitely.

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