Making her mark

Emily Keener touched up a grape leaf on the mural being painted on two walls of the Pennsylvania Macaroni building in the Strip District. Appropriately, the sun was blazing on this late afternoon scene of sunny Italy: grapes, peppers, pasta, tomatoes and the Italian flag.

Emily is part of the Moving the Lives of Kids Community Mural Project, which features portraits of people, events and structures that have shaped the region's history.

The MLK Web site describes the effort as being “…the biggest and brightest art venture in the city’s history, with murals scheduled to cover 26 walls throughout the city and already engaging hundreds of Pittsburgh’s biggest and brightest residents.”

The citywide project is funded by several sponsors, including Duquesne University. High Mark, the Pittsburgh Pirates, PNC and Sherwin Williams paints, with each artist earning $500 per session, enough to cover transportation and lunch costs for the weeks of their work.

In her second year with the project, Emily loves being part of it all.

The project was brought to her attention through Northgate art teacher Kristin DeGiovanni, who has served as one of the “artist mentors.”

“I became involved in the project three years ago,” DeGiovanni said. “This summer, I work as an artist as well as a teacher at numerous sites, Bloomfield, Mt. Oliver and Larimer among them.

“My mom went to the Web site, sent in two pieces of my artwork with the application, and that’s how I got in,” Emily said.

The youngest of the artists working on this project -- most of the others have graduated from high school -- Emily said that in addition to the exercise of her creativity, she also enjoys the opportunity “…to meet other people and to improve my social skills. I get to meet really nice people. It’s expanded me beyond the North Boroughs.”

One of Emily’s new friends is Ashli Brown, a Langley High School graduate, who described Emily’s talents as being “…ridiculous!”

“She’s very detailed with characters, and she has ‘coolness’ seeping off her. Everybody else absorbs it,” Ashli said.

Graphic designer Shane Pilster oversees the Strip District project, with another graphic designer, Yuri Schneider, who has worked for Macys and Ecko, the designer of the mural content.

The colors are vivid and stimulating and the designs are lively. Schneider said that the artists use acrylic paints for their work, and that a protective clear coat will be added following completion.

Dan Sunseri of the family-owned business where the mural is being painted said, “I think it’s wonderful. Even more wonderful is putting some very talented young people to work. It will make a big difference for them in the future.”

Emily is the daughter of Ami and Scott Keener of Ben Avon.