Let's Talk About Art: A bridge between community and art

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This is a biweekly series about art and artists in the region. Pittsburgh Filmmakers/Pittsburgh Center for the Arts serves the community through arts education, exhibitions and artist resources.

There's a new bridge in town -- and it's dazzling.

A project of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh and East Liberty Development Inc., the pedestrian bridge connects Ellsworth Avenue's shopping district with East Liberty's Eastside.

It is equal parts fun, function and art, thanks to artist Sheila Klein, who was selected to create atmosphere and add elements of surprise and delight to the bridge. Born in Pittsburgh and now living in the Pacific Northwest, Ms. Klein has created high-profile public art installations both nationally and internationally.

"I wanted the experience of walking across the bridge to be one of civilized surprise -- dramatic and formal, yet playful and functional," she said.

For this project, Ms. Klein's inspiration came from childhood memories of Kennywood.

"I remember a whale with a squishy tongue that you walked into. Being inside the whale was special and exciting. I thought of the bridge like that," she said.

Several organizations worked together to complete the bridge. The engineers were focused on infrastructure and safety, not creating a work of art.

"It was the first time I've ever worked with an artist," said Charles Miller, senior project engineer at the URA. "I'm used to putting in sewer lines, not the fine details. It was a learning process, and I developed a new perspective that will carry over into future jobs."

Ms. Klein sought Pittsburgh Glass Center's expertise on how to create -- by hand -- thousands of glass "sequins" that adorn the bridge. They sparkle in sunlight or moonlight.

"We make one-of-a-kind works of art, not production items. It was challenging and inspiring to see how a community project like this could motivate and unite our artists," said Heather McElwee, the glass center's executive director.

Ms. Klein took many art classes growing up in Pittsburgh that helped her develop a unique view of the world. She believes that artists make great problem solvers because they are resourceful and by nature think outside the box. To learn more about her, visit her website, www.sheilaklein.com.

The Pittsburgh Glass Center and Pittsburgh Filmmakers/Pittsburgh Center for the Arts offer art classes for the community. They collaborate frequently on programming and administration. Visit www.pittsburgharts.org and www.pittsburghglasscenter.org for more details.

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