Young Entrapainteurs view Downtown as their canvas

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When the Entrapainteurs look at Downtown Pittsburgh, they don't see U.S. Steel Tower, BNY Mellon or the Highmark building. These fledgling young artists see monotonous shades of gray.

But this summer they hope to change that.

The group of seven students -- most are in high school -- were handpicked by local artist Kyle Holbrook, executive director of Moving the Lives of Kids Community Mural Project, to lead a five-story mural at 111 Market St. in September.

"If you look outside here, you don't see any color," said Harishwer Balasubramani, a 17-year-old student at North Allegheny. "We want people to know they live in a very talented city full of people with ideas and visions."

The mural is the MLK Mural Project's first permanent Downtown piece among more than 200 throughout the region since the organization's organic beginnings in Wilkinsburg 10 years ago. To date, the program has employed about 1,000 local kids to complete the projects.

Mr. Holbrook, now 34, was inspired by the community's involvement in a mural on Penn Avenue in 2002.

People brought by images of loved ones lost, asking Mr. Holbrook if he could include them in the piece. Young people wanted to help.

"I looked up and it was 11 p.m. and I had all these kids painting with me," he said.

As a result, MLK began, and occupying teenagers with art instead of crime, gangs or drugs became its mission.

The organization has a second team based in Miami and they have done murals in New Orleans, Atlanta and Haiti.

The Downtown project will be a combination of paint, mosaics, glass and relief art, and will depict a young woman with her arms in the air wearing a T-shirt that reads "the future is me." Around the girl will be representations of the Entrapainteurs' many artistic mediums.

"What we're trying to do is add in our own styles as well as the cultural history of Pittsburgh," Mr. Balasubramani said.

The piece will show the city's transition from steel to technology, and families of all walks of life will represent sharing the Earth and a better quality of life. A poem will also be performed at the mural's unveiling later in October.

"It's really about the kids who have worked on these projects in the last 10 years," Mr. Holbrook said. "It's about the kids and it's about the future of our region."

Each artist working on the project receives a stipend, but for many the opportunity means more than a summer job.

Todd Speller, 16, of Wilkinsburg said he did his first mural last year and is excited to work on a project again.

"It helped me see what I wanted to do," Mr. Speller said of MLK. "The hardest part of being an artist these days is exposure."

Christina Todd, 18, also of Wilkinsburg, worked on her first MLK mural at age 8. Now that she's on the verge of attending Community College of Allegheny County to study art and business, she said MLK has given her an opportunity to gain experience she wouldn't have gotten elsewhere.

"I'm really looking forward to starting the project," she said. "When I get to school I can say I'm working on a project that is in my major."

The Entrapainteurs are passionate about art and the region, like Mr. Holbrook, who said he isn't surprised to see how far the organization has come in a decade.

"We still have a long way to go," Mr. Holbrook said. "I want to change the world with this, so we have a lot more to do."

neigh_city - artarchitecture

Taryn Luna: or 412-263-1985. First Published July 2, 2012 12:00 AM


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