People to meet in 2015: 10 people making their mark on Pittsburgh
January 4, 2015 12:00 AM
Architect Bob Baumbach, left, and Fred Underwood with a solar panel company, center, talk with Quincy Kofi Swatson, 22, of Manchester. They have started the Door Campaign to start an aquaponics greenhouse at the Northview Heights Family Support Center to grow fish and produce in the fish water as an enterprise and demonstration project.
Tara Sherry-Torres, 32, is the owner-operator of Cafe con Leche, where she organizes events around Latino culture in Pittsburgh. Cafe con Leche has three stated goals: To connect the Pittsburgh Latino community, promote Latino culture in Pittsburgh and be a space for dialogue and creative problem solving.
Nickolay Lamm of Greenfield with his Lammily doll, which has typical body proportions of an older teenage girl.
La'Tasha D. Mayes is the executive director of New Voices Pittsburgh, an organization dedicated to black women's health and welfare.
Nina Barbuto, the founder and president of Assemble, at the non-profit organization's space in Garfield on Dec. 19. Assemble provides a platform for experiential learning, opening creative processes, and building confidence through making.
Neil Stauffer, general manager of Penn's Corner Farm Alliance.
Pittsburgh Symphony board member Michael Herald at Heinz Hall.
Fashion Designer Tammy Jackson is creating dyed jeans.
Kent Schmor, a visiting professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
Cecile Shellman is Diversity Catalyst for Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.
Here are 10 more people to meet in 2015 who are making their mark on the Pittsburgh community in a variety of ways:
Quincy Kofi Swatson
Quincy Kofi Swatson, 23, grew up in Manchester where, with the vigilance of his mother, he resisted the world of gangs and violence.
In high school, he joined the Student Conservation Association, which he said changed his world. It took him into a state forest for the first time and made him conscious of the natural environment.
In 2013, when he and his friends Jehosha A. Wright and DaVaughn Copeland were all in college, they drove around Manchester debating what they could do to better their neighborhood, he said.
They founded The Door Campaign, with the door as a metaphor for an opportunity for teenagers to follow a healthier life path: “We wanted to change the cycle of children in the inner city.”
Mr. Swatson, a graduate of Community College of Allegheny County and Coro’s Next Leaders program, has taken the lead in introducing youth to the practice of aquaponics — growing vegetables and raising fish in the same ecosystem — as an entrepreneurial opportunity.
In its second year, The Door Campaign has been working with students at Perry Traditional Academy and hope within a few years to have a large-scale aquaponics business model and hire students to help operate it, supplying restaurants. Mr. Swatson has been talking to chefs and has several who are interested in the progress of the project.
— Diana Nelson Jones
After living in Pittsburgh for six years, social worker and community organizer Tara Sherry-Torres, 32, realized she was missing something — delicious Puerto Rican food. “My mother is from Puerto Rico and being raised in Brooklyn, I really had a sense of Latino culture that you don’t really see much of in Pittsburgh.”
Determined to change that, Ms. Sherry-Torres started hosting parties at her apartment in Bloomfield to showcase her love of cooking and her culture. When the parties took off, she started to wonder if there could be a business model infusing cultural diversity with soul food. “It was serendipitous that in 2014 there was a resident artist program at Most Wanted Fine Arts that gave me the ability to start a pop-up cafe — Cafe Con Leche.”
Cafe Con Leche produced four events throughout the year focused on food, dance, music and art, all with Latino roots. “We celebrated African roots in Latino culture, we learned about the ‘amazing plantain’ and we utilized the old Quiet Storm location in Friendship to provide a space for Latino Heritage Month,” which ran from mid-September through mid-October.
Now backed by The Sprout Fund, Ms. Sherry-Torres is hoping to create more buzz around her events slated this year. “I want to showcase African-Cuban dancers for a February event, do something for Women’s HerStory month in April ... perhaps a play about the intersectionality of what it means to be Latina and female. I also want to have a fiesta in June for Pride.”
For more information, check out cafeconlechepgh.com
— Natalie Bencivenga
His mother’s dining room table is his office, but the world is Nickolay Lamm’s audience.
The 26-year-old Greenfield artist and researcher has been building a successful career posting thought-provoking, vividly designed content on the Internet, with his work appearing everywhere from CNN to the BBC, CBS, TheAtlantic.com and Time.
He scored a big hit last summer with his “regular Barbie” doll which — gasp! — actually possessed the body proportions of the average 19-year-old female. That was a digital mirage, but Mr. Lamm has spent much of the past year developing a real doll for sale called Lammily — complete with reusable stickers that mimic freckles, acne, cellulite, grass stains, moles and stretchmarks — and she’s been selling like hotcakes.
Much of Mr. Lamm’s digital work — a vision of New York City 30 years from now, underwater, or comparisons of male body types based on what country they’re from — gets picked up by media websites looking to boost traffic and ignite discussion, not to mention some late-night TV talkers, such as Conan O’Brien.
Mr. Lamm prefers to focus on environmental and cultural issues, relying on feedback, inspiration and design help from his mother, Yelena Lamm, his aunt Ina Lamm and his cousin Emily Lamm, all smart women who seem to have a good grasp of the zeitgeist. Mr. Lamm, who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2011 with a degree in marketing, actually makes a good living, but don’t call him the CEO of his own startup, Lammily LLC.
“I’m an artist,” Mr. Lamm said, “plus event planner, email checker, data entry person, graphic designer and pizza delivery driver. My goal isn’t to make a ton of money. I just want to create the most awesome content on the Internet.”
— Mackenzie Carpenter
La’Tasha D. Mayes
She’s a transplanted Philadelphian who came to the University of Pittsburgh on a scholarship and, after graduating with a degree in business and a year at the Coro Leadership Foundation, stayed on.
As co-founder and head of New Voices Pittsburgh, La’Tasha D. Mayes has been advocating for black women since 2004, but now she’s going national: The 33-year old Morningside resident has opened chapters of New Voices Cleveland and New Voices Philadelphia and is a partner in Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, which launches in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 15.
Her goal? To give black women and girls a voice in state legislatures and Congress about their lives, their bodies, their health, their gender. There are women’s groups, civil rights groups and LGBT groups, but, Ms. Mayes contends, no groups that advocate solely on behalf of black females. Her focus — reproductive justice — addresses not just abortion rights, she says, but the health and well-being of these black women and “discrimination in the whole social culture that women of color find themselves in.”
To that end, New Voices (newvoicespittsburgh.org) is pushing for legislation to prohibit the shackling of pregnant incarcerated women and, she notes, her organization contacted more than 30,000 women this past election year in an effort to build a political base. “Organizations that preceded us focused on one singular issue,” she says, “but women and girls of color do not lead single-issue lives.”
— Mackenzie Carpenter
In 2011, Nina Barbuto founded Assemble gallery in a storefront in Garfield’s Penn Avenue Arts District with a mission of connecting people through DIY workshops and “making” events focusing on art, technology, science and math.
Her audience is “curious adults and kids of all ages,” according to her mission statement.
Ms. Barbuto, 30, is among a growing group of inventive entrepreneurs whose businesses overlap with community engagement.
The granddaughter of immigrants from Italy, Ms. Barbuto grew up in Aliquippa and has architecture degrees from Carnegie Mellon University and the Southern California Institute of Architecture.
She coordinates the Carnegie Science Center’s STEM Girls, a program that encourages girls to study science, technology, engineering and math. She is also an adjunct faculty member at the CMU School of Architecture.
“I am so pumped about Pittsburgh and what I am doing,” she said.“This city is a great seedbed for getting things happening, especially if you are bootstrapping. I feel like there is still so much to do!”
She attributed her venture to a passion for art, new media and social learning.
Besides running Assemble, she does innovative work in architecture, film, sound and art installation. She is also the co-founder, with Carrie Nardini, of the I Made It! Market in 2007. This nomadic market, which finds venues throughout the region, features local, handmade arts and crafts.
— Diana Nelson Jones
As Pittsburghers prioritize local foods, Neil Stauffer of Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance drives demand by making it more accessible, with restaurants leading the way.
Hired in 2007 after several years of working on local farms, Mr. Stauffer, 35, has become the general manager, overseeing the cooperative that supplies between 30 and 100 restaurants, depending on the season.
“We now have a wide and diverse group of loyal customers compared to when we started in 1999,” he said. “Now we’re supplying a broader range to include pop-up events, food trucks and coffee shops in addition to restaurants.”
He expanded service two years ago with a new warehouse location at the Larimer/East Liberty border, adding trucks to his fleet and keeping the order minimum low.
In addition to helping restaurants provide local food to diners, he’s helping farmers extend profit throughout the year. Mr. Stauffer also has a hand in the Community Supported Agriculture program, which can accommodate 400 to 700 members throughout the year.
“I get to work in between the passion of a farmer and the passion of a chef,” he said. “Penn’s Corner is a really authentic pursuit.” When he’s not working with farmers and restaurants, Mr. Stauffer spends time with his wife and son in Garfield.
— Melissa McCart
He may have helped orchestrate one of the most controversial Pittsburgh party moments in 2014, but Michael Herald doesn’t want to deflect from his original intent: To get more young professionals involved with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, an organization he has been passionately involved with since 2008.
“A lot of people think that our symphony will never disappear, but it is struggling like many others around the country. When they approached me and a few of my friends to chair the soiree for the 2014 PSO gala, we knew that to get our friends on board, it was go big or go home.”
And so they did. After the cocktail hour at the Duquesne Club followed by a PSO performance starring violinis, Anne-Sophie Mutter, the Sept. 13 party split — with the younger crowd heading over to the Fairmont for a buffet-style dinner and a “for your eyes only” burlesque show that left many in the audience gasping.
“I know it was a risky move, but we don’t regret it,” he says. “It took a risk to get people talking about the symphony again, and it went towards a great cause.”
Mr. Herald, 32, who lives and works Downtown as an associate attorney at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, also sits on the board of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens and Wesley Spectrum. He hopes more young people will get involved and give back to their community. He also has served as chairman of the board of directors for the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project.
“You have to make the time,” he says. “It’s worth it to help make Pittsburgh better for all of us.”
— Natalie Bencivenga
For most people, a cancer diagnosis is viewed as a setback. For Tammy Jackson, it was an incentive to stop putting her dream of starting her own fashion design business on hold.
“I feel like God kicked me in the butt and said, ‘What are you waiting for?’ I heard him loud and clear,” she says.
Raised in Homewood, Ms. Jackson, 40, of the South Side is in the midst of launching the denim line Saani Mac — a nod to her son’s nickname — with business partner Phylicia Tarpley.
“I’m kind of putting the design back in designer jeans,” she says, with innovative cuts and patterns. She drafts the patterns, which are turned into apparel at a factory in Philadelphia and then returned to Ms. Jackson for the finishing touches, including the brand’s unique bleaching treatments. Jeans go for about $75-$180, depending upon the style, at saanimac.com. She’s also in discussion with some boutiques about having the collection carried in stores.
Ms. Jackson learned how to sew as a youth from her mother, who’s also a designer and a seamstress. She further honed her skills at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh and earned her fashion design degree last spring. She’s now an adult education instructor there in the school’s “Get Creative” program, which offers beginner classes to the public.
She raised nearly $16,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to fuel the start-up — and she has plenty of passion and ideas for new product extensions that she hopes will help Saani Mac soar.
“I’m not sure which direction we’ll go, but I do want to have Saani Mac in a little bit of everything,” she says. “I always wanted to become a household name.”
— Sara Bauknecht
He grew up just outside of Vancouver, Canada, and came to Pittsburgh in the fall of 2012 for a position as a visiting lecturer in the philosophy department at the University of Pittsburgh.
But Kent Schmor has another passion — parties. Not just any parties, but parties with a purpose.
He hosts events that support local charities and has become known for his champagne soriees. “I like to think that the central idea of champagne, as a symbol for celebration and escape from the everyday, resonates with people,” muses the 40-year-old, who lives in Shadyside.
In 2014, he hosted several extremely successful events in various cities, including a masquerade society soiree and rooftop fashion show in Seattle, a Roaring Twenties soiree in Denver and a James Bond soiree in Pittsburgh.
He ended 2014 with “Eyes Wide Shut,” a New Year’s Eve masquerade ball to benefit Quantum Theatre at the Smart House on Mount Washington.
This coming year he has a number of innovate events in the works. “I’d like to see the charitable donations raised through my events to double over the next year.”
— Patricia Sheridan
Cecile Shellman led the initiative to engage the broad regional community with programming related to the critically applauded “RACE: Are We So Different?” exhibit at Carnegie Museum of Natural History last year. Now she’s applying that experience, and related networking, to expanding the profile and audience of the four museums of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.
As recently appointed diversity catalyst, Ms. Shellman, 45, is charged with making the museums a more inclusive institution that values diverse backgrounds, beliefs, talents, cultures and capabilities. Her 2015 goals include working with museum colleagues and new president Jo Ellen Parker to advance the organization’s mission with regards to diversity, inclusion and accessibility. “It’s an exciting place to be,” she said.
Ms. Shellman, of Squirrel Hill, was born in Jamaica and moved as a teenager with her family to Idaho and then Utah. She holds a bachelor’s of fine arts in painting from Brigham Young University and directed an art gallery in Park City, Utah, in the 1990s. In 2001 she earned a graduate certificate of museum studies at Harvard University, a program commensurate to a master’s degree. Afterward she was director of education and public programs for the Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, N.Y., and education outreach specialist at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, where she began to develop an interest in “using museums as agents of change and places of reflection.”
She moved with her husband, Spencer Shellman, to Pittsburgh a decade ago and has been director of education and artistic director, visual arts and exhibitions at the August Wilson Center, and manager of the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Culturally Responsive Arts Education Program. In 2007 and 2008 she was group and community outreach liaison specialist for Carnegie Museums of Art and of Natural History.
Ms. Shellman serves on the boards of the Oakland for All Beyond Accessible task force, the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh and the American Alliance of Museums for which she is program chair of the diversity committee. In her spare time she enjoys playing Scrabble, painting, reading and yoga.
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