Program designed to expand artwork through Pittsburgh

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With globe-shaped lights, a gently undulating walkway and glittering glass sequins on the chain-link side walls, East Liberty's new pedestrian bridge is as much art as infrastructure.

People talk about how it's "just not like any other bridge," David Serbin, chief financial officer for East Liberty Development Inc., said.

Pittsburgh officials hope to encourage more of that kind of innovation -- and to better infuse art into buildings, infrastructure and public spaces citywide -- through a pair of initiatives announced last week.

Over the next 18 months, the city will develop ArtPGH, a plan for managing and growing the city's art collection, expanding artists' involvement in public projects, leveraging art for economic development and getting more art into neighborhoods. During the same period, it will develop DesignPGH, a plan for documenting and preserving architectural styles citywide.

"High-quality public art and urban design demonstrates to residents and visitors that Pittsburgh is not only America's most livable city but one that plans and builds in a functional and aesthetic way," Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said in announcing the initiatives.

ArtPGH and DesignPGH are part of the city's comprehensive planning process, which also includes historic preservation, transportation and open space. By design, the plan's components overlap, city planning director Noor Ismail said.

When officials talk about infusing more art into neighborhoods, they don't mean bronze sculptures. They're more likely to mean temporary exhibits, similar to Fraley's Robot Repair, part of Project Pop Up: Downtown; interactive experiences, such as the Waffle Shop, an East Liberty restaurant and radio venture; and projects such as the East Liberty bridge, designed by Sheila Klein of Bow, Wash.

"We have such a strong art community. We want to create opportunities for people to make money making art," Joy Abbott, the city's assistant planning director for development and design, said.

On the other hand, art can stimulate development. For example, the Waffle Shop became an East Liberty destination that contributed to the neighborhood's development buzz, officials said.

Like the pedestrian bridge, an innovative work at Mellon Park in Shadyside highlights the goals of ArtPGH, Morton Brown, the city's public art manager, said.

Designed by New York City artist Janet Zweig, the work is a memorial to Ann Katharine Seamans, a Point Breeze resident who died in a 1999 car accident. The 150 granite markers represent the planets and stars that were in the sky over the city at the moment of Ms. Seaman's birth in 1979.

At night, the markers light up, and "the night sky is reflected in the grass," Ms. Zweig said.

While creating new art, officials also want to preserve aesthetically pleasing reminders of the past, including Victorian, Craftsman and other architectural styles found in various neighborhoods.

The city already has preservation guidelines for historic districts, but DesignPGH would take a broader approach by developing neighborhood-specific renovation guidelines for property owners citywide. The guidelines also would help to ensure that new construction complements a neighborhood's existing architecture, said Mr. Brown, who said builders still would have creative license.

The city anticipates spending as much as $585,000 to develop ArtPGH and DesignPGH -- a sum provided by the city, The Heinz Endowments and the Colcom and Richard King Mellon foundations. Residents will have an opportunity to comment at public meetings that have not yet been scheduled.

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Joe Smydo: or 412-263-1548.


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