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Heinz Endowments announces $434K for creative projects that amplify social justice issues

PITTSBURGH, Pa., Jan. 16, 2020 – The Heinz Endowments today announced the first cohort of grant recipients for its new Just Arts program, an initiative that supports artists, organizations and communities who harness the power of the arts to respond to social issues affecting the Pittsburgh region and beyond.

Six projects will receive grants totaling $434,750. Projects awarded funding include a series of artistic billboards that amplify equity and diversity-themes that will stretch across Westmoreland County; the collaborative creation of artwork for recently arrived refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and a Hill District-based residency for black mothers who identify as artists, creatives and activists.  

Rooted in the foundation’s aspirational vision for a Just Pittsburgh, the Just Arts initiative is designed to foster the development of a more inclusively imagined future through art. The projects chosen for funding will create artistic work and cultural programming in response to critical social challenges and instances of injustice in the Pittsburgh region, contribute to individual and community well-being, and envision solutions. 

“Just Arts builds on a rich tradition of truth-telling in the creative community,” said Endowments President Grant Oliphant. “The projects chosen for this inaugural Just Arts cohort will represent underheard voices, spark discussion, and propose solutions to social justice challenges in our region and beyond. We’re grateful to both the artists and their partner organizations for the energy they bring to tackling these issues, and excited to see their creativity unfurl as these projects come to life.”
The inaugural cohort of projects receiving Just Arts funding are:

  • Diversity Art Project Billboards (Westmoreland Diversity Coalition, $150,000) – lead artist: Sheila Cuellar-Shaffer. Curated by the Westmoreland Museum of Art, the public art project will display 10 new works of art on billboards around Westmoreland County, inspired by the theme “Make Our Differences Our Strengths.”
  • Sibyl’s Shrine (Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, $150,000) – lead artists: Alisha B. Wormsley, Jessica Gaynelle Moss, Naomi Chambers. The Hill District-based residency program will offer technical and professional development opportunities for black mothers who identify as artists, creatives and activists. 
  • Visualizing Inequality (Pittsburgh Filmmakers, $50,000) – lead artist: Brian Cohen. The Hazelwood-based photography and community storytelling project will explore the structural origins and experiences of inequality in American society, and encourage empathetic engagement.
  • Something Old, Something New (Jewish Family and Children’s Services, $30,250) – lead artist: Blaine Siegel. The project matches five recently arrived refugee families from the Democratic Republic of the Congo with five local Pittsburgh artist/artisans in order to create artwork for the refugees’ homes. Artwork will incorporate both experiences from the refugees' pasts and their hopes for the future. 
  • Bridges Home (Union Project, $28,500) – lead artists: Liz Foster-Shaner, Michelle King. Those experiencing homelessness will collaborate with service providers through a theatrical practice in which participants share stories from their own lives, analyze systems of oppression, and envision and rehearse alternatives to overcome them.
  • Latino Americans in Pittsburgh: Fighting Hate and Discrimination Project (Casa San José, $26,000) – lead artist: Andres Tapia-Urzua. Artists, advocates, and community members will address ethnic discrimination in Pittsburgh through a series of independent online documentaries that represent the Pittsburgh Latino community in their own voices.

The Just Arts initiative was created over an 18-month period with input from an advisory panel consisting of nearly two dozen community leaders with strong connections to the regional art community. In addition to providing a platform for critical discourse and fostering community/artist partnerships, Just Arts projects will include the application of rigorous aesthetic standards and attention to cultural integrity.

The Just Arts projects chosen for funding were selected from 83 applicants whose funding requests totaled $5.1 million dollars. 

The Union Project, a Just Arts grantee, will host the Just Arts cohort leads, artists, and partnering organization representatives at its Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration on Monday, Jan. 20, from 3:15 to 6:30 p.m. at the Union Project, 801 N. Negley Ave., Highland Park. The celebration is free and open to the public. Just Arts artists and partners will lead discussions during the event’s shared community meal. 

For images and interview requests, contact Scott Roller, the Endowments strategic communications officer, at 412.338.2619 or