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Investing in Professional Artists announces $170,000 in grants

PITTSBURGH, PA, JUNE 24, 2020 – Investing in Professional Artists, a joint grant-making program of The Pittsburgh Foundation, The Heinz Endowments and the Opportunity Fund, has awarded $170,000 to individual artists and art programs for the initiative’s 2020 cycle. 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s cycle includes grants of $50,000 each to Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and to the Office of Public Art for special initiatives in response to the coronavirus. The program also funds seven individual artists for creative projects according to four key goals: 

  • Supporting creative development for professional artists.
  • Creating career advancement and recognition opportunities for artists.
  • Encouraging creative partnerships among artists and local organizations.
  • Increasing the visibility of working artists. 

Images of this year’s awardees and previous work samples are available for media download here
Since 2011, 142 artists and organizations have received $2.1 million through the Investing in Professional Artists program. The Opportunity Fund is new to the partnership this year.

The organizational awardees receiving special COVID-19-related funding this cycle are: 

  • Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council: $50,000 to support the Emergency Fund for Artists. Recognizing that individual artists are struggling economically due to cancellations and lost ticket revenue because of the pandemic, the Investing in Professional Artists program has contributed $50,000 to GPAC. This grant will support the Council’s Emergency Fund for Artists, which is providing relief funding of up to $500 for individual artists on a rolling basis until funds run out. At least 90% of funds will support artists of color, with 70% of funds going directly to Black artists, and 50% of this portion going directly to applicants who identify as Black women. 
  • Office of Public Art: $50,000 to fund the Artists in the Public Realm in the Time of COVID-19 program. This new initiative will result in a series of artist commissions and professional development for at least 20 artists in the Pittsburgh region working to support communities of which they are a part. The program will consist of three project cycles focused on the communities most adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the Black, Latinx, Asian-American and LGBTQIA+ communities. The program will commission new works by artists from these communities who engage their communities in creating artwork that bridges physical separation and increases well-being. The Office of Public Art will work with a wide array of arts professionals to design the opportunities and select artists, and will collaborate with current and past project partners to ensure full participation from communities most impacted by the pandemic. 

The individual artist awardees for the Investing in Professional Artists 2020 cycle are:

Literary artist Jari Bradley: $10,000 to fund the development of a manuscript for “Unruly,” a full-length collection of poems that centers the unconventional Black queer body. In the manuscript the author will draw connections between the confessional style of their poetry and their physical form and presence. Bradley aims to highlight what it means to exist in a body deemed “disruptive, aberrant and wild amid heteronormative social and familial codes of Black existence.” 

Visual artist Darnell Chambers: $10,000 to organize an exhibition and sequence of comic-book-style illustrations as a storyboard of “Run Back Town,” which is envisioned as a three-season, African-centered animation series that focuses on ancient African history and folktales. Chambers’ work is deeply inspired by world history and his personal experiences growing up poor in America as a man of color. His media arts, animation and design background have given him “better understanding of media and the psychological effects of systematic oppression,” and has led to his belief that “the purpose of art is to inform and instruct, to preserve and protect, and raise awareness to the global injustices of people of color.” 

Glass artist Jaime Guerrero: $10,000 to create five new life-size glass sculptures of angels to honor those who have lost their lives to acts of racism. The sculptures will focus attention on social issues relevant to those living in Pittsburgh while pushing the boundaries of what is possible in glass. The figures will be hand-sculpted at the Pittsburgh Glass Center using its equipment and staff assistants. Choosing which individuals to commemorate “will be a difficult task requiring respect and careful deliberation” and will be guided by key community members in partnership with organizations such as Casa San Jose. Each angel sculpture will take about two months to produce from start to finish. The sculptures will later be the centerpiece of an exhibition roughly a year after the project begins. 

Dancer/choreographer Pearlann Porter: $10,000 to fund conceptual/artistic development to produce a new full-length work, “mirror/360,” to debut in fall 2021. The grant will support a six-month research process including artist residencies, open community workshops, in-depth movement/audio investigations, and two informal performances at The Space Upstairs, which is Porter’s permanent artistic residence. The new element at the heart of the work will be the incorporation of live improvisational poetic vocalization by the dancers amid the choreography, utilizing innovative methods for amplifying and recording voices in real time. The dancers will be “given agency and direction to speak their inner monologues as a stream of poetic-consciousness throughout the piece that informs the work on an entirely new level of reveal.”

Sculptor Lindsey Scherloum: $10,000 toward building two land art sculptures in publicly visible landscapes and developing a public engagement process that communicates contemporary environmental issues while practicing ancient building and weaving techniques. Scherloum has been weaving from invasive species for more than 10 years, first as a self-taught artist and then later after formal study of techniques used traditionally all over the world. Weaving with invasive species “shifts the perception of what may have a negative impact in nature by reorganizing it into fences, vessels and other useful materials.” This grant funds the artist’s work with natural immersive installations that will be created using ancient wattle structure-building and basket-weaving techniques. These new sculptures will emerge through a three-part series of public engagement events executed with cooperation from Tree Pittsburgh and the artist collaborative Creatives for Climate. Volunteers and staff will harvest materials and weave them into usable sculptural forms. 

Film and video artist Mariah Torres: $10,000 to fund post-production of a proof-of-concept for a half-hour comedy series called “Rock Bottom” about the artist’s experiences living in her car in New York City with her best friend. In an effort to pursue her creative dreams and move her family out of Pittsburgh, Torres made the difficult decision to leave her son with his father and move to New York, only to be immediately evicted from her sublet. The artist then hid from her family that she was living in her car while working on a script about her experience with homelessness. The project has moved from two years of pre-production, table reads and script development into a proof-of-concept, promo materials and a title sequence for the show, which Torres describes as “a unifier in these divisive times; everyone has had a rock bottom moment. What we want to illustrate is that you can create your own reality, and with humor and heart, we can build each other up even in the darkest moments.”

Sculptor Rachel Mica Weiss: $10,000 to support the creation of a large-scale concrete publicly installed outdoor work at deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. The artist’s largest cast concrete “Fold” sculpture to date is inspired by walls people build, ranging from the geological and architectural barriers to formless psychological constructs. Through her sculpture, the artist pushes the limits of cast concrete, marble, obsidian, rope, and psychological constructs. Her cast concrete slabs bend paradoxically like fabric or foam, “often hugging coffin-like plinths, their abstracted figures—along with their material morphology—speak to a transcendent, transformational experience that the viewer is invited to share.”

All submissions were reviewed by a panel of artists. Panelists for this cycle and their fields of expertise were:

  • Nisha Blackwell (craft) is the founder of Knotzland Bowties, a sustainable lifestyle brand that sources, rescues and repurposes discarded textiles into stylish bowties intentionally made through providing flexible, at-home income to women.
  • Dominique Luster (visual/culturist) is the endowed Charles “Teenie” Harris Archivist at Carnegie Museum of Art. Luster’s work with the Harris Archive includes innovative uses of information and computational archival science for African American storytelling and public engagement.
  • Wali Jamal (theater) is a veteran actor of a multitude of Pittsburgh stages, performing for the last 22 years. He is known as the Wilsonian Warrior and won the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s 2018 Performer of the Year. He is a 2019 Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grantee. 
  • Mikael Chukwuma Owunna (visual artist) is a queer Nigerian-Swedish American photographer, Fulbright Scholar and engineer. His work explores the relationship between engineering, optics, the black body and queerness. He is a 2019 Investing in Professional Artists grantee.
  • Orlando “Buscrates” Marshall (music) is a producer and DJ born and raised in Pittsburgh who draws significant influences from 1990s hip hop and early-to-mid-1980s electronic funk. Production credits include Phonte & Eric Roberson, Wiz Khalifa, and the late Mac Miller. He is currently working on his first full length LP for Brooklyn-based label Bastard Jazz.
  • Adriana Ramirez (literary arts) is an acclaimed Mexican-Colombian literary artist with a national reputation for slam poetry and nonfiction writing. In 2016, she was named Critic At Large by the Los Angeles Times’ Book Section. She was the 2019 winner of the Carol R. Brown Creative Achievement Award for an established artist, and has served as a panelist for the Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grants program. 
  • Randal Miller (dance/multi) is the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s director of dance programming and special events, including the Broadway series, the Dance Council, the Cabaret series, and Multiple Choice, an eclectic performance series.

More information about the Investing in Professional Artists program, including previous grantees and application guidelines and deadlines, is available at  


Scott Roller
The Heinz Endowments

Kitty Julian 
The Pittsburgh Foundation