Backstage with Kahmeela Adams-Friedson at the Office of Public Art | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Backstage with Kahmeela Adams-Friedson at the Office of Public Art

Backstage with Kahmeela Adams-Friedson at the Office of Public Art
CP photo: Jared Murphy
Kahmeela Adams-Friedson

Name: Kahmeela Adams-Friedson, Swisshelm Park
Work: Program Coordinator, Office of Public Art

What happens in your office?

We’re advocates and agents, connecting artists with organizations and communities that want to create some form of public art. Most people automatically just think of murals. We do a lot more.

Like what?

We’re going step-by-step, uniting those looking for art with artists to create it. A community will say, “We want an artist to help us with …” We do a national call or if they have specific things they’re looking for, we have the Pittsburgh artist registry — all these artists and right there, you’ve got their portfolios. With interested artists, we put together packets, portfolios, go through all of the applicants and scale it down to who the selection panel wants to bring in for an interview. The community interviews the artists and look at who they feel they’re best to work with.  

So you’re working with both groups.

Absolutely. The organizations might say, “We have no idea what we’re doing. We know we want something artistic, something beautiful, some sort of program around it. But we don’t know where to find these people.” Then you have amazing artists, but there’s a lack of knowledge of, “Where do I start? Who do I talk to?”

Once this connection is made, do you continue to be involved?

Completely. I do meetings, check in every other week to start, less frequently going forward. We’re handling budgeting, payment, invoices, permits, legalities. There’s a lot to it. 

Mostly practicalities?

That’s part, but not all. It’s full support. Artists can have a lack of self-confidence or uncertainty about their direction. We keep on them, “Yes, this is perfect.” Sometimes they need that push to get them over the line to go ahead, pull the trigger. 

It’s hard for a lot of people to accept the merit of their work.

It took me years to actually call myself an artist. I will talk about and talk up and help promote and produce everybody else’s stuff, “Yeah, it’s great! They’re fantastic!” And do everything I can to get them support. Then you ask me about my own stuff, I’m like, “Yeah, I take some pictures.”

How did you get here?

Kind of by accident. I’ve always been involved in the arts or entertainment world. I went to the Art Institute for video and film production. For ten years, I produced the 48 Hour Film Project. I started here doing social media and admin stuff, then started to pay more attention. My boss asked me if I wanted to manage a project, I said, “Okay.” I know what goes into making things get done. 

Tell me about something you got to do and loved.

We do walking tours of Downtown. I’m the pop culture geek so around the time of Comicon, I wanted to do one in a made-up language. We did a Klingon walking tour.


We found this young man who worked with the man who created the Klingon language. Apparently it’s a very small community. They created 50 new words that had to do with public art. There aren’t many words in Klingon that describe beauty. That was super fun. 

Best part of the job?

It’s been really interesting to see the different ways artists interact with communities. One of our artists worked with senior citizens. He started this seniors’ group and they told him their stories. He’s befriended one of the oldest living residents of the neighborhood. They just came in there the other day saying hi. They just hang out. Seeing stuff like that, the relationship formed, growing from these unlikely things ... When else would they have ever been able to know each other and spend time together?