Meet the organization formerly known as the Office of Public Art | Pittsburgh City Paper

Meet the Pittsburgh organization formerly known as the Office for Public Art

click to enlarge Meet the Pittsburgh organization formerly known as the Office for Public Art
Photo: Visuals by Ishara
Artist Jason McKoy leads participants on a walking tour of Etna and Sharpsburg to view his collaborative artwork, We Are Windows, part of Shiftworks' Public Art and Communities program
"A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet" is a famous line from William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet. It's a poetic way of saying, "If I call you by another name, are you any different?" Shiftworks Community + Public Arts, the nonprofit formerly known as the Office for Public Art, will work to ensure the public that, despite the name change, they plan to keep the same mission they have maintained for almost 20 years.

Shiftworks was founded as the Office for Public Art in 2005 by Renee Piechocki, an artist and public art consultant. It began as a partnership between the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and the City of Pittsburgh to fill the gap in technical assistance and education about public art for the city. But over time, the city was able to invest in its public art staff that would support their collections and policy development. This allowed Shiftworks to serve additional clients and offer specific services.

"We began to develop programs while continuing to be fiscally sponsored by the Arts Council," Shiftworks executive director Sallyann Kluz tells Pittsburgh City Paper. "Frankly, there's been confusion about whether we were part of the Arts Council or whether we're part of the city."

In an attempt to clear up the confusion, in 2019, Shiftworks embarked on a strategic plan that allowed them to look at their identity and ask how they would tell their story. The first step was forming their own 501(c)3, which gave them the space to work on their mission, vision, and values — creating independence by defining themselves differently than the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

Shiftworks also recruited a Board of Directors comprised of local art and community leaders. Covering the arts are J. Thomas Agnew of BOOM Concepts, Pittsburgh Public Theater managing director Shaunda McDill, and Rachel Rearick of Contemporary Craft. Rounding out the board are Shad Henderson, director of equity and inclusion for Neighborhood Allies, and Kyle Webster, the vice president of housing and general counsel for ACTION-Housing.
click to enlarge Meet the Pittsburgh organization formerly known as the Office for Public Art
Photo: Sean Carroll
100 Million Years of Water, artist John Peña’s Fern Hollow Bridge project made possible through Shiftworks
The organization's mission has always been defined as "catalyzing change through community-engaged artist projects in public space." The term "public art" tends to conjure images of murals and sculptures, and while those are forms of public art, Shiftworks seeks to engage in a deeper, more community-minded process.

One example would be the work Shiftworks did with area immigrants and refugees. By pairing several artists to work in residence with organizations like the Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh, programs were created to help implement creative projects that would engage the community. For example, artist Edith Abeyta's residency with the Carnegie Library of Hazelwood resulted in the creation of Arts Excursions Unlimited, a program dedicated to increasing the cultural connectivity of the citizens of the greater Hazelwood community.

Shiftworks touts that, throughout its history, it has managed more than 70 temporary artworks, 30 permanent installations, and 20 artist residencies, as well as created 325 events in the southwestern Pennsylvania area. With seven full-time staff members operating in varying areas of expertise, Shiftworks continues to support art and artists in the public realm. In addition to creating programs and experiences, Shiftworks provides resources such as the Artist Opportunities List and Pittsburgh Artist Registry, as well as the Public Art training for artists.

"Our mission isn't changing, but our name is so that we can tell our story better and help you tell yours," says Ashley Anderson, Shiftworks' marketing and communications manager.

Much of the organization's work has focused on shifting perceptions of public artwork, the creative process for artists, and the lives of communities. The new name is meant to be a straightforward representation of the work they've been doing.

"We needed to have a name and a presence that was more reflective of that, that wasn't a stumbling block for people," Kluz says. "I like to talk about the fact that shifts can be very sudden, rapid, and monumental, like tectonic plates shifting and having to respond very quickly to shifts. But they can also happen over time and the application of pressure on systems. And we work in both of those ways."

In mentioning the pressure on systems, Kluz offers, as an example, the organization's response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. With the March 2020 launch of Artists Bridging Social Distance in the Public Realm initiative (ABSD), Shiftworks supported artists whose creative projects had been canceled or indefinitely postponed. There were several rounds of support for artist projects that would promote social connection while adhering to the public health and safety guidelines.

In the grand scheme of things, Shiftworks' organizers hope to change the system from within. By slowly applying pressure behind the scenes, the group intends to "shift the way the systems are working and … to help leverage changes that will make the overall ecosystem more beneficial and supportive for both artists and communities," Kluz says.

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