Mary Tremonte is looking forward to kickstarting a new art-education curriculum — one focused on showcasing the stories of immigrants and refugees.
Tremonte, who started a two-year residency at the Office of Public Art last year, will be guiding participating artists in a new program through two stages. The first is getting to know immigrants and refugee communities at respective organizations. The second is facilitating art by those communities.
Four artists chosen for the project were placed within four different organizations that have active relationships with immigrants and refugees. While some art was created during the first year, the second is when the four pairings gear up for a big project.
“At this point, a year into it, the project managers and the artist and the organizations have built a very good working relationship,” says OPA Director Sallyann Kluz. “I feel like some of the initial rounds of hand-holding and getting-to-know-you phases happened so long ago now that the trust level that’s been built up is really strong.”
Molly Rice, matched with Northern Area Multi-Services Center, plans to lead a series of “dinner events” with narrative theatrical experiences. Christine Bethea will facilitate art-focused field trips for the Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh. She will also guide a youth group in gaining media skills, in partnership with Pittsburgh Public Community Television. Lindsey Scherloum, with the United Somali Bantu of Greater Pittsburgh, is putting together a book and website documenting the Somali Bantu community in the Pittsburgh Area.
“What’s really interesting with having four residencies simultaneously is that you can see where there [are] similarities … and then where those similarities change and morph based on not just the personalities, but the difference within the cultures and the different stage of where the communities are as well,” says Kluz.
Tremonte, 39, from the North Side, says she has been spending about 20-25 hours a week on the residency program. She has tutored immigrants learning English, put together a zine with interviews and art from students, and spearheaded weekly sewing and crocheting programs. Students of Literacy Pittsburgh originate from Bhutan, Syria, Morocco, Russia, China and more.
Throughout her year with Literacy Pittsburgh, Tremonte experienced a wide range of challenges.
“I’ve learned a lot more about organizations that are supporting newcomers,” says Tremonte “What their actual work is and some of the systemic and social barriers and challenges that people are facing here.”