The Hill District was alive with arts, food, and community this past weekend during the neighborhood's first-ever arts festival.
Over two days, Centre Avenue was filled with people from across Pittsburgh for The Hill District Arts Festival, hosted by local nonprofit ACH Clear Pathways. There were local vendors providing food, desserts, and activities, as well as artists and performers from the Hill District and around Pittsburgh who were able to showcase their art for Pittsburghers to enjoy.
Pittsburgh City Paper talked to some of the local artists at the event.
True Milligan, Truly Poppin
True Milligan is only 11 years old and she has already been her own boss for two years. “I just wanted to start providing for myself because I wanted to get the feeling of being an independent teen or adult,” Millgan says. “This means a lot to me because this is something my mom did not have a chance to do when she was younger.” The idea came from Milligan’s mom’s best friend who helped her get an LLC and, with the support of her mom, she started her business. The first time Milligan sold her lip gloss, she sold out. She says after seeing success with her handmade lip gloss line, she began making hair accessories and hats.
Tammeka Dennison is a long-time Hill District resident and the mother of Pittsburgh-based rapper Jimmy Wopo, who passed away in 2018. The death of Wopo saddened the Hill District community, but Dennison is making sure that he will be remembered. She designs clothing that will continue her son’s legacy well into the future. “If my son was here, he would be very upset at me if I did not show up to this event because he loves the Hill,” says Dennison. “I just want to honor and celebrate him in a positive way.”
Kia Rice, Shine By Kia
Kia Rice was born and raised in the Hill District. For over three years, Rice has been providing her community with custom jewelry. This past year, she began also making T-shirts for people to be proud of themselves and their community. “I been saying, 'Let’s make the Hill great again,'" says Rice. “It feels good to see people on Centre Avenue having a good time and bringing it back to what it used to be.”
Robin Griffin started getting into action painting and abstract expressionism full-time during the pandemic. For her, being at the Hill District Arts Festival feels “unreal.” “It’s been a while since we saw anything like this in the area," says Griffin. “It’s definitely exciting and I am looking forward to more events like this happening in the future.”
Shalise Gardner, Break Every Chain
Shalise Gardner is an African-American author who lives in the Hill District. She writes children’s books that have African American main characters and protagonists. “It is very exciting to give back to my community this way," says Gardner. “My first grandson inspired me to leave a legacy. Representation matters, we don’t see ourselves enough and that needs to change.”
Brooke Johnston has been in business for over a year. She makes skin-boosting homemade soaps and herbal tea blends that will provide energy to the body. “It feels amazing to be here because I am able to give back to the community as well as help other Black businesses as well.”
Alyssa Shockley, Paint at Your Own Risk
Alyssa Shockley and her daughters started Paint at Your Own Risk when Shockley realized that she had a machine that could make different art designs. Since then, they have been coming up with different ways to provide these art portraits to the community. “Thinking outside the box and knowing what people wanted is what allowed us to be successful,” she says. One of Shockley’s daughters adds, “As a Black kid seeing Black art, it is a surprising thing, it’s, like, wow they have someone that looks like us. Not a lot of stuff is made for us so seeing that happen is awesome.”
Ujamaa Collective is a nonprofit Hill District boutique filled with clothes, accessories, and art that has been made by Black artists across the country. “Part of our mission is to serve ourselves and each other," says LaKeisha Wolf, executive director of Ujamaa Collective. “I think that when a community comes together and shares values, principles, and practice then you can get through just about anything.”
Michelle Rysse, Michelle Rysse Art
Michelle Rysse has been painting since the beginning of the pandemic. Since then, Rysse has created mixed media and digital media art. She says that the Hill District Art Festival has always been on her mind. “Being here is really a dream come true," says Rysse.
Brandi Whitecloud, Botanical Spa Scrubs
Two years ago, Brandi Whitecloud was making her own facial scrub when people began asking her what she uses. Whitecloud says that the Hill District Arts Festival was important for young Black people to see. “Seeing events like this gives them a sense that older Black people can lead the way," says Whitecloud. “Next time, when they see all these businesses and box stores, they can say, 'Hey I can do that, too.'”
Daynell Marbury is the owner of Hello Boutiq, and features products that are handmade from resin. Marbury says she felt welcomed the minute she got to the arts festival. “This is very exciting," she says. "To have my art showcased for people to enjoy and even purchase my art is awesome.”
Na’Chelle Simone, By.Chelle
Na’Chelle Simone does a lot of things. She sings, writes songs, and does any type of art that you can think of. This past weekend, it was crocheting. Since the age of 10, Simone has been crocheting clothing, and accessories. She says that it took a lot of hard work, but she did not give up. “It’s OK to go through trial and error. Just figure out what works best for you,” says Simone.
Heidi Davis, Stanley Stray
Heidi Davis’ family is filled with artistic talent. Her sister got her inspiration from famous artist Bob Ross, and both Davis and her sister have been painting for years. In addition, Davis also wrote a book that she says has received praise from children and national and international celebrities, including Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee, who's photographed on her website holding a copy. “I think that people are really enthusiastic about just having this event for the first time,” says Davis.
Stephanie Byrne and Kenya Johns, Nifty Cookie Creations and Renegade Rainbow
Stephanie Byrne and Kenya Johns came together to provide the arts festival with a crochet and digital art combination. “This is my first time being a vendor, so I am really excited about it," says Byrne. “It’s an honor to be here. I never really get out this way, so to see it instead of hearing about it is something different."