Founded in 2011 by Adarsh Alphons, an Indian immigrant struck by the lack of visual arts classes in U.S. public schools, ProjectArt has grown from its roots in New York City to eight cities nationwide, including Pittsburgh. The program, which features local artists teaching everything from sculpture to knitting and sewing, started at three Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (CLP) branches and has since expanded to six – Allegheny, Woods Run, Beechview, West End, East Liberty, and Carrick.
“Pittsburgh seemed like a fantastic candidate for this program, simply because we were getting a lot of inquiries from people in Pittsburgh who had heard about our program in New York asking for us to come [to the city],” says Alexandra Behette, director of external affairs for ProjectArt.
She says that, after doing “a ton of background research,” they determined that, not only was there a demand for the program in Pittsburgh, there was a “real need due to the lack of arts education available.”
From there, they partnered with CLP, which agreed to host the 30-week classes offered throughout the school year. While the current semester is underway, students are still welcome to sign up at any time.
Behette sees ProjectArt as adding to the many amenities already offered at area libraries.
“The library as a whole serves as an essential pillar of the community in bringing people together, regardless if it’s for arts education or computer classes, or English as second language classes,” she says.
Nina Friedman, who serves as the ProjectArt Pittsburgh director, adds that while CLP libraries provide access to a ton of free arts resources, including 3D printers, digital music software, and equipment like cameras, ProjectArt takes a more instructional role with a curriculum taught over the course of the whole school year. It also serves as what she calls a “cradle to college program,” through which students can develop skills from elementary school up until they graduate from high school.
By ProjectArt’s own count, an estimated 4 million elementary school children across the country never receive any arts instruction, something the organization believes contributes to lower grade point averages for students and higher drop-out rates. This disproportionately affects students in lower-income areas, where schools already struggle with a lack of funding and resources.
While Pittsburgh has access to arts education, particularly through the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) magnet school, such opportunities are limited.
“So many of the public schools in Pittsburgh and around the library locations that we are in don’t even have a simple art lab,” says Behette. “We as a society value so many of the creative problem-solving skills students gain from a quality, consistent arts education and mentorship that it sort of doesn’t make sense that we don’t fund it and we don’t invest in it.”
It appears that others feel the same, as ProjectArt has received support, not just from the CLP, but from the Pittsburgh Foundation and Blick, an art supply store that provides free art supplies to ProjectArt programs in Pittsburgh and across the country.
“Arts education is really valuable,” says Behette. “It’s just so important for our kids to have the time to be reflective and have some time to play and explore outside of any home or school stressors they might have.”