It wasn’t until local artists Jerome Charles and Max Gonzales were arrested in 2016 for being, as the police put it, the “Most Wanted Graffiti Artists in Pittsburgh,” that they were given a chance to show their work.
“We were arrested, and our names were plastered in the media,” says Gonzales. “Once our names were on those platforms, we were given art opportunities.”
Now the artists are the curators of The Glow Up, an event that brings together people of color, or POC, artists together to show case their work.
On Nov. 9, Charles, who is black, and Gonzales, who is Mexican-American, will join an all-POC band of artists at the Ace Hotel. For one night only, 42 visual artists and eight musicians will perform and showcase their work. There is no direct theme other than the common thread of being a POC. Skill levels vary from newcomers who have not shown their work before, to classically trained artists. But most are underrepresented artists.
“We’re working on two different sides of exposure,” says Gonzales. “One, we want to expose the regulars of the event space, the people that can afford Ace Hotel, to the visual, culinary, and music of POC. Not everyone is going to go out of their way to look for it, so in some sense, we're going to put it in their face and let them engage with it.”
The art from POC is out there. They’re active, and they’re pushing their work, but not everyone is looking at it or knows where to find it. Gonzales and Charles experienced this struggle firsthand when they were arrested.
But, as the saying goes, all press is good press, and The Glow Up creators used it to their advantage. Before the arrest, Charles had never been in a show. Now, Charles says that “Any space that [Gonzales] and I hold shows in, we have a built-in audience of people who recognize our art from the street. We entered the art world at a pretty rapid pace. [We] went from doing tags on a wall to people asking to be in our next show. It’s a pretty interesting trajectory.”
The Glow Up was made possible by a Lift Grant from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. When the pair found out the council was accepting applications, they immediately applied. Gonzales and Charles had previously put on a show at the Frame Gallery – a CMU exclusive gallery – that showcased artists that represented Pittsburgh, not just the university. Their show was the first at the venue to have a majority of CMU outsiders.
“We knew that we had already had one successful show with multiple artists,” said Charles. “So, we figured we could do something similar but on a grander scale.”
After applying and interviewing, Gonzales and Charles were awarded the grant. The Glow Up attempts to highlight the diversity amongst POC and show that they don’t fit into stereotypes.
Gonzales explained that the spaces in which POC are represented are, “outsider spaces. In a way, POC are considered the outsider artist, not the fine artist or craft artist. It’s not being seen as legitimate or deserving of high, fine-art spaces.”
The two chose Ace Hotel as the location for The Glow Up because they felt the space represents the people the venue wants to see, not the people that have been there before. Charles saw it as a “great opportunity to use a space that used to belong to the people of the neighborhood.
“Now they’ll have access to Ace Hotel’s upscale clientele to redistribute the wealth back into the community.”
While the show is free and accessible to all, Gonzales and Charles urge those who can purchase art to do so. The pair says that everything will be reasonably priced.
“For artists there that have never shown before, that could be the first purchase that starts their entire art career,” says Charles. “Someone just has to be there to do it.”
The eight artists featured at The Glow-Up
Smooth, soulful, and spiritual, Kent’s music urges her listeners to face the difficult parts of life in order to heal and grow.
ormerly known as Courtesy, Benji. is an energetic Pittsburgh rapper who’s extremely involved in the Pittsburgh music scene. He’s performed at Thrival Music Festival multiples times and has worked with a plethora of local artists, including Mars Jackson and Zaneta Grant.
A member of the arts and activism collective 1Hood Media, Montgomery is a born and raised Pittsburgher who raps, writes, and designs clothes. His sound can be best described as Jay-Z circa early 2000s, with commentary on racial relations in America.
Comprised of Isaiah Ross, Jonathan Lightfoot, and Rowdy Kanarek, Jack Swing is a local rock ‘n roll band known for its fiery live performances. They blend classic rock, hard rock, and blues, and have performed regionally and nationally.
Chantele aims to inspire emotionally, mentally, and physically with her creations. A singer-songwriter, artist, poet, and activist, she describes her style as “movement” in hopes that her work can be the catalyst or vehicle for a social movement.
Black N’ Mild
Drawing on the influences of Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, OutKast, and Wu-Tang Clan, Black N’ Mild hopes to keep old-school hip-hop alive with his music. To him, the lyrical wordplay is key.
DJ Jaybee can be found playing at local parties around the city like Make Sure You Have Fun at Spirit and Jordan Montgomery's No Requests. He has received praise for his music selection because he plays whatever he’s in the mood for at the time, creating a variety not found with other local DJs.
Another member of 1Hood Media, Livefromthecity’s mission is to “bring life through light.” His most recent album, King Of The Sun 2, is mumble rap with a positive message.
Ranch God & Prof. Ooak
New to the music scene, Ranch God & Prof. Ooak is a rapper/producer duo from Baltimore. Alonzo Claiborne, aka Ranch God, relocated to Pittsburgh and has been developing relations with the local music and arts community to bridge a gap between the Pittsburgh and Baltimore.