Local photographers and artists representing the LGBTQIA+ community gathered in Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey’s office Wednesday to see their work on display.
The Pittsburgh Paints initiative — a project led by Gainey’s wife, Michelle — is a rotating art exhibition that features art meant to showcase Pittsburgh’s diversity. Each month, Michelle Gainey chooses a different theme to highlight.
On Wednesday, she celebrated the artists who participated in June, which had an LGBTQIA+ theme, and July, which focused on local photography.
“I appreciate each one of you who agreed with Mayor Gainey and my importance of allowing art to hopefully allow Pittsburghers to see Pittsburgh a little bit differently,” Michelle Gainey told the roughly dozen artists who gathered in the Mayor’s Office to see their work. “Artists typically paint or take photos of the things that they see, the life that they live and the things they want to see in our city. That’s why we created Pittsburgh Paints.”
Artwork from the program hung throughout the Mayor’s Office, including in Gainey’s personal office and conference room.
Morgan Overton, who works in the Office of Management and Budget and is an artist, told the group gathered Wednesday that she understands the struggles they may face to find resources and support. The Pittsburgh Paints program, she said, is an opportunity for them to be seen and find community among other artists.
“It can be thankless work as you’re creating inspiration for other people, but you’re not alone,” Overton said.
Artists shared stories of how they became interested in art, their struggles and successes and their pride in being featured in City Hall.
“I’m just really, really honored to be here,” said Lisa Seligman, a local photographer whose photos of Schenley Park adorned the mayor’s conference room. “I’m excited to be here and share my art.”
For Ishara Henry, a photographer who recently moved to Pittsburgh from Ohio, photography was a passion she had almost lost.
Henry said she used to feel discouraged being around people who didn’t look like her or understand her artwork. In Pittsburgh, she said, she has started to feel more supported to continue photography and branch out into video and painting.
“I didn’t realize how much of a passion I had for art until I got to Pittsburgh with such a large, embracing art community,” she said. “I got really discouraged at one point to where I almost stopped doing it altogether. That community and support is really important.”
Being featured in such a high-profile spot, she said, was particularly poignant for her.
“Opportunities like this, where I’m included, are affirmation that I’m doing the right thing, that I’m on the right track,” Henry said.
It’s also a sign that the city is on the right track, said Fonz Sloan, whose artwork was displayed with the LGBTQIA+ exhibition.
Sloan has been a city detective for 28 years. In that time, he said, he’s made many trips to the City County Building, but has not seen such diverse artwork there until recently.
“This is the first time I’ve seen the artwork in this building be reflective of the city,” he said. “You see this growth, this diversity.”
Gainey launched the Pittsburgh Paints initiative in February with artwork featuring Black Pittsburgh artists. Other months have featured female artists and artwork from students in Pittsburgh Public Schools. Next month, she said, will revolve around Black businesses.
Julia Felton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Julia at 724-226-7724, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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