Impressive Homewood-Brushton YMCA renovations guided by creative youth

With its high-end and techy renovations, this isn’t your dad’s YMCA. This Y features a state of the art recording studio, photography and videography skills areas, large performance space, flex conference room and café.

The latest Homewood-Brushton YMCA renovations include 6,000 square feet of creative media arts space for its Lighthouse Project, an after-school curriculum that teaches leadership and career readiness in filmmaking, photography, music production and graphic design.

The popular Lighthouse program outgrew its previous location at nearby Westinghouse High School, where it was housed since 2007, says James Brown, director of youth development for the YMCA.

“The program specializes in digital media and the arts,” Brown says. “The new space gives access to more students all over the city, particularly in the east end of Pittsburgh.”

Homewood-Brushton YMCA.
Renovations at Homewood-Brushton YMCA include a green screen where students can work on video and animation projects. Photo courtesy of CannonDesign

In designing the space, YMCA leaders engaged with artists, students, and community leaders, conducting focus groups to determine how the center could be more empowering to youth.

“Kids really wanted a recording studio and an events space to perform and rehearse,” says Brown. Young people had a voice in every aspect of the renovations, he says, “down to the details of the color palette, which was hand-picked by the students.”

Funding for the creative youth center project came from a $1.52 million grant from The Heinz Endowments. More than 60 teens are enrolled in the program, representing nine area high schools.

Ryan Mustio, who led the design project for CannonDesign, a global design firm with an office in Pittsburgh, says the impact of the new facility and all it offers is monumental.

“The project is connecting young people who may have otherwise never met to learn together, work together and hopefully lead the city together into the future,” he says.

Homewood-Brushton YMCA
A spacious cafe is part of the renovated Homewood-Brushton YMCA. Photo courtesy of CannonDesign

The renovation of the two-story building includes a public entrance, kitchen, elevated stage, and performance areas on the lower level. The second floor is primarily Lighthouse Project-focused with the music education suite and recording studio, videography lab and digital arts space for the afterschool program. The spaces will be available to the community when they’re not in use by the students.

And the good news for students: this is only the first of a proposed three-phase project.

Brown notes that while funding is still pending, the second phase of the project will include an expansion of the creative arts space, with a planned black box theater, drop-in computer lab and art and design lab.

The third phase will primarily be exterior renovations, including a “facelift” to the existing basketball court and parking lot and redesigned space to accommodate an expanded urban garden and outdoor plaza.

The youth director says he is especially proud that students are thriving in the new space.

An example is a Lighthouse music group, INK, a rock band that has performed at the center and has gone on to play in other venues in the city. The duo consisting of Robert Thompson and Raynard Lucas – seniors at Westinghouse High School – recently opened at a concert in the Rex Theater, South Side.

“This space and its state-of-the-art technology lets these kids know they are worth the investment, and hopefully that recognition and this project impact their lives in remarkable ways,” Brown says. “It’s not a shift in our mission. We’re still about preparing students for the future. We’re just more 21st century in how we do it.”