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International art show features masterpieces from Pittsburgh Public students, teachers

international art show
Katy Rank Lev
September26/ 2016

From bottle caps blooming in a garden to men’s dress shirts recycled into messenger bags, the artwork of gifted students from Pittsburgh Public Schools represents the city’s creative talent as part of the monthlong Re:NEW Festival happening throughout Downtown.

The display exhibits the work of 100 students, from nearly every elementary school throughout the district, who elected to take classes with Jen Salvatore and Bethany Foster-Wilhelm. In 2015, the teachers learned that the traveling Drap-Art festival was taking applications for projects focused on creative reuse, transformative design planning and sustainability. Global art showcase Drap-Art is making its North American debut at PPG Wintergarden this month as part of the monthlong Re:NEW Festival.

Since the teachers’ planned electives aligned perfectly, they applied among 100 other artists to participate.

Salvatore designed a class called “Reuse-a-Palooza” for first- and second-grade students, while Foster-Wilhelm taught “Eco Art” to third- and fourth-graders. While attending a professional development workshop to learn more ways to incorporate STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) skills into their class, the teachers learned that Drap-Art was coming to Pittsburgh. Drap-Art, curated out of Barcelona and traveling various continents for 15 years, focuses on the themes of the courses the teachers had built for PPS gifted students.

“We knew we had to apply to get our students included,” says Salvatore.

They wrote up their plans for their courses: Students would tour community spaces like the Mattress Factory and Randyland; they’d meet with community organizations like the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse; they’d discuss controversial public installments like Detroit’s Heidelburg project, which generates debate about definitions of art. And above all, the students would create.

Salvatore’s Reuse-a-Palooza students upcycled a variety of donated materials to make value-added usable products. Students planned projects in their design journals before implementing their ideas, which ranged from critter caps from the hoods of old sweatshirts to messenger bags from men’s dress shirts.

Foster-Wilhelm’s eco-artists studied and created urban street art in addition to tying art to nature through a temporary art installation inspired by Andrew Goldsworthy, a British sculptor famous for using natural materials. The students also created a bottle cap garden.

The classes partnered to beautify the fence at the Gifted Center, making flowers from old soda bottles and weavings from leftover fabric and yarn. Taking a leap of faith that their project would be selected by the festival, Salvatore and Foster-Wilhelm had the students design banners and pennants to decorate a display of their class portfolio.

A local printer donated pallets that the teachers reassembled to meet the festival’s size specifications. They combed Construction Junction for hinges and hooks to hang 40 images of student work, matted on repurposed wallpaper samples.

The rolling wall of the Gifted Center’s student work joins music showcases, eco-tours, markets featuring upcycled goods, education, films, performances and environmental exhibits created by artists from around the world. A range of civic interests collaborated on bringing Drap-Art to Pittsburgh, including Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, VisitPITTSBURGH, the Andy Warhol Museum, Northwest Bank, Sprout Fund and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

“We were looking to present a wide range of projects that addressed our themes in different ways, from performance pieces to digital art. We really wanted to have a strong presence from students at the festival and this project not only featured clearly reused materials, but also a wide age range of students and projects,” says Carin Mincemoyer of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

In addition to Salvatore and Foster-Wilhelm’s students, 500 school students ranging from elementary to high school are participating in Re:NEW Festival educational activities, according to Jennifer Saffron of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School is hosting artists in residency from Spain, while honors Spanish students at Allderdice High School are practicing language immersion with Spanish artists. Meanwhile, students across the city are taking field trips to the exhibition spaces and making art from creative reuse with teaching artists. Propel Schools, the Environmental Charter School, The Consortium for Public Education and the STEAM program at PPS also got involved.

The PPS student display serves as a space divider between the juried portion of the show and a hands-on workshop in the gallery at 623 Smithfield St., which is free to attend through Oct. 9.

Katy Rank Lev

Katy Rank Lev is a professional word wrangler. She writes about women’s health, family, and education when she’s not chasing her 3 sons through Pittsburgh’s Point Breeze neighborhood.