Local photographers and artists representing the LGBTQIA+ community gathered in the office of Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey on Wednesday to view their work on display.
The Pittsburgh Paints initiative — a project led by Gainey’s wife, Michelle — is a rotating art exhibit that features artwork intended to showcase Pittsburgh’s diversity. Each month, Michelle Gainey chooses a different theme to highlight.
On Wednesday, she celebrated artists who participated in June, which had an LGBTQIA+ theme, and July, which focused on local photography.
“I appreciate each and every one of you who agreed with Mayor Gainey and my importance of enabling art to hopefully allow the people of Pittsburgh to see Pittsburgh a little differently,” Michelle Gainey said. to the dozen artists who gathered at the mayor’s office to see their work. “Artists usually paint or photograph the things they see, the life they live, and the things they want to see in our city. That’s why we created Pittsburgh Paints.
The program’s artwork hung throughout the mayor’s office, including Gainey’s personal office and boardroom.
Morgan Overton, who works in the Office of Management and Budget and is an artist, told the group gathered on Wednesday that she understood the difficulties they might face in finding 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 a thankless job because 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 at City Hall.
“I’m really, really honored to be here,” said Lisa Seligman, a local photographer whose photos of Schenley Park adorned the mayor’s boardroom. “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 felt discouraged being around people who weren’t like her or didn’t understand her works. In Pittsburgh, she says, she began 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 arrived in Pittsburgh with such a large and welcoming art community,” she said. “I got really discouraged at one point, to the point where I almost stopped doing it altogether. That community and that support is really important.
Being featured in such a high-profile place, 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 path,” Henry said.
It’s also a sign that the city is on the right track, said Fonz Sloan, whose works were exhibited with the LGBTQIA+ exhibit.
Sloan has been a city detective for 28 years. During that time, he said, he made many trips to the City County Building, but did not see such diverse artwork there until recently.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen the artwork in this building reflect 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 featured female artists and artwork by Pittsburgh public school students. The next month, she said, will revolve around black businesses.