Drawing Connections with Public Art in Pittsburgh


Drawing Connections with Public Art in Pittsburgh

Author: Marisol Villela Balderrama

As the Teaching Fellow for Pitt’s course Arts and Politics in Modern Latin America (HAA0520), I participated in the class’s first online version this Fall semester. While almost all recitation sections were held remotely, I had the valuable opportunity to meet with some of the students during two optional in-person activities. During these academic encounters we looked together at public art on the Oakland campus.

Guided by the HAA Environment and Agency Constellations and Judith Baca’s text "Whose Monument Where?" we reflected on the role of monuments in creating public memory for a many-cultured society. For the first in-person activity in September, we met by Allen George Newman The Hiker Monument (1925) outside the Frick Fine Arts Building. A total of 27 out of 100 students enrolled in the course participated in four in-person recitations, while the rest completed an alternate online activity. We also walked together to see Frank Vittor’s sculpture Christopher Columbus Discoverer of America (1958) in Schenley Park. While practicing social distancing, this meeting on the third week of classes allowed us to conduct formal analysis with several students who were taking an art history course for the first time.

The second in-person meeting took place in October near Tony Smith's 1974 sculpture Light Up. This time, 38 students joined the activity. In each recitation students worked together in small groups, they drew sketches of the sculpture from different perspectives, and created a map that included all the surrounding areas from where the sculpture is visible. I designed this activity as an exercise in observation and spatial perception, rather than focusing on drawing skills. Their sketches helped the students answer questions about the relationship of the sculpture to the built environment and the identity of those who interact with it.

In accordance with Jennifer Josten, the main instructor for this course, in these activities students engaged outside the boundaries of the key artworks studied in the course. By examining these public artworks in relation to their context, students were able to establish broader connections between the art from Latin America and Pittsburgh’s built environment.

  • Agency
  • Environment