Family Ties

Brian Brown is creating The Sprout Fund’s newest public-art mural: It's one that will depict the East Liberty community.



Artist Brian Brown stands in front of his latest work-in-progress: a portrait of the East Liberty community.

Photo by Cami Mesa

Sitting in East Liberty’s Quiet Storm cafe on an overcast, late-August afternoon, a 26-year-old artist looked perfectly content while sipping his coffee. In fact, it’s unlikely that anyone would guess that Brian Brown would start creating a family thereafter. Or that Brown’s “family” is two-dimensional and lives on a wall.

It’s one of the most recent public-art projects made possible by The Sprout Fund, a local nonprofit that funds and organizes the public art murals scattered throughout Pittsburgh. Originally a grant-making organization, Sprout Fund launched the public-art program in 2003 and has orchestrated 55 murals thus far, which are spread throughout the Pittsburgh region.

Forty to 60 artists and 15 to 20 community-organization groups apply for a mural each year. However, only six to nine mural projects are constructed annually, so The Sprout Fund selects the community, and the community then selects its artist from a narrow list provided by The Sprout Fund.

Although Curt Gettman, public-art program manager, says the mural itself is a wonderful outcome of the project, Sprout Fund hopes it’s more than just paint on the wall for community groups.

“We want the project to be about the community getting organized and bringing new members in the community group to work on a project,” Gettman says. “Our goal for the program is to make the Pittsburgh region one of the best, most livable places in the country.”

By funding the projects for the neighborhoods, The Sprout Fund hopes to empower communities to realize their goals.

A Blank Slate

Family Resources, a private nonprofit United Way partner agency, acquired the services and assets of the Parental Stress Center on March 1. With this acquisition, Family Resources, whose mission is to prevent and treat child abuse by strengthening families and neighborhoods, inherited a building with an enormous blank wall.

Andi Fischhoff, Family Resources’ development director, says the organization wanted to use the wall as a welcoming place for children and families in East Liberty.

“We wanted a wall that would resonate with who we are and say to everyone who comes into this neighborhood [that] East Liberty cares about kids and families,” says Fischhoff.

After seeking out The Sprout Fund, Family Resources sorted through a series of artists and designs after being approved for a mural. Family Resources and members of the community involved in the processwere captivated by Brown’s idea to feature community members in the mural, says Fischhoff.

In order to include East Liberty residents in his work, Brown held a photo shoot; there were about 70 participants representing various ethnicities and age groups.

“This [was] a way to energize the neighborhood and give people in the neighborhood a feeling that they are part of this history in this community and in the present and in the future,” says Fischhoff.

But not everyone you’ll see in the mural is someone currently living in East Liberty.

“One woman came over to Brian and me and said, ‘These are my grandsons, and their father is fighting in Iraq. Here is his picture. Can you put him in the mural, too, please?’ Of course, he is going to be in the mural,” says Fischoff.

The Wild Card

The mural takes some artistic license in other ways as well. For example, a streetcar turns the corner around a generic storefront. As Brown explains, this was a personal touch.

“The idea of painting a giant streetcar is the next best thing to building a streetcar,” he says.

Brown developed an If I can’t build one, I’ll paint one attitude while growing up on an airbase in Forth Worth, Texas. Instead of streetcars, however, Brown created large paintings of airplanes.

And while it was a family tradition to join the U.S Air Force, the only association Brown wanted with planes was to draw them.

Brown and his mother moved to Kalkaska, Mich., during his freshman year of high school. Although he wasn’t the type of kid who knew the difference between Impressionism and Post-Impressionism and which one Monet fell under, Brown developed an interest in art.

After graduating from high school, a musician offered Brown money to create an album cover, which was when Brown realized he enjoyed the artist’s lifestyle. A few weeks later, Brown started his first semester at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, Mich., later earning a distinguished award upon graduation.

From there, Brown enrolled in Carnegie Mellon University’s M.F.A. program and finished his studies in May. However, Brown says he was never viewed as an artist.

“Art is kind of a wild card for me. It wasn’t my plan to do this—it just kind of all worked out,” says Brown.

Now, others can see Brown’s wild card through the faces of the East Liberty community.

(The Sprout Fund: 5423 Penn Ave., East Liberty; 412/325-0646, publicart.sproutfund.org. Family Resources: 5877 Commerce St., East Liberty; 412/363-1702, familyresourcesofpa.org)

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best Restaurants 2017

Best Restaurants 2017

This year Pittsburgh Magazine's independent Restaurant Review Panel recognizes 34 establishments as our regions's top restaurants. Our list includes All Arounders, Killer Casual, Fancy Night Out, Best Budget and Classic Comfort establishments.
Pittsburgh Chef of the Year: Bill Fuller

Pittsburgh Chef of the Year: Bill Fuller

Bill Fuller’s portfolio includes overseeing five specialty restaurants — Eleven Contemporary Kitchen, Casbah Mediterranean Kitchen and Wine Bar, Soba, umi and Kaya — as well as 14 fast-casual Mad Mex restaurants and a full-service catering operation. Even in an increasingly competitive environment, his restaurants remain in-demand and relevant.
Pittsburgh's Best New Restaurant: Apteka

Pittsburgh's Best New Restaurant: Apteka

Apteka, operated by Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski, is a vegan eatery that draws on Lasky’s sixth-generation Pittsburgh roots and Skowronski’s Polish heritage.
Can the Restoration of a Church Lead to the Revival of a Town?

Can the Restoration of a Church Lead to the Revival of a Town?

A small group of dedicated residents sees the restoration of their church in Tarentum as a window to the potential rebirth of their once-booming community in suburban Pittsburgh.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Watch: Radio-Synced Highlights of Pens 7-0 Win in Game 5

Watch: Radio-Synced Highlights of Pens 7-0 Win in Game 5

Nothing beats listening to Mike Lange describe a Penguins' goal.
Break It Down: Byham Theater

Break It Down: Byham Theater

When you walk into the Sixth Street entryway of the Byham Theater, Downtown, you will see patches of green and black tile on the walls: These are originals from the early 20th century, says John Mumper, facilities manager at the Byham. The grand theater has plenty of history to go with its 100-plus years; let’s break it down.
 Wiz Khalifa to Headline Thrival 2017

Wiz Khalifa to Headline Thrival 2017

It’s the first time a Pittsburgh artist is headlining the annual innovation and music festival.
“What Did We Miss?” Designing a Voice for Grief

“What Did We Miss?” Designing a Voice for Grief

The Center of Life in Hazelwood partners with Carnegie Mellon University for a very powerful exhibit.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best Restaurants 2017

Best Restaurants 2017

This year Pittsburgh Magazine's independent Restaurant Review Panel recognizes 34 establishments as our regions's top restaurants. Our list includes All Arounders, Killer Casual, Fancy Night Out, Best Budget and Classic Comfort establishments.
Pittsburgh Chef of the Year: Bill Fuller

Pittsburgh Chef of the Year: Bill Fuller

Bill Fuller’s portfolio includes overseeing five specialty restaurants — Eleven Contemporary Kitchen, Casbah Mediterranean Kitchen and Wine Bar, Soba, umi and Kaya — as well as 14 fast-casual Mad Mex restaurants and a full-service catering operation. Even in an increasingly competitive environment, his restaurants remain in-demand and relevant.
Pittsburgh's Best New Restaurant: Apteka

Pittsburgh's Best New Restaurant: Apteka

Apteka, operated by Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski, is a vegan eatery that draws on Lasky’s sixth-generation Pittsburgh roots and Skowronski’s Polish heritage.
Can the Restoration of a Church Lead to the Revival of a Town?

Can the Restoration of a Church Lead to the Revival of a Town?

A small group of dedicated residents sees the restoration of their church in Tarentum as a window to the potential rebirth of their once-booming community in suburban Pittsburgh.
Remembering Henry Hillman

Remembering Henry Hillman

Reflecting on the impact of the businessman, civic visionary and philanthropist.
How David Freese is Helping to Keep Pirates' on Course

How David Freese is Helping to Keep Pirates' on Course

The Pirates’ infielder emerges as a team leader — and an offensive powerhouse.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Watch: Radio-Synced Highlights of Pens 7-0 Win in Game 5

Watch: Radio-Synced Highlights of Pens 7-0 Win in Game 5

Nothing beats listening to Mike Lange describe a Penguins' goal.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Station's Hours Expand and Le Lyonnais Opens Downtown

Station's Hours Expand and Le Lyonnais Opens Downtown

Station, the excellent Bloomfield eatery, now offers lunch service. The Big Y Group opens a French bistro in the space previously occupied by Sonoma Grille.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

These spots are tailored for couples who are looking for a simple, chill night out on Valentine’s Day (or any other day). If your significant other isn’t the type to be wooed by expensive wines and chocolates, this is the list for you.

Comments


Vital Happy Hour Alert: Great Cocktails at the Wigle Tasting Room

Vital Happy Hour Alert: Great Cocktails at the Wigle Tasting Room

The third outpost of local distillery Wigle, found in the Omni William Penn Hotel, is an instant destination for cocktail fans.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Time Running Out for Penguins to Respond to Senators

Time Running Out for Penguins to Respond to Senators

The Penguins suddenly have a lot to sort out as they attempt to respond to another disappointing playoff loss.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Pittsburgh on a Plate

Pittsburgh on a Plate

The way to a beer lover’s heart is mapped out on notNeutral’s plate, which highlights Pittsburgh breweries (and other points of interest) across the city.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The Alien Series Jumps the Shark with Covenant

The Alien Series Jumps the Shark with Covenant

Reviews of "Alien: Covenant" and "Everything, Everything," as well as local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Disney Touches: Two Couples Take on the Fairy Tale Wedding

Disney Touches: Two Couples Take on the Fairy Tale Wedding

See how these couples brought a little Disney magic into their wedding festivities

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Home of the Brave: Local Soldier Receives Renovated House

Home of the Brave: Local Soldier Receives Renovated House

Citizens Bank and the Military Warriors Support Foundation partnered up to donate a mortgage-free house in Penn Hills to retired Army Staff Sergeant Shawn Jones.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Explore Your Future with Point Park University

Explore Your Future with Point Park University

The university will host three summer workshops for high school students from July 17-20.

Comments