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 Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Restaurants 2016

Best Restaurants 2016

Which 33 Pittsburgh-area establishments did our independent Restaurant Review Panel include among its top picks this year? Find them here.
Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

In addition to awarding Best Restaurant honors this year, our Independent Restaurant Review Panel also voted to recognize six chefs for their contributions to Pittsburgh’s culinary community in 2015.
Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

German blends a collage of community activism and soul-searching artistry.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Sneak Peek: What's on the Menu at The 2016 Best Restaurants Party

Sneak Peek: What's on the Menu at The 2016 Best Restaurants Party

One of the chefs is bringing a secret weapon.
5 Reasons PyroFest Will Light Up Your Memorial Day Weekend

5 Reasons PyroFest Will Light Up Your Memorial Day Weekend

PyroFest will also include live music, food, a Kids Zone and more.
8 Things You Might Not Know About Kennywood’s Jack Rabbit

8 Things You Might Not Know About Kennywood’s Jack Rabbit

When you compare what it cost to build the coaster in 1920 to what it would cost today, it's obvious Kennywood's owners got their money's worth.
Second New Restaurant Moving into Union Trust Building

Second New Restaurant Moving into Union Trust Building

The upscale seafood eatery is expected to open in late 2016 or early 2017.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Restaurants 2016

Best Restaurants 2016

Which 33 Pittsburgh-area establishments did our independent Restaurant Review Panel include among its top picks this year? Find them here.
Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

In addition to awarding Best Restaurant honors this year, our Independent Restaurant Review Panel also voted to recognize six chefs for their contributions to Pittsburgh’s culinary community in 2015.
Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

German blends a collage of community activism and soul-searching artistry.
PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

It only takes one person, one jagoff, one childish, attention-seeking, discourteous jerk to send a woo through PNC Park.
Daytripping: Canonsburg is a City of Antiques

Daytripping: Canonsburg is a City of Antiques

Nearby Canonsburg is a rare find for antiques collectors.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


5 Reasons PyroFest Will Light Up Your Memorial Day Weekend

5 Reasons PyroFest Will Light Up Your Memorial Day Weekend

PyroFest will also include live music, food, a Kids Zone and more.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Richard DeShantz Plans Two New Restaurants at Salt of the Earth Building

Richard DeShantz Plans Two New Restaurants at Salt of the Earth Building

DeShantz owns three other Pittsburgh restaurants and is about to open a fourth.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


Highmark Stadium Pub Wants Your Attention

Highmark Stadium Pub Wants Your Attention

The in-house tavern at the Riverhounds' home stadium is now welcoming guests during weekdays. But is it worth a dedicated stop?

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pens-Sharks Cup Final Lacks Mystery But Not Intrigue

Pens-Sharks Cup Final Lacks Mystery But Not Intrigue

Game 1 turned out to be as revealing, potentially, as it was riveting, for the Sharks and for the Pens.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Flip the Switch: Industrial-Style Lighting Made in Pittsburgh

Flip the Switch: Industrial-Style Lighting Made in Pittsburgh

An electrician by trade, designer Thomas Verscharen creates custom lighting out of repurposed pieces.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The X-Men Would've Done Better in Wonderland

The X-Men Would've Done Better in Wonderland

Reviews of "X-Men: Apocalypse," "Alice Through the Looking Glass," "A Bigger Splash" and "Love and Friendship."

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Get with the (Wedding) Program

Get with the (Wedding) Program

Have you ever considered making programs for your wedding guests? If not, think again and get creative.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
A Tiny House that's Big on Energy Savings

A Tiny House that's Big on Energy Savings

Spread out across the city for these upcoming events, including a “Tiny House” exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center displayed by the FIY Network.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Duquesne University to Host Small Business Networking Event

Duquesne University to Host Small Business Networking Event

The event will connect hundreds of small business managers and owners and provide useful information to help them take their enterprises to the next level.

Comments