Artists Bridging Social Distance in the Public Realm Initiative

Shiftworks launched the Artists Bridging Social Distance in the Public Realm initiative (ABSD) on March 30, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Continuing into 2021 and beyond, this program supports artists at a time of critical need, when social distancing is causing widespread isolation and creative projects have been canceled or indefinitely postponed.

The program provides several rounds of support for artist projects that promote social connection while also following guidelines for public health and safety. Submissions for projects in all media and disciplines (including digital, analog, and event-based) were sought, but proposed projects had to be widely shareable, whether through digital and virtual platforms or other means. After selection, Shiftworks worked closely with the selected artists in each round, assisting with project development, implementation strategies, and outreach plans.

In the face of containment measures that restrict gatherings in the public realm, these projects bridge social distance, increase community well- being, and provide avenues for intellectual and emotional engagement.

Summer 2020: Black Dream Escape, Deb Monti, Sculpture Support System

The first round was launched on March 30, 2020, just two days prior to Governor Wolf’s announcement of stay-at-home orders for the State of Pennsylvania. In May 2020, a group of independent, Pittsburgh-based arts professionals selected Black Dream Escape, Deb Monti, and Sculpture Support System for the three commissions. The artist projects were launched in June 2020 and continued to unfold over the summer.

Fall 2020-Spring 2022: BIPOC Artists Bridging Social Distance in the Public Realm

In October 2020, Shiftworks launched BIPOC Artists Bridging Social Distance in the Public Realm (BABSD). In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, these commissions specifically supports artists who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). The disproportionate illness and death rates of Indigenous, Black, and brown community members due to COVID-19, the continued and traumatic murder of Black people through police brutality, and waves of xenophobia against people of Asian descent have only intensified the need to amplify the voices of artists from these communities and more.

Artists were selected by an independent panel of Pittsburgh-based BIPOC arts professionals and community members. These projects respond to the current state of the crisis and propose new approaches to bridging social distance in the community(ies) with which the artists identify. The artists projects will launch in the spring and summer of 2021 and continue to unfold in the following months.

Artists supported through BABSD include:

The arts and the creative practices of artists are some of our most powerful tools in addressing the vast needs that have been exposed by the pandemic and highlighted by civil rights protests around the world. When faced with earth-shifting events such as these, art can build community and increase social connection.

Project Funding

The initial round of ABSD was made possible by Shiftworks through earned income revenue, utilizing money earned from our public programs and technical assistance projects to directly pay artists. BABSD projects are made possible through the Investing in Professional Artists program of The Pittsburgh Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, and Opportunity Fund. A total of twelve artist projects will be supported.

Image credits

Top to bottom, left to right:
(1) Artist Deb Monti, photo courtesy artist; (2) Artist Miguel Sagué, photo courtesy artist; (3) Black Dream Escape artwork courtesy artist; (4) Self-portrait of artist Jessica Moss for Dear Mama, photo courtesy artist


Black Rest ThoughtPathways by Black Dream Escape

An online video series dedicated to Black and Indigenous rest practices, each 30-40-minute session was uploaded to YouTube every Wednesday over the course of June 2020.

Screenprint of two people embracing

One Last Thing by Deb Monti

This correspondence-based public art project was aimed at giving Pittsburgh area residents the opportunity to share, via postcard, the one thing they regret not saying or doing for a loved one before the Covid-19 crisis.

Candy dispenser on the sidewalk

The Quarantine Companion by Sculpture Support System

When the quarantine began, an artist team led by Sharon Massey and Sean Derry began distributing “kits” consisting of needle, thread, googly eyes and instructions for how people could create their own companions using leftover fabric and other scraps.

JADED by Lena Chen and Jaded Collective

This public programming series celebrates the art and culture of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

Dear Mama by Jessica Gaynelle Moss

Through the intimate act of letter writing between Black mothers across the United States, this project celebrates Black motherhood, nurtures connection, and encourages rest and self care.

Headshot of Naomi Chambers photo courtesy of the artist

HerShe by Naomi Chambers

A live online showcase and sale of artwork by Black Pittsburgh artists that builds relationships with new patrons and fosters connections within the arts community.

What Is Black? Mixcast by Jason McKoy

This podcast, zine, and multimedia mixtape explore what it means to be a Black creative through a series of conversations with featured guests, artists, and creatives.

Miguel Sagué standing in front of a group of trees.

Songs From the Stone Hoop by Miguel Sagué Jr.

This CD of original ceremonial music composed by artist, musician, and spiritual leader of the Taíno tribe serves as the foundation for sacred Indigenous ceremonies worldwide.

Six Feet Apart by Marlana Adele Vassar

This collaborative community art project invites members of Pittsburgh’s BIPOC communities to share stories of how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their lives.