The Environment, Health, and Public Art Initiative

The Environment, Health, and Public Art Initiative is one of Shiftworks’ Civic Engagement programs. Through this initiative, three artists—Ginger Brooks Takahashi, Aaron Henderson, and Mary Tremonte—collaborated with Pittsburgh-area organizations to create three works of temporary public art. These artworks addressed several distinct yet intersecting issues of environmental health: water pollution, air pollution, and lead toxicity in the soil.

These artworks catalyzed change and built support for these critical environmental health issues in the Pittsburgh region, with particular focus on impacts to at-risk and susceptible populations.

Building Partnerships

This initiative began in 2018 with an open call for organizations. We worked closely with an advisory committee of representatives from the Breathe Project, Green Building Alliance, Neighborhood Allies, and Women for a Healthy Environment to select three organizations that had environmental health and advocacy at the heart of their missions. Our advisory committee remained involved throughout our process, sharing resources and providing support and assistance to the initiative’s artists and organizations alike.

Ultimately, the committee chose organizations with diverse missions and geographical footprints to collaborate with artists:

  • Center for Civic Arts in partnership with UpstreamPgh (formerly Nine Mile Run Watershed Association), both based in Wilkinsburg, build awareness and steward efforts for improved water and air quality in their community and the larger watershed.
  • North Braddock Residents For Our Future (NBRFOF), based in North Braddock, PA, seeks to promote community health and clean air while fighting unconventional gas drilling and major source polluters in the Mon Valley. NBRFOF is a member of the Breathe Collaborative.
  • Grow Pittsburgh advocates for healthy land and healthy communities by raising awareness of soil health in neighborhoods across the Pittsburgh region.

Onboarding Artists

We worked closely with the selected organizations and our advisory committee to release a call for artists, which attracted submissions from across the country. Each organization chose their artist with the assistance of a panel that was composed of members from each organization, representatives from the advisory committee, and several local arts professionals. The three selected artists—Ginger Brooks Takahashi, Aaron Henderson, and Mary Tremonte—were on board by summer of 2019 and engaging with stakeholders and community members by early fall 2019.

Launching the Artworks

Inspired by community meetings, stakeholder conversations, and their own extensive research, the artists developed the vision, concept, and form of their artworks. Ongoing conversation and collaboration with their partnering organization informed each artist’s final design proposal. The proposals were officially approved in early 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic that arose shortly after the proposals were approved, the artists and partnering organizations had to reevaluate their activities and capacity to implement the projects as they were originally planned. The final projects were ultimately launched between the fall of 2020 and 2021.

Artists in Process

On April 13, 2021, Shiftworks hosted an online panel discussion with Brooks Takahashi, Henderson, and Tremonte about their work on this initiative. During this discussion, the artists reflected on their approach to engaging art as a vehicle for raising awareness about environmental issues. Watch this recording to learn more about their methods for addressing these themes and the many ways in which they have been working with communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sacred Spaces Community Event

On September 11, 2021, all three artists participated in the 2021 annual Sacred Spaces Tour in Wilkinsburg celebrating history, arts, and culture. Ginger Brooks Takahashi took visitors on a guided tour of Nine Mile Run Viewfinder, while Tremonte led a hands-on screenprinting activity at the SHEd Cart and Henderson exhibited his How Did This Happen? projections both indoors and out. For more information about this past event, please visit the event listing at

These projects increased awareness and advocacy of environmental health issues in our region. Together, they offered strategies and tools to build awareness of these issues into the future.

This program is generously funded by The Heinz Endowments.

Image credits

Top to bottom, left to right:
(1) Dirt is Beautiful workshop by artist Mary Tremonte, photo courtesy artist; (2) How Did This Happen? by artist Aaron Henderson, photo courtesy artist; (3) “Viewfinder: Before the stream was made underground/ Workers line the completed sides of the Nine Mile Run trench with liner plate, May 21, 1931,” original photo by Pittsburgh City Photographer, image courtesy artist Ginger Brooks Takahashi; (4) Dirt is Beautiful workshop with SHEd Cart at Etna Garden by artist Mary Tremonte, photo courtesy Kate Zidar

Artworks & Partnerships

Nine Mile Run Viewfinder by Ginger Brooks Takahashi

A portal for seeing, hearing, and smelling the waterway beneath our feet, this artwork brings attention to the connections between Nine Mile Run, the stormwater and sewer systems, the Monongahela River, and the water we drink.

How Did This Happen? by Aaron Henderson

The project aims to raise awareness of the environmental challenges affecting communities in the Mon Valley. This unprecedented time raises questions about relationships with our friends, neighbors, communities, governments, industries and the environment.

Dirt Is Beautiful by Mary Tremonte

The project is designed to increase the visibility of new and established community garden participants within Grow Pittsburgh’s service network, and provide them with more resources.