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Pittsburgh artist curates art project with safety messages that go round and round

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Looking for circles has become a daily search.

We spot round shapes on the ground that help us remain 6 feet apart for social distancing during the pandemic.

Artist Janel Young is making those marks easier to see.

The Beltzhoover resident collaborated with fellow artists to bring vibrant color, combined with safety messages, for "New Space Spheres." The project showcases circular graphics that merge art and sayings such as "Spread Creativity, Not Covid- 19," "Wash Yinz Hands" and "Mask On."

They will be popping up in the city over the next few weeks.

The installation is part of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership's "Reforge" initiative, which invites the community to reengage with the city.

"We decided on circles because everyone is familiar with them," said Young. "The circles represent the 'new space' we are in this year."

The first were placed on Sixth Avenue near Wood Street. Some are on the ground and others are being displayed on the side of the Granite Building. They will become decorations on other streets, walls and bus shelters in high-traffic areas.

Their messages remind people to stay safe while they come back to the city. Some people may be visiting Pittsburgh for the first time in seven months because of the pandemic.

Young curated the project with other Pittsburgh-based creators — international artist Ebtehal Badawi, mixed media artist Juliandra Jones, illustrator, cartoonist and author of "Yinz City" Higu Rose, and painter Kamara Townes.

She gave them a theme and invited them to create something vibrant and fun.

"They came back with some amazing designs," Young said. "They all work so well together. I love how it turned out."


Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership

The New Space Spheres project feature large circular graphics that merge original art and safety messages. The installation is the second of several commissioned art works under the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership's "Reforge" initiative that invites the community to revisit and reengage with the city.

Codes attached to the displays can connect viewers via smartphone to information about the artists. Downtown businesses can order the art for their floors or walls.

There are 150 circles. The small ones on the ground are 24 inches in circumference. Those on the walls are larger. There are 10 designs. Most were created digitally and made of vinyl.

The spheres will be up as long as they last, she said.

Young said "combining informative public health messaging with colorful inspiring designs from local artists felt like a great way to drive the safety messages for Downtown Pittsburghers."

This project has created "a way to merge supporting public art with an evolving need for safety messaging that speaks to the community in new ways" said Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

He said the artists were able to create vibrant works of artistic expression that encourage discussion and response.

"It's been amazing to see the stylistic range of the artists who participated, and how they responded to the call," Waldrup said.

The project was initially inspired by a similar one developed by the Mural Arts program in Philadelphia, according to a news release.

Young, 29, a Penn State graduate in marketing and international studies, worked for a public relations agency in New York City where she used digital media.

As her life came full circle when she returned to her hometown in 2019, she wanted to collaborate with other artists, especially women and those who are often underrepresented, which she had done a lot in New York.

She currently is serving as the community artist in residence at UrbanKind Institute in Pittsburgh. Young said she utilizes visual arts as a communication tool to connect people to equity and justice values and initiatives. She's been working on a series "Black Girl Magic," focusing on African American's hair. She created portraits – some are of real people. The art will be showcased on Wood St., Downtown.

"Women should celebrate their natural hair," she said. "I want them to look at this art of different hair and see themselves. Hair can be braided or straight or curly or shaved.


Courtesy of Carla Young

Artis Janel Young of Beltzhoover stands in front of a series she's been working on called "Black Girl Magic," focusing on African American hair. She created portraits – some of real women — that are being showcased on Wood St., Downtown.

Young said she is continually reinventing herself as an artist. Her work is known as "JY Originals." It's been showcased from New York City to Sydney, Australia.

She created Pittsburgh's first art basketball court in the "The Home Court Advantage Project."

She said an artist "is never finished," because there is always something more you can add or change.

"Art can be used as a communication tool," said Young, who also has done murals. "Art is different for everyone. My approach for 'New Space Spheres' is to inspire between creativity and play, to have bold and vibrant art that catches peoples' attention. I want to engage people. And through this project, they don't have to look at boring circles anymore."

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062, or via Twitter .

Categories: AandE | Allegheny | Downtown Pittsburgh | Local | Art & Museums | Pittsburgh | Top Stories

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