Since receiving the 2014 Crusade for Art Engagement Grant, it would be safe to say that Matthew Conboy and his proposal Start with Art has been both successful and embraced by the city of Pittsburgh,PA. Just this week, the mayor of Pittsburgh declared July 5th the official Start with Art: Pittsburgh Baby Day. Upon hearing this exciting news, we decided to check in and have a small chat with Matthew about his present success and what the future has to hold.
What gave you the idea for the proclamation for the Start with Art: Pittsburgh Baby Day? Was extensive was this process?
I’ve had several friends who work with nonprofits or have done projects around the city be recognized with proclamations from the city. However, that wasn’t my original intention. I really just wanted to make sure that the Community Affairs representative for the city was aware of what I was working on. In addition, I was hoping that Mayor Bill Peduto could write a letter of support for Start with Art that I could then include in grant and funding applications.
As far as the process was concerned, I submitted a form online detailing Start with Art’s goals and accomplishments including the 5,000th baby who will receive a print this July. Thankfully, I was not responsible for deciding where all of the “therefores” and “wherases.”
How has Start with Art grown since you received the Crusade for Art Engagement grant in 2014?
We’re in our second year and although we are still just working with the three original hospitals (UPMC Mercy, St. Clair, and The Midwife Center), I have helped enlarge the program behind the scenes. I now employ a poet to compose written descriptions of each month’s artwork. These descriptions are then posted online for the benefit of individuals with vision impairments. By the end of this summer, the descriptions will be recorded and audio files will be available on the Start with Art website. Second, and more importantly, I have increased the honorariums that each artist receives. As a practicing artist myself, I felt very strongly about compensating the artists for their time.
With the continual growing success of Start with Art, what are some long-term goals that you have for the future?
I have several long-term goals for Start with Art. First, I want to ensure that we have sufficient funds to allow for the continuation of the program. For 2016, I am paying for the program from my personal savings but that will not be a sustainable source of funding for the future. I have several foundations, which I will approach, and that work will keep me busy for the rest of the summer. In addition to grants, I am also looking at earned income from the sale of individual prints or portfolios on the website.
The other big, and very important, goal is to include the other two hospitals in the city that have maternity wards. Combined, these two hospitals would add 14,000 babies to the current number of 3,300. That is quite a dramatic jump, but it is manageable, particularly if I am able to treat this like a full-time job. It would also be made slightly easier by a recent gift from Epson’s Focused Giving Program of a new P800 printer. With features that are not on my current printer, the P800 would create savings for both paper and ink.
How do you think that art collecting (at such an early age!) has had a positive impact on the city of Pittsburgh?
I realize it is still too soon to tell what type of impact the art has had on these 5,000 children and their families, but I can tell you about how it’s had an impact on the artists. Every month, these artists find themselves with almost 275 new collectors. When you include the families, extended families, friends, and neighbors who could see this work, the number grows exponentially.
Just a couple of months ago, a mother who had a baby the previous year wrote to thank me for that gift and to let me know they were going to continue the tradition of buying art for the daughter for each of her birthdays. I let her know that the particular artist they collected (Kara Skylling) was actually having an opening that weekend. I also told her how much it would mean to Kara to hear what this gift meant to this family. Several days later, Kara wrote to tell me that not only did the family show up to her opening, they actually commissioned her to create a unique piece of art just for their daughter. Here was a family that may never have thought of collecting art, but by receiving one of 270 prints from Kara, they actually decided to invest in a local artist. Several other artists have written to tell me that friends of theirs have been gifted their print which goes to show how small the world can be sometimes.
Finally, my vision is to not only see Pittsburgh as a City of Champions, it’s to see it as a City of Culture. It really just comes down to reminding the residents of Pittsburgh of our wealth of museums, galleries, and art schools. Hopefully this gift of art will provide that spark to remind all of us to take time to recognize and appreciate the art that already surrounds us.