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Matthew Conboy

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Pittsburgh-area effort aims to foster love of art very early

By Janice Crompton / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pete and Laura Bianco of Imperial hold their newborn son, Luca Simon Bianco, at St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon on Jan. 30. He was born at 2:56 a.m. Pete's brother, Michael, and his wife, Nicole, had Michael Adonis Bianco at 1:58 a.m.

Pete and Laura Bianco of Imperial hold their newborn son, Luca Simon Bianco, at St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon on Jan. 30. He was born at 2:56 a.m. Pete's brother, Michael, and his wife, Nicole, had Michael Adonis Bianco at 1:58 a.m.

Parents of babies born this year in three Pittsburgh-area hospitals will find something unique tucked among the booties, receiving blankets and other goodies in their new-family care packages.

“I think it’s a given that we’re a city of champions, but people forget we are a city of culture, too,” said Matthew Conboy, a Robert Morris University adjunct professor of photography who has embarked on an ambitious plan to distribute original works from local artists to newborns.

“I thought it would be an amazing thing to create the youngest art collectors right here in Pittsburgh.”

Mr. Conboy, of the North Side, was selected among hundreds of applicants to receive a $10,000 audience-engagement grant last year from Crusade for Art, a nonprofit based in Atlanta that is devoted to cultivating demand for art.

His winning idea, Start with Art, is a free program that aims to promote artists in the Pittsburgh region by creating a culture of collectors who are given signed prints from local artists.

Mr. Conboy selected 12 local artists — one for each month of the year — to create original photographic prints that he began giving to newborns at the start of the year at St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon, UPMC Mercy in Uptown and the Midwife Center for Birth & Women’s Health in the Strip District.

The art is free and the grant is being used to pay photographers an honorarium of $350 each, along with supplies such as ink, paper and plastic bags. Each 8 ½-by-11-inch photograph is signed and numbered.

Babies born in January received “Mist over the Ohio,” a photographic print of the Ohio River by artist Aaron Blum of West Virginia. Those born this month are receiving “The Blue Breasted Kingfisher” by artist Maria Mangano.

The first baby to receive a gift — and the first baby born in 2015 at St. Clair Hospital — was 8-pound, 1-ounce Eliana Bodo.

Eliana’s parents, Christina and Mark Bodo of Mt. Lebanon, coincidentally are avid supporters of the arts and strong believers in the power of creative thinking.

“I really see the importance of art for children,” said Mrs. Bodo, a second-grade teacher at South Park Elementary Center in the South Park School District. “I believe in the importance of exposing children to the arts — all creative arts. I do think it’s very important.”

Educators and scientists have long believed that visual arts may have an impact on learning and cognitive development in children.

Many also feel art is an important right-brain booster and have inspired a movement to alter STEM -- learning that emphasizes science, technology, engineering and math -- to STEAM, with the A standing for art.

“I thought it was a really great idea because we did so much with the sports teams in the city. It was great to give them a little culture with their sports,” said Linda McIntyre, head of the birthing center at St. Clair.

Mr. Conboy approached St. Clair Hospital because it is known for outfitting newborn infants in Steelers, Penguins or Pirates regalia during important games.

“I remember years ago hearing about St. Clair giving the Terrible Towel away to newborns,” Mr. Conboy said.

When he approached hospital officials about his idea, “They were just so open and excited; they wanted to start that very second,” he said.

The program this year expects to distribute about 1,400 pieces of artwork at St. Clair, more than 1,000 at UPMC Mercy, and about 450 at the Midwife Center for Birth & Women’s Health. 

“I was super excited. I thought the program sounded great,” said Rachel Dingfelder, development coordinator at the midwife center. “Everybody was just really excited about it. It’s a really thoughtful, touching program.”

All of the families presented with the artwork so far this year have agreed, Ms. McIntyre said.

“The patients have been very positive about it,” she said. “I think that it’s something different, not what you would routinely expect because it’s not baby-related. I think it’s important — it gives them an exposure to art and it might be their first exposure ever.”

Mrs. Bodo said she plans to frame the photograph and hang it in Eliana’s nursery. Later, she will add it to her treasure box, along with other keepsakes, such as Eliana’s hospital bracelet, footprints and the newspaper clipping of her birth announcement.

“I think it’s a shame that there’s been a decrease in the appreciation for art because everything is so accessible right now,” she said. “But this is authentic — that means something. It puts value to it. It has meaning.”

Eventually, Mr. Conboy hopes to include all of the babies born in Pittsburgh in his program.

“The idea is to treat 2015 as a soft opening,” he said. “If we could have all the hospitals in Pittsburgh, that would be wonderful.”

His ultimate goal would be to hear that his efforts made a difference.

“Hopefully, we’ll find out in 18 to 20 years from now whether it changed anything,” Mr. Conboy said. “When someone asks these kids who their favorite artist is and it’s one of these artists — that would make my year.”

See the original article here.

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Start With Art gives Pittsburgh newborns a baby step toward culture

EMILY YARRISON | WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2015 - View original article here.

Most adults could tell you where they acquired their first piece of art: a local shop, a tiny gallery in a seaside town in Italy, the IKEA clearance bin.
 
Not many people began their collections as children. 
 
Start With Art Pittsburgh is looking to change that. Matthew Conboy is the brains behind the project, which is sponsored by a $10,000 engagement grant from Crusade For Art. The idea? Send more than 3,500 newborn babies home with original, signed photographs from local artists.
 
Walking into Conboy’s North Side home, it’s easy to see his appreciation for art. Each room is lined with photos and prints. Art is even the reason they live in the North Side.
 
“I told my wife we could move to Pittsburgh if I was within walking distance of the Mattress Factory,” he laughs.  
 
The inspiration behind this project came from two places. Conboy, a board member at the Mattress Factory, is also a professor of photography at Robert Morris University and Point Park University. He was alarmed to discover in speaking with his students that, despite having grown up in a city with incredible places like the Carnegie Museum of Art and The Andy Warhol Museum, many had never set foot inside an art museum. He found this disheartening but was unsure how to tackle the problem. 
 
Then he recalled St. Clair Hospital’s 2011 gimmick that made national news: giving parents their newborns swaddled in Terrible Towels.  
 
“I thought it was a cute idea! But how many Terrible Towels will a Pittsburgh kid have by the time they’re seven or eight? I thought we could give them something they may be able to hold onto for a lifetime.” 
 
That’s when his work began. The $10,000 grant he won from Crusade for Art -- an Atlanta-based nonprofit committed to building audiences for photography -- was the first step. Crusade for Art funds engagement grants like Conboy’s annually, giving to projects that align with their mission. In 2013, Creator Jennifer Schwartz embarked on a journey called “Crusade For Collecting,” driving around the country in a VW bus and holding pop-up events to give away original photographs from local artists. Conboy followed Schwartz’s quest, hoping the organization would support his own idea. They did, and in summer of 2014 he began to recruit artists for the cause.
 
Conboy chose 12 artists, one for each month of the year. They are mostly photographers, but Conboy did not discriminate by medium. 
 
“I chose artists whose style I liked and whom I thought could translate that into photography.” For example, February’s artist is the Mattress Factory’s Maria Mangano, who attended Carnegie Mellon University and has exhibited her art regionally. She is mostly known for her print work and drawings -- of dead birds.
 
“I liked her aesthetic, though, and I really wanted to include her,” Conboy said.
 
The result is a beautiful capture of a majestic (and very much alive) blue-breasted kingfisher, which will be distributed to all the babies born at UPMC Mercy, St. Clair Hospital, and The Midwife Center for Birth & Women’s Health in February.
  
Another featured artist is Ryan Lammie, executive director of Radiant Hall, a studio in Lawrenceville. Lammie is a Pittsburgh-born, New York City-educated sculptural painter, who uses mostly found objects and industrial materials. Conboy was drawn to Lammie’s complete immersion in the Pittsburgh art scene.
 
“He is doing great work with local artists,” Conboy said. “He’s constantly creating, curating, and showing.” 
 
We’ll have to wait until December to see Lammie’s work, however. Even Conboy is still waiting to see some of the art that will be presented to the tots. “Our June artist is planning a trip to Bhutan and would like to include an image from there.”
 
Conboy has a lot of hopes for the future of the project.
 
“The grant only covers 2015, so right now I’m looking for other funding opportunities,” he said. “I already have a list of artists for 2016! In the future, I’d love to see it maybe turned into a calendar, or have an exhibition at City Hall. I’d like to prove this project is scalable. I would love if people in other cities used this idea!”
 
He also hopes that Start With Art’s popularity will mean that, eventually, hospitals will be the ones calling him to be included.   
 
“Mostly, I want this to be zero-sum with no profit. We are providing art as a gift.”
 
So what will be the result of Start With Art Pittsburgh? Will it be a new generation of kids who can think critically about art?
 
“In 20 years we’ll be able to see how it affects kids who have a head start with art,” Conboy says. 
 
For now, it’s a great opportunity for Pittsburgh artists to get exposure and gain a following, albeit one that can’t walk yet.

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New Project at St. Clair Hospital Sends Newborns Home with Art

By David Mayernik Jr.
Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015, 9:01 p.m.

Original article here.

Joshua and Danielle Karlovich welcomed their third child, Michael Eli, at St. Clair Hospital on Jan. 21.

They went home to Canonsburg with him and a photograph, “Mist Over the Ohio,” as part of the hospital's new Start with Art program. Joshua Karlovich said the photo — depicting a haze over the Ohio River — brought some peace to a stressful but joy-filled time.

“I know whenever you're having a baby, it can be a very dramatic time sometimes, but I thought it was really peaceful. We're going to see if we can frame it and put it up in his room.”

Michael is one of 67 babies born so far this year to receive original works of art in the program initiated by Matthew Conboy, who teaches media arts at Robert Morris University.

Last fall, he bested about 160 entries to secure a $10,000 grant from Crusade for Art to build audiences for photography. This year, every baby born at St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon, The Midwife Center for Birth & Women's Health in the Strip District and UPMC Mercy in Uptown will receive a photograph.

Conboy, 37, from Washington, D.C., said the idea to give away art came from two sources.

He was inspired by St. Clair's tradition of sending babies home with a Terrible Towel and by stories about Jennifer Schwartz, creator/director of the Atlanta-based nonprofit Crusade for Art, which aims to introduce people to art.

“I want to make sure these babies born this year kind of get a 20-year head start on collecting art,” he said.

He met with St. Clair Hospital officials in early January to pitch his project.

“It literally took five minutes and two emails to come to an agreement on the project,” he said. “It was probably one of the most amazing things I've ever seen because there was no talking bureaucracy, no questions asked.”

Linda McIntyre, director of St. Clair's Family Birth Center, said Conboy brought photos with him and the hospital started giving them out the same day.

“We obviously thought it was a great idea. It fits in with our philosophy of treating our newborns and families with respect and dignity and doing that with a little bit of fun from the very beginning of their lives.”

Conboy expects 3,500 newborns to go home from the hospitals with photographs this year. About 1,300 are born each year at St. Clair Hospital.

Each month is assigned to a local artist who will create an original work that will be gifted to newborns and their families.

January's photograph is by Aaron Blum, who originally is from West Virginia. His photo, “Mist Over the Ohio,” reflects his exploration of what it means to be Appalachian.

Conboy hand-delivered prints to families at St. Clair Hospital last month.

“They were just so happy to have something for the baby's wall when they go home,” he said.

McIntyre said she hopes the program is an extension of the hospital's many wellness program and hopes it can kickstart an appreciation of the “finer things in life” from the beginning.

David Mayernik Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at dmayernik@tribweb.com.



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St. Clair Hospital Newborns Start with Art

The Almanac
Published Jan 23, 2015 at 9:52 am

Matthew Conboy believes children aren’t getting enough exposure to fine art, so he has reached out to three regional hospitals to provide parents and their newborns the work of professional photographers and artists through 2015.

“Mr. Conboy saw our Steelers and Pirates babies all decked out and thought it would offer a similar opportunity to expose some fine art to a very new audience as well,” said Linda McIntyre, women and children’s services director at the hospital.

“I teach at Robert Morris and Point Park, and I have students telling me they’ve never been to a museum. It’s a foreign concept to them,” said Conboy, a photographer and educator.

Conboy was awarded a $10,000 grant from Crusade for Art to underwrite an educational program, so he pitched to St. Clair Hospital – along with UPMC Mercy and The Midwife Center for Birth & Women’s Health – the “Start with Art” program.

The pieces are provided by six photographers and six artists, each specializing in a style or method.

“February’s piece is a photograph called Mist over the Ohio, a color photo of the river with some low-hanging mist over it,” McIntyre said.

“The pieces will change month to month,” Conboy said, “for instance, February’s will be of a beautiful bird. Then later on in the year you’ll see some abstract art and city landscapes.”

Conboy hopes the art pieces will inspire children, perhaps not as early as toddlers, but later as mementos their parents can remind them about.

“With the museum story, we’re in a region so rich with culture, history and art, it’s important to me to get these students a head start in that regard. By going home with a piece of art, they have a 25-year head start on me – that’s when I bought my first piece of art – and I’m an artist,” he said.

“We would like feedback as well. And on social media. So if parents could reach back on Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #startwithartpgh, it helps us track what pieces were received well and how to further improve this program.”

For more information, visit www.startwithartpgh.org.

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Next Pittsburgh Features 2014 Crusade Engagement Grant Program

Deanna Lee
January 21, 2015

Every year, thousands of parents walk out of Pittsburgh hospitals with their newborn babies. Many are anxious. Most are sleep deprived. And they’re all armed with diapers, blankets, instructions, and plenty to worry about.

This year, some of these parents will leave with something else, something unexpected: their baby’s first original work of art.

Matthew Conboy, an artist and professor of media arts at Robert Morris University, is responsible for helping the babies born this year at St. Clair Hospital and The Pittsburgh Midwife Center become the world’s youngest art collectors.

His project is entitled Start With Art: PGH, and its funding was secured thanks to a $10,000 grant from the nonprofit organization, Crusade for Art. The grant is awarded annually to “unique, approachable programs that bring new audiences to photography” and this audience is about as new as it gets.

After winning the grant for his unique vision, Matthew selected 12 artists—one for each month—to contribute to the project. Every day in 2015, the “goodie bags” that are sent home with parents and their newborns will include an original photograph from that month’s artist. The photographs are printed small enough so that they’re easy to frame, hang on the refrigerator or place in a baby book.

The art is definitely kid-appropriate, says Matthew, but “it’s not just blue, or pink, or primary colors. We are working with renowned artists, so we thought it was important to give the babies something that represents their work.”

The photographs are indeed diverse—from landscapes and portraits to more conceptual and abstract works.

Matthew Conboy with a new collector 

Matthew Conboy with a new collector 

So, why exactly does a baby need art? “It’s about opening new eyes up to what art can do,” says Matthew. “The value of it is looking at our surroundings, our lives and our beliefs from a different perspective. I think we all need to do that, and why not start as soon as possible?”

Start With Art: PGH is free to both the hospitals and the families who receive the photographs. Looking toward the future, Matthew’s goal is to secure more funding from local foundations, so he can help all Pittsburgh babies get their art collection started right away.

For more information on the project, as well as a full list of the 2015 artists, visit www.startwithartpgh.org.

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Click Magazine Feature on Crusade for Art

meet creative people

the crusader

Jennifer Schwartz drove a movement to bring art to the people, to make everyone a collector of photographic fine art. With a new book out, a successful CSA for photography under way, and noble goals for her non- profit organization, Jennifer is a force for progress. by lorna gentry 

Ever since Jennifer Schwartz got involved in the business of fine art photography, she has relentlessly challenged the status quo. First she employed creative tactics in engaging the com- munity inside and outside her gallery in Atlanta and connecting established collectors with emerging photographers. And as a gallerist, she tirelessly championed photography in innovative — some would say provocative — ways to motivate non-collectors to collect. Then she created Crusade for Art, a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate, mentor and inspire photographers, and to bring new audiences to art. Next, she bought a 1977 VW bus and took to the road for three months in 2013 to launch pop-up art crusades in cities across the country. When she returned to Atlanta she closed her bricks-and-mortar gallery and opened a home office to run the nonprofit, which sponsors an annual $10,000 grant (See sidebar, “Photography as Birthright,” page 38) and operates a subscription-based, community supported art program (modeled on the established community supported agricultural programs).

The idea of co-opting this model — down to its acronym, CSA — originated in Minnesota about five years ago and operates in some 40 cities nationwide. The fees and number of subscriptions vary among those CSAs; Jennifer charges $400 per share and caps the number of subscriptions at 50. Money from the shares pays the artists, who create works in editions limited to the number of subscribers. Jennifer’s CSA is the first to be exclusively for photography, and unlike other CSAs, the artists live in different U.S. cities and shareholders are international.

At the outset, “We commissioned six photographers to create an original photographic piece in an edition of 50,” says Jennifer, who then shipped the works to the shareholders bimonthly over six months. “Shareholders could see who the artists were by visiting their websites, but they didn’t know what the art would be. I was hoping we’d sell out in two weeks, but we sold out in two days!”

Jennifer chose a mix of emerging and mid-career photographers who have either gallery representation or their own collectors. She looked for artists who make “diverse and accessible art that people will want to hang on their walls,” she says. “I didn’t give them any guidelines, other than the fact they couldn’t show the work until it had shipped. For the shareholders, particularly new collectors, the CSA offers a great price point to acquire art. Some shareholders are established collectors and others live in condos and are excited to get art on their walls at a price they can afford.”

Life beyond the pale

Jennifer, a native of Virginia, and her husband, Michael, have three children. She has a degree in psychology and a master’s in counseling and for a while worked as an elementary school counselor. But after photographing her children and other people’s kids, she quit counseling to open a studio, which was spacious enough to house a gallery. “I had no idea how to run a gallery,” she says rolling her eyes. “I’d never tried to get my own work in a gallery, and I’d never worked in one. But coming at the fine art world from a neutral perspective, I could think outside the box and not do things the way they’d always been done.”

Unorthodox best describes Jennifer’s methods, like the 2013 cross-country art tour in her vintage bus. The idea was to create demand for the work of the emerging photographers by engaging passers-by, giving them free photographs, and asking them to consider collecting art. Photographers in each city on the tour joined her at the pop-up exhibitions to talk about their work with viewers. Jennifer also gave talks about the need to be creative in the selling of art. Photographers she met were hungry for such advice, which was the inspiration for her book, Crusade for Your Art (Crusade Press, 2014). A guide to navigating the world of fine art photography, the book includes contributions from editors, gallerists, curators and photographers.

Crusading for any cause can tap one’s energy, and Jennifer readily admits the tour was grueling. “It was guerilla style and kind of crazy to pull people off the street and say, ‘Here is art. Meet the artist. See what resonates with you.’” Sometimes it just didn’t work; when it did, though, it changed people. She remembers a young woman having an a-ha! moment about art when she connected to a piece at a pop-up show in Washington, D.C. “Once that happens, how could you ever go to Ikea and buy art because it matches your throw pillows?”  

(Sidebar) Photography as Birthright 

Last September photographer Matthew Conboy of Pittsburgh was the first to be awarded the $10,000 Crusade for Art Engagement Grant for his idea on building an audience for fine art photography. One of 10 semi- finalists in North America, Matthew proposed placing a photograph in every cradle, thus making newborns instant art collectors.

Matthew plans to work with West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh, where the more than 3,000 babies born annually represent a socioeconomic cross section of the city’s population. Into each of the hospital’s complementary new mother goody bags (formula and diapers and such), Matthew will tuck an original signed photograph by a local emerging photographer.

One of the grant judges, Karen Irvine, curator and associate director of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography, said Matthew’s idea “will engage an extremely diverse audience, one that is for the most part probably not already circulating in the fine art realm.” The panel of judges also included Whitney Johnson, director of photography at The New Yorker, and Rupert Jenkins, executive director of Colorado Photographic Arts Center. 

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