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Start With Art
Start with Art: Creating Brand New Collectors in Pittsburgh
June 7, 2016 by Aleita Hermanowski
Launched by artist and Robert Morris professor Matthew Conboy in January of 2015, Start with Art gives every baby born at The Pittsburgh Midwife Center, St. Clair Hospital, and UPMC Mercy a photograph by a local artist. John Lawson, a poet and professor of English at Robert Morris, has also written descriptions of each photograph.
In 2006, Matthew moved to Pittsburgh from Athens, Ohio, where he was working on a doctorate in interdisciplinary arts at Ohio University. He was familiar with Pittsburgh and had been coming here since 2001 to visit the Mattress Factory and see the exhibits at the Carnegie and Warhol Museums. When he began teaching courses in art at Robert Morris University, he was shocked to find that he had students who had never been to a museum or art gallery. It was then he realized that he wanted to find a way to reach people and change their perception of art and culture well before they got to college.
Matthew had heard that St. Clair Hospital was giving Terrible Towels to all of their newborn babies as a part of gift baskets that went home with mom and baby. He imagined how many Terrible Towels were distributed to newborns throughout Pittsburgh, and thought about how giving children the gift of art and enabling them to begin life as art collectors could be life-altering. He developed the idea for Start with Art in early 2014.
“I had this idea that if I was going to give away art, it would be to babies who could grow into it. I could also support emerging artists and give them an audience that was exponentially larger than any they had ever encountered before,” says Matthew.
In 2014 Atlanta-based nonprofit Crusade for Art awarded him their $10,000 inaugural Audience Engagement Grant. Start with Art has also received help from a Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts grant and assistance from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.
This July, Jessica Server, writer, poet and instructor at CAPA High School will be the featured artist and Start with Art will give their 5000th piece of art to a newborn baby. Mayor Bill Peduto will also present Matthew with a proclamation at a Pittsburgh City Council meeting this summer.
“The thing that excites me the most about this project is that I am sharing my love of art with an entire generation of kids in Pittsburgh. From the moment they’re born, they will be collectors of art and photography and that is something that no one can take away from them.”
If you’d like to make a tax-deductible donation to Start with Art, you can do so through New Sun Rising.
By Janice Crompton / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.