“Everyone belongs in Troy Hill.”
By Chloe Burkart
On Thursday June 28, Troy Hill residents gathered at a block party hosted at Scratch Food & Beverage in conjunction with Troy Hill Citizens (THC) to celebrate the completion of the community’s new map mural. The BYOB event was packed with neighbors enjoying music and hamburgers and hot dogs fresh off the grill. The artwork, created by artist Brian Gonnella, extends across the side of the restaurant and depicts every road, business, and landmark in Troy Hill. Children craned their necks upwards to point out familiar places on the map and shouted in excitement when they located their homes.
The mural’s vibrant colors and cartoon-like character speak to Troy Hill’s lively spirit and warm personality. It represents the unity, acceptance, and diversity that makes this neighborhood and the Northside so special. The words, “Everyone belongs in Troy Hill,” fly across the top of the mural as a reminder that no matter who you are, where you come from, or where you’re going, there’s a place for you in Troy Hill.
Gonnella, a native Pittsburgher, has been creating art professionally for about a decade. He received his bachelor’s degree in English writing and film studies from the University of Pittsburgh. Since then, he’s been nationally recognized for his artistic talents. He drew inspiration for the Troy Hill mural from a year spent working for the Painted Desert Project on the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona. Influenced by the importance of the Navajo land to the natives, Gonella shifted away from creating the imaginative landscapes he’s known for and began conceptualizing more realistic representations of spaces.
“These pieces are meant to be reflections of the community in a way that they want to be seen. That’s the utility value. The [Troy Hill] mural is rooted in the nostalgia and whimsical animation of old 16-bit video games. The interpretation of their space in such terms creates a sense of magic,” Gonella said.
Funding for the mural was generated with a Go Fund Me campaign started by the Vice Chair of THC, Patrick Duffey. In two months, members of the community raised over $1,000 which went towards the materials and supplies necessary to create a mural of this size. After hours spent studying Google Maps and completing the preliminary sketch, Gonella began working on the wall. He completed the map in about two weeks with 10 or 12 hour work days.
“Work days for this were long, but rewarding,” he said.
Gonella received nothing but positive support and encouragement throughout the mural making process. Members of the community often stopped by to check on his progress and search the map for recognizable landmarks.
“Lots of thumbs up, lots of honks, and compliments,” he said. “Some people with more to say than others, but all of it, always positive.”
Throughout the unveiling event at Scratch, people admired Gonella’s representation of their beloved neighborhood.
“I want it to feel like an essential part of the neighborhood, like a mirror in a house,” he said.
This style of cartoonish landscape mural is the first of its kind in Pittsburgh, but Gonella has created a few others which are scattered around the country. To see more of his work, check out his Instagram: @briangonellaisboring.