Photo courtesy of Robin Alexander
Joanna and Asher Deming work together to screen print a shirt at Artists Image Resource.

By Victoria Stevans

The Unity Corner, a forthcoming mosaic mural gateway and parklet for the Perry Hilltop and Fineview neighborhoods, is ready to move on to the next phase of its production.

Previously, the Perry Hilltop Citizens Council (PHCC), with the help of the Fineview Citizens Council (FCC), worked on the project’s first stage: creation and completion of the mosaic mural gateway.

The PHCC and the FCC partnered with students from The Pittsburgh Project, arts educator Sandy Kessler Kaminski, and artist Linda Wallen to create a mosaic welcome sign for the intersection of Perrysville Avenue and Federal Street.

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Photo of mural courtesy of Robin Alexander.

The students, with Wallen and Kaminski’s help, designed and created clay elements for the three-paneled mural based on images familiar to both Perry Hilltop and Fineview.

According to Kaminski, the process of the mural’s production was a positive one.

“The students surprised themselves,” she said. “They got to [look at their work and] think ‘I did that, I’m really proud of that!’”

For inspiration and a greater historical understanding, students went on tours of the two neighborhoods with the Allegheny City Society. On these tours, students saw distinct ironwork, the original Allegheny Observatory, and the Fineview streetcar, all of which are depicted in the murals. The young artists also met with elders from Perry Hilltop and Fineview to better understand the area’s lived history.

“We felt it was really important to involve young people, to broaden their knowledge and experience,” said Robin Alexander, project manager and member of the PHCC.

“They learned a lot,” Kaminski explained of the students’ time with the Allegheny City Society, “One student, who was previously hard to reach, came alive with the tours. It was really exciting.”

The murals, which are financially backed by grants from the Sprout Fund and One Northside, are currently being kiln-fired and completed, and the project moving onto its next stage: parklet permitting, constructing, and landscaping.

The currently overgrown intersection is slated to have a cobblestone walkway, as well as a table and benches behind the intersection-facing murals.

“The landscaped areas will be populated by native plants that require limited care,” Alexander said.

Planting is scheduled to start sometime within the next month, and Alexander plans to further involve students from The Pittsburgh Project in landscaping.

Beyond the logistics of its production, The Unity Corner holds a deeper significance, to which the name gestures.

“The Unity Corner is the first project that Perry Hilltop and Fineview have done together,” Alexander said. “The project represents the unity between everyone who made it happen.”

This is the also the PHCC’s and FCC’s inaugural dual-partnership with The Pittsburgh Project and The Allegheny City Society.

“We also got tremendous support from individuals and businesses,” Alexander said.

Apart from initiating partnerships, The Unity Corner project has also “generated other things,” according to Alexander.

In fact, handmade t-shirts were one of the items put in motion by the Unity Corner’s momentum.

The t-shirts were designed by Christine Whispell, a board member of the FCC, and depict a segment of the Unity Corner’s mosaic mural. One-third of the shirts were silk screened locally at the Northside-based imaging organization, Artists Image Resource (AIR), 518 Foreland St.

“Its about the process as much as the outcome,” said Alexander on her methods for The Unity Corner and t-shirt printing. “We wanted to do things in a thoughtful way.”

The shirts were purchased with the help of a crowd-resourcing platform, IOBY, and they will be used by children participating in Tickets for Kids, a program which provides kids with free tickets for sporting events, museums, and performances. These shirts will also be used to promote Perry Hilltop and Fineview on special occasions.

In all, those involved in the on-going progression of The Unity Corner and its off-shoots hope to make a positive impact on the community.

“I know the power art has to convey a message,” Alexander said. “I was excited about this project because it’s a way of creating public art in our community that is started here, developed here, and based on our community’s history.”

The Unity Corner’s ribbon cutting will be on Sunday, August 27, the same day as Fineview’s Community Picnic. The festivities are scheduled to start with Unity Corner’s opening, moving to the picnic, a further display of the neighborhoods’ unity.

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