The Federal Street underpass, once an ugly reminder of Pittsburgh’s industrial era, will now function as an art gallery supporting rotating installations and welcoming pedestrians and motorists to the Northside.

The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh led efforts to renovate the dark, damp underpass that stands as a crucial entry point to the Northside neighborhoods. The project to improve the high traffic area began in 2007 and was approved in 2009 by the owners of the railroad line passing overhead, the Norfolk Southern Corporation.

Cleaning, painting and other initial improvements to the Federal Street underpass, such as the installation of lights and a metal mesh for hanging the works of art are complete, said Chris Siefert, deputy director of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

Similar improvements have been made to the nearby underpasses at Anderson and Sandusky streets and are expected to be completed by December, according to Gregory Jones, a senior project manager of the Northside Leadership Conference.

“It is wonderful to be a part of the current efforts to clean up the underpasses because these bridges speak to Pittsburgh’s history and character and they should be viewed as assets, not drawbacks,” Siefert said. “The results are clear — the underpasses are safe, comfortable, inviting and most of all, friendly.”

The committee curating art installations for Federal Street selected Kim Beck’s “Big Sky,” a large scale photograph of a sunny day on the Northside, as the first featured work of art. It will be in place for eight months to a year and should be installed in the next few weeks, according to Seifert.

The Underpass Art Program is part of the Children Museum’s Charm Bracelet Project in collaboration with the Heinz Endowments, NRG Energy, Inc., the Grable Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. These organizations also make up the committee choosing the art works.

The Charm Bracelet Project began in 2006 and has grown to include 17 organizations seeking creative approaches to community improvement like public projects, educational and youth programs and environmental sustainability.

Other partners in the Federal Street project include the North Side Leadership Conference, Central North Side Neighborhood Council, NRG Energy Center Pittsburgh, Norfolk Southern Rail Road Corporation, Artist’s Image Resource, Carnegie Library, Mattress Factory Museum, The Andy Warhol Museum, New Hazlett Theater and the City of Pittsburgh.

Matthew Cichowicz is a senior studying nonfiction at the University of Pittsburgh. He is interning with The Northside Chronicle during the fall semester.