Photo by Abbey Reighard
Paul Martin, John Ross and Robert Skwaryk are working together to open a free art and filmmaking school for children and adults.

By Abbey Reighard

What do a furniture store owner, a retired judge and an artist have in common? – A vision to make Pittsburgh a better place for kids interested in the arts.

Paul Martin, John Ross and Robert Skwaryk are currently working to open a school that would focus on art and filmmaking. The three men collaborate on the project at their current store and studio space location, 3135 Brighton Rd.

Ross, a local artist who has been working on the school project for over a year, said he wants the school to be a space where kids can express themselves through art.

“The school will be a place where kids can get their hands dirty,” Ross said.

According to Ross, the school will be reconstructed from the old Thaddeus Stevens Elementary school, 822 Crucible Street. The new art school will be called the Meter Room Project.

Ross said the name for the art school, which is the third of its kind, is appropriate because “just like how a meter room disperses utilities, The Meter Room will disperse art projects into the community.”

MartinFurnitureStoreRoss opened the original Meter Room in New York City. He then opened another one in Sheraden and now wants to bring a Meter Room to the West End.

Ross said he was approached by Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, from District 2, when the elementary school went up for sale. Kail-Smith said she asked Ross and his team to use the building to establish another Meter Room because of his previous success and experience.

“I thought John would be perfect for the job,” Kail-Smith said.

Photo by Abbey Reighard
Paul Martin, owner of Martin’s Used Furniture, 3135 Brighton Rd.

Thaddeus Stevens was one of the 32 schools for sale in Pittsburgh, according to Ross.

Ross said he is concerned with the decline of art included in public school curriculum’s. He added that the school will help to fill the artistic void left in public schools.

The school will include 19 art studios, 250 seats and a gymnasium that will be constructed into a film studio.

Ross said there is no fee for enrollment or age requirement for the art school and adults will be welcome to participate in projects at the school as well.

Ross collaborates with his friend and neighbor, Paul Martin, who owns the used furniture store next door to Ross’ studio.

Martin, a retired construction worker, opened Martin’s Used Furniture store last May. Martin said his sister and brother-in-law previously owned a furniture store and after a hand injury forced him to retire after 33 years, he decided he wanted to open his own.

“I figured ‘what the heck, I’ll give it a shot,’” Martin said.

Martin’s Used Furniture is open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Martin said he usually purchases the furniture pieces he sells in his store, but also accepts donated furniture.

“I try to buy it low and sell it low,” Martin said.

Martin said a few weeks after he opened the store, Ross set up an art studio next door and the two soon became friends.

Ross described Martin as a “popular person” who helps to spread the word about the Meter Room Project to his friends and customers who stop by the furniture store.

“He has a million friends,” Ross said. “Not many cars go by that don’t honk hello when they pass the store.”

Ross creates furniture pieces and then sells the finished works in Martin’s store. Some pieces Ross has created include fish tanks TVs, made out of old television sets, and chairs made out of old shopping carts, styled to suit the buyers taste with cushions featuring icons such as Marilyn Monroe and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ross is currently working on an abstract paint piece made entirely from recycled car paint and old plywood. Ross said he wants to incorporate similar pieces into the curriculum when the Meter Room Project opens.

Skywark, who Ross and Martin affectionately refer to as “Judge Bob” and “the movie guy,” has a studio next door to the furniture store, which is downstairs from Ross’ studio.

Skywaryk is a screen writer and movie producer. He has worked on several films, including “Last Call” – a war murder mystery which Skywaryk won a fellowship for the script he wrote from the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts.

Skywaryk is also a founding member of the Carnegie Screenwriters and has been involved in over 20 film productions.

Ross and Skywark met while the two were working on a film set for the film “Corpsing” – a modern-day romantic twist on the Frankenstein story, involving a female character who creates a Frankenstein-type monster, who she then falls in love with.

Skwaryk is veteran marine who served in Vietnam, Lebanon during the Civil War and Israeli invasion, and Kuwait as part of Operation Desert Storm. Skwaryk retired from the Marine Corps in 2002.

Skywark also served as a state administrative judge until he retired in 2013. Skywark still works as an attorney, but added that he spends most of his time working on films.

Skywaryk will have a studio at the new art school where he can continue to work on his film ideas while teaching students about the art of movie-making.

“I’d like to have a bigger space for local filmmakers to write, shoot and produce their original short films, music videos, continuing education videos for professionals, industrial and commercial videos,” Skywaryk said.

Ross said idealistically, he would like to see the school open within a year, but said the timeline is dependent on the developers.

Ross said he hopes the school will help kids see their own artistic potential and to see that they can continue working in the arts in their adult lives.

“It’s hard to get kids involved in the arts and see it as a career,” Ross said. “I want to get kids interested in the arts while they’re still young.”