A new event series created by Bike Pittsburgh and the Office of Public Art celebrates city steps.
By Haley McMonagle
On Oct. 11 and 12, H. Gene Thompson, a nonbinary artist working in collaboration with Fineview Citizens Council, debuted their communal wearable sculptures for Steps We Take, a new event series created by Bike Pittsburgh (BikePGH) and the Office of Public Art (OPA) celebrating city steps. The events Thompson organized in Fineview took place at the Carrie Street and Graib Street steps and allowed for interactions on and around the stairs to show the connections we find in unlikely situations.
“Pittsburgh and the Office of Public Art made a call originally for neighborhoods to apply that had city steps that were essential to people transporting themselves,”
said Thompson. “Then there was an artist call that neighborhoods put out for… artists to be a part of this process and to make an artwork that really featured the city stairs
as a space to be celebrated.”
Thompson’s events in Fineview were two of many others, including ones in Polish Hill, West End, and Troy Hill. Each event intended to bring attention to the steps in these communities. “As one of the artists selected, I interpreted that project in my own process,” said Thompson.
“My own process is to examine where people connect and how we isolate ourselves. My line of thought was really thinking about how transits bridge possibilities to connect with each other. When we transport each other in ways that are public, such as public transit, biking, walking, and really not using personal vehicles, we are able to do a lot. We are able to reach each other.”
Events at the Graib Street stairs featured a speaker, music, a photo booth, and, of course, many fabric sculptures, including ones on the celebrated stairs. The audience of all ages was able to both wear and walk through the fabric sculptures, dancing and interacting as music played.
“It was really exciting to see how much the audience took to this kind of experience,” said Thompson. “It was kind of a live workshop where people could interact on many different levels.”
These events were a call for stairs throughout the City of Pittsburgh to be maintained. Repairing the steps is expensive, but invaluable to communities like the one in Fineview, which are mostly in the hills and lack other forms of public transportation resources.
“I think I need to continue this piece a little further because the coals are still really hot,” said Thompson. “It doesn’t feel done to me… Sounded like [other communities] were saying, ‘Maybe we could make that happen.’ I feel like there is a really strong message with the piece, it doesn’t need words to explain and the audience was able to just get it. I definitely see myself touring parts of this work.”