Artists Ramiro Davaro-Comas, Sandy Kessler Kaminski, and Linda Wallen were recently chosen to complete works in Riverview Park for a pilot “Art in Parks” program in Pittsburgh.

By Nick Eustis

Photo courtesy of Ramiro Davaro-Comas

The Department of City Planning (DCP) Art in Parks program recently accepted design proposals from artists looking to create works of art to feature in parks across Pittsburgh. Artist proposals included design ideas, visual renderings and a cost breakdown. Projects will utilize existing surfaces in Schenley Park, Frick Park, Highland Park, Mellon Park, Emerald View Park and Riverview Park.

The Art in Parks program is a collaboration between the Department of Public Works, Citiparks, and the DCP. Proposals were graded by members of these three bodies and winners were selected on July 27, based on a number of criteria. “The project description is 50 points, taking into consideration creativity, innovation, aesthetic, material prices and the use of the site,” said Yesica Guerra, public art and civic design manager for the DCP. “Community engagement is scored at 20 points, qualifications and experience is another 20 points and the cost proposal is 10 points.

Artists have until September 23 to complete their works on site, and will be compensated $7,500 for their materials and time. In Riverview Park, there will be two different canvases for the artists to work on. The first is a set of four roll-up doors at the park’s activity center. New York based artist Ramiro Davaro-Comas was selected to paint these doors. Davaro-Comas’ plan for the walls is to paint them with scenes from a children’s book he wrote and published in 2014, titled “Manimal Friends.”

“Manimal Friends” aims to teach children the names for various groups of animals, like a “glare” of cats and a “parliament” of owls. “I just was very interested in this idea of ‘Manimal Friends’ and I saw that there had been one book similar to it in 1987, and I wanted to have my own take on it,” Davaro-Comas said. “So I just published it myself. I used a publishing company and I just did it by myself, because—I do whatever I want!” The book’s illustrations are inspired by urban art.

“My influences growing up were art museums, comic books, skateboard graphics —I’ve been skateboarding for 20 years—street art, graffiti, and early 1920s cartoons,” Davaro-Comas said. Davaro-Comas will paint his mural over three days, beginning August 27. He will also provide copies of “Manimal Friends” to interested viewers on his first day of painting.

The second canvas in Riverview Park will be the pavement of the park’s playground. The entrance and center of the Riverview Park playground form a sun, moon and stars: a reference to the nearby Allegheny Observatory.

Pittsburgh-based artists Sandy Kessler Kaminski and Linda Wallen were selected to design for this portion of Riverview Park. Kaminski and Wallen’s proposal for the playground takes the astronomy theme to an artistic level.

“We’re planning to paint some stars and planets and we are going to get kids to help us design images for us to paint, like cut-out spaceships and planets,” Wallen said.

Both Kessler Kaminski and Wallen have been painting for over three decades. Kessler Kaminski has done a number of public paintings, particularly for the local Pamela’s P&G Diner chain.

In addition to painting, Wallen creates mosaics to help beautify neighborhoods. Her work can be seen in various parts of the Northside, including her home neighborhood of Spring Hill. Kessler Kaminski and Wallen previously collaborated on one of these mosaics in Perry South.

According to Guerra, the works will likely be temporary.

“Our hope is to do a revolving program, not just because we may be changing the art, but because we are looking at other sites,” she said.

The hope, she said, is for Art in Parks to expand from this pilot program to other sites throughout Pittsburgh parks, and continue to help create art to complement Pittsburgh’s urban oases.

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