Activating vacant spaces: Re:NEW Festival highlights creative reuse

renew_neu_kirche_imageArts Loud & Clear 

Pittsburgh Post Gazette by Adam Reger, August 29, 2016

When the Re:NEW Festival, a month-long celebration of creative reuse, sustainability, and transformation hits Pittsburgh on September 9, Neu Kirche Contemporary Arts Center will be ready.

That’s because one of the arts organization’s most striking—and highly visible—exhibits, the Fallow Grounds sculpture series, is already in place and accessible to the public. During the month-long Re:NEW Festival, Neu Kirche staff will provide guided tours of the sculptures, which invite artists to take vacant lots in Neu Kirche’s East Deutschtown neighborhood, on Pittsburgh’s North Side, and “activate” them—transforming these unused spaces into sites that encourage conversation and interaction.

How to activate a space is left up to each individual artist, and approaches have been wildly varied—from a community oven to calls for residents to bring unwanted items from their basements to public events inviting neighbors to stop and chat. But Neu Kirche encourages all artists to utilize recycled, found, and reusable materials in innovative ways, considering new and creative ways to make use of vacant spaces and discarded materials.

“We encourage Fallow Grounds artists to use what’s in the neighborhood as well as what they can find for a project,” said Aisha White, events and programs manager.

That fits perfectly with the spirit of the Re:NEW Festival, which seeks to recognize Pittsburgh’s emerging community of artists working with sustainability and re-use in mind. The festival, making its debut from September 9 through October 9, 2016, offers international art exhibits, live music and performances, artists working directly in local schools, a touring film festival, a regional juried art show held in a vacant building, markets selling work made from upcycled materials, and more.

“We started thinking how the many vacant lots in our community are perceived and decided to focus on the positive opportunities they presented,” said Lee Parker, Neu Kirche’s executive director. “Our artists took this further, addressing a variety of social, economic, and political issues surrounding our evolving urban landscapes.”

The Fallow Grounds sculpture series runs from June to October, with an artist invited to activate a new lot each month. Neu Kirche will lead guided tours of this summer’s activated spaces on Sunday, September 11, and Sunday, September 25 at 1p.m. beginning at Neu Kirche.

The September 11 tour will feature a public “barn raising” as part of “Matthias Neumann’s “Bench IV (Basics)” installation work, for which the Brooklyn-based artist created a functional bench from sustainably sourced wood. The public is invited to the barn-raising to help assemble the three-piece structure, too. Meet at noon in an adjacent lot called the “Tripoli Street Bake Yard,” a public art space by artist Michelle Illuminato, for a brief cookout, tour the immediate area of public art, and then put an actual public art piece together!

Tripoli Street Bake Yard invites community members to cook and share around an outdoor wood-fired oven, and tour goers can find out about this public art piece as well as Amy Masters’ “Roadside Attraction,” a large-scale interactive sandwich sculpture and “Northside Civil Encounters,” by New Zealand artists Monique Redmond and Layne Waerea, which invites locals and passersby to participate in “mobile encounters” ranging from conversation to the exchange of products and services and other events aimed at stimulating civil encounters between neighbors. Several Fallow Grounds works from 2015 remain installed throughout the neighborhood, as well as murals painted by local artists Tom Sarver and Nick Sardo.

Neu Kirche takes a holistic approach to art-making, embracing all forms of contemporary art and offering an array of diverse programming that includes public art programs, event space, gallery showcases, and an international residency. Parker founded the organization after a number of years living in New Zealand. Neu Kirche has a particular interest in supporting women in the arts while providing opportunities for all artists, regardless of gender, age, race, or religion.

The organization is itself a model of creative reuse, housed in the First Emmanuel Evangelical Church, a once-abandoned building in the East Deutschtown neighborhood of Pittsburgh’s North Side. The church was built in 1889 during an influx of German, Croatian, and Austrian immigration into the North Side. Looking out over the I-279 highway, the church serves as a reminder of Pittsburgh’s history and its constantly changing character.

Adam Reger is a writer, editor, and teacher. See the original article here: