Shelter: Crafting a Safe Home

A Conversation with Contemporary Craft Executive Director Janet McCall

By Maya Henry Posted on February 1, 2018

Holly Grace. Round Mountain Hut, 2015. Blown glass kiln formed with glass powder and metal leaf surfaces, sandblasted imagery – with internal light. 7.5″ x 13.75″ x 8.6″. Photo courtesy of Holly Grace.

Shelter is universally identified as a basic human right, yet refuge and protection are out of reach for millions worldwide. To bring this subject to light, Contemporary Craft (CC) opened Shelter: Crafting a Safe Home, a socially engaged art experience, in September 2017, to focus public attention on the basic human need for safe housing. The exhibition will be on view through Saturday, February 17th at CC’s Strip District gallery located in the Produce Terminal at the intersection of 21st and Smallman Streets.

Featuring more than 40 works of art in diverse craft media by 14 contemporary artists, Shelter explores the increasing public concerns on housing insecurity and displacement, and how the arts can encourage positive self-expression and guide thoughtful conversations.

The exhibition examines creative responses to difficult topics through the inclusion of artworks that convey personal stories and experiences to demonstrate the local and worldwide impact insecure housing has on individuals and the society. The exhibition highlights a variety of techniques and forms, including innovative art expressions rooted in traditional craft materials such as glass, wood, fiber, and clay, as well as work that incorporates found objects to explore unexpected relationships between craft and the inherited history within objects, and installation art.

The visionary, poetic, and experiential potential of art will enable the visitors to see, feel, and understand the need for stable housing and be moved to become part of the solution.  “We are committed to building community through art so we are trying to motivate everyone who comes to see the show to go away thinking about something they can do differently in their lives,” says CC Executive Director Janet McCall.

As an example, McCall points to filmmaker Chris Ivey’s “powerful piece about development and displacement” which also identifies the very real and challenging problem of systemic racism in our city’s history.  Next to his installation is a sign that asks: where can a black man find housing in Pittsburgh?

McCall says that in her experience people leave the exhibit thinking about that question and how they can tackle the problem in some small way.  What barriers might a black man face in Pittsburgh today trying to find safe, comfortable shelter?

Shelter will challenge you to think about the future of Pittsburgh, says McCall.  “What kind of city do we want to live in?  How can we have a city that is inclusive and equitable? Safe and affordable housing is at the center of that vision.  The strength of Pittsburgh has been its very unique neighborhood identities, so making sure that as we are making room for new development and business to benefit the local economy, we are thoughtfully weaving in ways existing ways residents and organizations can stay in those neighborhoods.”

The exhibit closes February 17th with a special day of performances, and several of the artists will be on hand to discuss their works.  Find more info at the Contemporary Craft website.

Kathryn Clark. By Sea, 2016. Hand embroidery on black taffeta and cotton voile. 62″ x 48″. Photo: Kathryn Clark.

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