Big, bold and not too bright

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .


Back in the day, Liberty Avenue Downtown flashed neon lights as stridently as a parade of police cars in a hurry somewhere. Today’s mien is more, shall we say, family friendly, but it strives for a level of sophistication worthy of a world-class city.

The Cultural District is one reason why the city is moving in that direction, and the Sprout Fund is behind the latest effort to bring a little more animation to the scene.

Today, the Historic Review Commission approved a proposed installation of public art on the side of the Bruno Building at 945 Liberty Ave. — a 21-by-23-foot design of interconnected geometric patterns by artists Jacob Ciocci and Matt Barton. Both are graduates of the masters of fine arts program at Carnegie Mellon University. Matt teaches at UC-Colorado Springs and Jacob splits his time between Braddock and New York City.

Their proposal was chosen from among 97 who answered the Sprout Fund’s call for artists, said Curt Gettman, program manager for Sprout’s public art program.

He said the materials budget is about $100,000, with a final budget to be determined.

“We’re excited about the project,” he said. “It’s a fun piece.”

In ensuing weeks and months, Sprout will give the public a chance to weigh in, especially business owners and residents who could feel the LED-light piece would have an impact on their lives.

“We are eager to talk to people about the design,” Curt said. “There is a lot of control that we can have,” including dimming of lights that he said are far less bright than neon.  “We want to add character to the neighborhood while taking into account that people live there.”

The lights will face down Smithfield, at an angle that should have minimal residentail impact, he said.

The animated piece is designed to display four, 15-minute compositions each hour. It would be installed on the white backdrop of a faded advertisement from decades ago, when the building was used for numerous public advertising signs.

In giving its approval, the commission required that the display, which will use LED lights in compliance with the city’s brightness standards, would never be able to be adapted for use as a sign, slogn or logo.

Provided the proposal meets zoning requirements, it could be installed by summer.

In their artists’ statement, Jacob and Matt wrote: “Much of the inspiration for this piece comes from the presence of the three rivers in Pittsburgh. Providing the very foundation of Pittsburgh from Fort Pitt through the Industrial Era and into today, the rivers supply the livelihood and vitality for the city. Each and every day while the city bustles, the rivers flow. Their constant energy surrounds the downtown area and reflects the dynamism that is Pittsburgh. The separate bodies of water converge, intermingle, and literally become one. While the water flowing by the city on both sides is never actually the same, (with each moment renewed and reinventing itself), these rivers remain continuous. While the people and histories of Pittsburgh continue to grow and change, certain things stay the same.”

Photo image courtesy of The Sprout Fund

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