Being Good documents doing good, through art

lynn johnson vanessa german_Medium
Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild

On view through January 2, 2015
Various times

Being Good, a new exhibition at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild is focusing its lens on transformational Pittsburghers who use art to empower and engage citizens, improve and uplift their communities and share powerful messages.

A collaborative project documenting remarkable Pittsburghers who use their artistic practice, and who commit their own resources, to improving distressed neighborhoods in the city, the unique show pairs three talented local photographers with three inspiring subjects. The resulting 70 images are compelling and sensitive black and white, as well as color, portraits that document people, places and a strong sense of purpose, creativity and community focus.

Featured in Being Good are: poet, performance artist and sculptor Vanessa German, who is photographed by Lynn Johnson; ceramicist, educator and entrepreneur Bill Strickland, who is photographed by Scott Goldsmith; and visual artist and gardener Randy Gilson, who is photographed by Brian Cohen.

Pittsburgh artist Vanessa German has been captivating audiences and empowering neighborhoods—from her high-profile spoken word performance at Mayor Bill Peduto’s inauguration and her Homewood-based Love Front Porch project which uses art to combat violence, to solo gallery shows and recent coverage in The New York Times and Huffington Post. An award-winning multidisciplinary artist who explores the power of transformation and healing through sculpture, poetry, photography and performance, German’s mixed-media sculptures incorporate objects found in her Homewood neighborhood, including doll parts, antique tins, household objects and African beads. The surreal 3-D collages featured in her Tar Baby series use reclaimed words and objects to symbolize the oppression of African Americans.

Documenting German at work is celebrated photographer Lynn Johnson, who won the 2013 National Geographic Photographer’s Photographer award, and is currently represented by the National Geographic Image Collection. A staff photographer at The Pittsburgh Press for seven years before beginning her freelance career, Johnson received her BA in photographic illustration and photojournalism from Rochester Institute of Technology, and her MA from the School of Visual Communications at Ohio University.

Another featured subject in Being Good is Bill Strickland, president and CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corporation and founder of MCG. The awarding-winning arts pioneer received a 1996 MacArthur “Genius” Award for leadership and ingenuity in the arts, the 2011 Goi Peace Award and was chosen by President Obama to serve on the White House Council for Community Solutions in 2010. Strickland grew up in the Manchester, graduated from Oliver High School and attended University of Pittsburgh. He lives with his wife Rose and daughter Olivia on the Northside.

Photographing Strickland is Scott Goldsmith, whose work has taken him to the jungles of Costa Rica, the swamps of Jamaica, the slums of Haiti, into caves and deserts, and even on Air Force One. Goldsmith, who has photographed feature stories for National Geographic, LIFE, TIME, Fortune, Business Week, Sports Illustrated and People, has worked in 49 US states and 10 countries. Winner of 100-plus awards, Goldsmith was honored by the National Academy of Science in 2011.

The third Pittsburgh celeb and cultural force featured in Being Good is Randy Gilson, who fell in love with the Northside when he moved to the neighborhood 30 years ago. Gilson soon began to to pick up litter and plant miniature gardens, and in 1995, he purchased a dilapidated building on Arch Avenue which he has transformed into a vibrant and ever-evolving work of art that cannot be missed. By involving community members, Gilson’s enthusiasm has spread and has helped residents take more pride in their neighborhood.

Documenting Gilson is Brian Cohen, who specializes in documentary and editorial photography. A a graduate of London’s Royal College of Art, Cohen received a Ph.D. in art history from SUNY Binghamton, and has published work on the role of photography in shaping public opinion. Cohen’s latest photographic work focuses on documenting Pittsburgh’s remarkable transition, and is featured regularly in NEXTpittsburgh.

Being Good remains on view through January 2, 2015 at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild.

Lynn Johnson, Vanessa German–at work. Photo courtesy of Lynn Johnson.