Art on Campus and Its Public


Art on Campus and Its Public

Museum Studies Intern at the University of Pittsburgh, Art on Campus Project- Spring 2020


Though people walk by public works of art every day, information about them is often not easily accessible to the average passerby. Many people come to recognize works of public art based only on their appearance, but have no means to easily understand their history, origin, and significance of its particular location. I wanted to learn more about how the general public experiences art, while working on a project that will make information more accessible.

This past semester, as part of the Art on Campus project at the University of Pittsburgh, I collected information about public art on campus to contribute to a database and public website. Because many of the pieces we looked at were quite old, and data on them was not standardly catalogued, much of the research I completed was archival. I utilized many old newspaper articles and announcements. Much of the information I discovered will be included on a future website, detailing the public art on Pitt’s campus. This will be useful for future artistic endeavors and tours, and the average person who wants to engage with art in an easily accessible and digestible way.

At the start of this project, I was intrigued- though I pass public works of art on Pitt’s campus every day and have interest in them, I hadn’t learned much about them. Outside of Lawrence Hall is a work that, prior to this project, I only knew as the “metal spaceship-esque sculpture.” However, after completing background research on this specific piece, I came to learn its incredible origin. Ode to Space (pictured above) is actually a memorial sculpture to the late Chancellor Litchfield. The artists, Virgil Cantini, has multiple works of art on Pitt’s campus and actually created the University’s Department of Studio Arts. It is eye-opening to consider the works of art surrounding you, their history, and their creation.

Another aspect of launching this project on campus was not only to think about the past and to learn the history of many works, but also to think towards the future of public art on campus. At the start of the term, handouts were distributed around Oakland that asked what kind of public art people wanted to see on campus. It is crucial to gain feedback from the people who will be facing these works every day, and that they are representative of everyone’s lived experiences.

As the community on Pitt’s campus changes, it’s vital that the type of art and artists present on campus changes, as well. As a student who is also studying Political Science, Sociology, and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, understanding how power dynamics, social relations, and identities interact with each other is imperative, and the types of artwork that are on display for the general public highlight what we as a community deem important. Throughout this project, I learned that most of the public works of art currently on Pitt’s campus were created by white men. Moving forward, I think that it is of utmost importance to consider what it means to have artists of backgrounds that are representative of their audiences create pieces of art that are so highly visible, in this case within the Pitt community.

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