Pittsburgh as an International Hub for Black Art and Arts Education

Teachers and staff outside the Selma Burke Art Center 


Pittsburgh as an International Hub for Black Art and Arts Education

Museum studies Curatorial Research Assistant at University of Pittsburgh – Spring 2020


Though not always widely recognized, Pittsburgh has been an international hub for black art. I had the pleasure of working with Rebecca Giordano, curator and PhD student in the History of Art and Architecture department, on research for her upcoming exhibition on the pedagogies of 20th century sculptor Selma Burke as well as the late Selma Burke Art Center which operated in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh (1971-1982). Born at the turn of the century, Burke had a significant role in black US art throughout virtually the entirety of the 1900s as an artist, as well as a teacher. Her early ventures into teaching such as her school of sculpture in New York City during the 1940s serve as prime examples of her belief in the importance of teaching art to people from all walks of life. These experiences set the tone for the institution she would create in Pittsburgh, the Selma Burke Art Center. Operating from 1971 to 1981, the Center integrated itself into the community as an integral hub of cultural growth and experience. Offering inexpensive art classes and exhibitions of local and international artists, the Center unfortunately could not remain open, yet its impact remained apparent.

To get at this neglected history, I completed archival research, by searching through databases and cataloguing newspaper clippings, reading through archival documents, photographs, and other materials, as well as managing the collection of research materials through organization and scanning. I applied curatorial methods by developing frameworks the upcoming exhibit and exploring ways that objects can be used to convey an idea or argument in their display.

Going into this internship, I had little knowledge of what it meant to curate a show in a gallery. I quickly learned that most curatorial work is based in research. Through this extensive investigation of the impact and involvement of the Selma Burke Art Center in Pittsburgh, I gained a better understanding of what the process of curatorial research looks like and what skills I honed by doing it. The practice of research is almost always ad hoc-weaving through sources, connecting findings to new ones. I was able to gain invaluable experience in not only searching for information using primary sources, but also piecing together relationships mapping together networks that construct a narrative of the past. Understanding the work that goes into creating and planning an exhibit will be very useful in my career, and I am positive that the exhibit we have worked towards will be one to remember.

  • Academic Interns
  • Undergraduate Work
  • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh