Global Academic Partnership Conference: Beyond Crisis Creativity: Imagining New Futures Through Art and Youth Activism

Mural by Eva Bracamontes and Sasha Primo; Photo by Caitlin Bruce, October 2021, Pittsburgh, PA

Beyond Crisis Creativity: Imagining New Futures Through Art and Youth Activism

This un-conference explores how cultural organizations made up of artists, young people, cultural workers, organizers, and neighbors take up supposedly devalued city spaces to create new vocabularies and heuristics for value beyond exchange value, and use cultural practices to tell stories of place and forge transnational connections. It also maps how certain forms of creative identity are commodified. We seek to create a conversation across borders, cultures, institutions and generations. Participants will come from Pittsburgh; Barcelona; Cali; Portugal; and Chicago, among other places, in order to address the interconnections between the kinds of challenges that artists/youth face in using creative practice to imagine more just futures and the networks of solidarity nascent and established between cities and practitioners. 

The conference will take place between March 24th and March 27th, 2022, at the University of Pittsburgh. There will be an option to attend virtually via Zoom. Registration information, featured speakers, and conference schedule can be found below.

Visiting participants will offer short presentations of pre circulated works in progress which may take the form of videos, audio clips, or papers; participate in dialogue with local cultural programmers and youth organizers; and at the conclusion of the conference we will ask participants to offer a short 1-2 page or 3-10 minute suggestions for creativity beyond crisis that will be made available on the conference website and social media by March 1, 2022.

In recent years, creativity has been an important tool for promoting and making visible spaces and places in cities. Richard Florida's highly influential text-- The Creative Class-- has become near dogma to urban planners and marketers, a get rich quick scheme for elites who either want cities in transition (like Pittsburgh, Bogotá, Montevideo) found or rebranded, or their already vibrant cities (Paris, Buenos Aires, San Francisco, Barcelona) to continue to have explosive growth and to successfully compete for workers, visitors, and dollars. Cities brand themselves off of many things but art and culture offer high impact ways of courting capital, often radically transforming the built environment of cities, particularly in the wake of crisis. Though cities are many-layered and their identities are shaped by a multitude of forces, visual culture through place making is a key plane upon which a city's visibility and viability-- it's presence and persistence-- are often evaluated. Such public assessments are often focused on the city's image for outsiders and are contested and reframed by residents and those who might experience it at the level of the everyday. 

Some of the most persistent critics of the creative cities thesis and of creativity driven youth programming have exposed that this recipe for finding lost cities often leaves the most vulnerable forgotten or, worse, expunged from "contaminating" attractive creative urban landscapes. Youth might be celebrated for making a commissioned mural but chased out of public spaces for “loitering” or seeming challenging in their mere presence. Likewise, largely implemented as a way of attracting creative workers without infrastructure for their sustained flourishing, and imagined as a means of attracting tourist dollars, creative cities are mired in legacies of uneven development, the result of racist, colonial, and patriarchal histories. Moreover, by creating urban spaces attractive to wealthier denizens, creative cities displace not only the artists responsible for transforming city images but more vulnerable populations, the workers that actually help a city run, fueling dispossession. Youth programming that celebrates creativity often runs the risk of sliding into privileging entrepreneurial, Western and white bourgeois models of subjectivity. 
Mindy Thompson Fullilove has characterized displacement within the context of gentrification and the loss of communal worlds as “root shock.” Displacement is not a one-time event but tears at the fabric of communities over generations, unraveling entire relational worlds. At the same time, ruin spaces and informal cultural practices are often appropriated in voyeuristic narratives about "urban exploration" that fetishize them as "beautiful wastelands" ignoring the real challenges and sometimes pain faced by former and current residents. 
Youth have played an important role as protagonists and potential threats to shaping desirable city images and have been important agents in reframing the terms upon which value for and about cities are produced and made legible. For instance, young people were the protagonists of the hip hop and graffiti movements in New York, Philadelphia and across the world in the 1960s-1990s, forwarding new models of collective action and solidarity in public space. Artist and cultural and youth activist communities are trying to re-narrate cities as complex and layered places with dense social infrastructures that require an educated eye, understanding place as pedagogy and pedagogue: a source of knowledge, and as a teacher. As a result, they use cultural policy and institution building to their advantage to try and create new understandings of value, new finding aids for the city. 

Sponsored by: University of Pittsburgh's Global Studies Center, Center for Latin American Studies, Department of Communication, and Hemispheric Conversations: Urban Art Project

Njaime Njie
Njaimeh Njie is a multimedia storyteller. Her photography, filmmaking, oral history, writing, and public artwork explore contemporary Black experiences, with a particular focus on how the past shapes the present. Njie’s work has been featured in outlets including CityLab and Belt Magazine, exhibited in spaces including the Carnegie Museum of Art and The Mattress Factory Museum, and she has presented at venues including TEDxPittsburghWomen, and Harvard University. Among several awards and grants, Njie was named the inaugural Edward Mitchell Bannister Artist-in-Residence at Brown University for 2021-22, and the 2019 Visual Artist of the Year by the Pittsburgh City Paper. Njie earned her B.A. in Film and Media Studies in 2010 from Washington University in St. Louis.
Ricardo Klein
University of Valencia
Sociologist, Master Degree in Social Work from the University of the Republic (Uruguay) and PhD in Management of Culture and Heritage from the University of Barcelona. Professor of the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at the University of Valencia, where he teaches subjects related to the sociology of culture, cultural policies, qualitative methodology and sociological theory. Member of the Center for Studies on Culture, Power and Identities of the University of València. His research areas are: i) cultural policies, ii) cultural practices in public spaces, iii) creative cities, iv) cultural management. President of the Research Committee of Sociology of Culture and the Arts of the Spanish Federation of Sociology.
Joaquim Rius-Ulldemolins
University of Valencia
Joaquim Rius Ulldemolins is a PhD in Sociology of the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the École des Hautes Études in Social Sciences of Paris. Currently, he is Full Professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at the University of Valencia where he teaches sociology of culture and sociology of social change. He is the author of several books and articles on the sociology of culture and cultural policy in national and international journals such as REIS, RIS, RES, Papers, Urban Studies, European Planning Studies or International Journal of Cultural Policy. Since 2015 he is director of Debats. Magazine of culture, power and society (Alfons el Magnànim Institution) and director of the Center for Studies on Culture, Power and Identities of the University of Valencia. He is member of the Editorial Board of Revista Española de Sociología, Papers. Revista de Sociologia, the International Journal of Cultural Policy and de Publicacions de la Universitat de València.
Yina Obando
Gráfica Mestiza
Passionate about Latin American urban art, designer, cultural programmer, researcher, and producer. She belongs to the team, Gráfica Mestiza, la Grafitería and Mesa de Gráfica Urbana in Cali, Colomia. Yina has participated in developing social projects with DirecTV, Barcú, Festival Borondo, la Semana de la Gráfica Urbana, among other events. She has been an invited speaker to CIMU festival, hosted at UNAM in Mexico, and the University of Palermo in Argentina. Currently, she is participating in artistic development programs with the Bibliotec foundation the Itinerant Artists School of Argelia Cauca, Global Glow Club, and is coordinator for the project "Youth filling the region with color," a project under Corporacion Mundal de la Mujer Colombia.
Lígia Ferro
Universidad de Porto
Lígia Ferro completed her graduation studies at the Faculty of Arts - University of Porto, receiving the Eng. António de Almeida / UP Award for the best student graduating in Sociology in 2004. In 2011, she received her European Ph.D. from the University Institute of Lisbon, ISCTE-IUL (advisors: Professor António Firmino da Costa and Professor Joan Pujadas - URV). She was a visiting scholar at several universities in Europe, the United States of America and Brazil. Currently she is assistant professor in the Sociology Department, Faculty of Arts - University of Porto. She conducted research with a FCT post-doc grant in the Institute of Sociology, UP and in the Centre for Research and Studies in Sociology, CIES-IUL. She has carried out fieldwork in Porto, Lisbon, Barcelona, Paris, New York, Boston and Rio de Janeiro. Lígia Ferro was elected President of the European Sociological Association (term 2021-2023), was the ESA Research Network 37 - Urban Sociology coordinator (2015-2017) and is a member of the board of the European Network of Observatories in the Fields of Arts and Cultural Education - UNESCO (since September, 2017). She was a member of the Deontology Council of the Portuguese Sociological Association from 2012 to 2016. In 2016, she was elected as a member of the directive committee of the same association. Her research has been funded mainly by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Fundação Luso-Americana, European Commission and High Commission for Migrations. She currently acts as an advisor and co-advisor of Master and Ph.D. theses in social sciences. She is the author and editor of several publications, including the book "Moving Cities: Contested Views on Urban Life" (2018, Springer) and the article "Jump Lisbon! Notes from an Ethnography of Urban Flows" (2015, Portuguese Journal of Social Science). She is also the editor of the Book Series ENO Yearbooks (Springer). Lígia Ferro’s research develops the ethnographic and other mixed methods approaches. Lately she has been working on cultural practices, arts education, migration, socio-professional integration and action research, especially in urban contexts.
Gloria Talamantes
Brown Walls Project, Chicago
Gloria “Gloe” Talamantes is a Mexican American graffiti artist, writer, educator, and cultural worker from Chicago. With more than 20 years of experience in the arts, Gloe led Chicago's first all-women graffiti mural with the support of the Hip-Hop collective, Synergy. Her art consists of mural painting, printmaking, photo-documenting, and writing. She has self-funded several murals across the city and is the founder of the Brown Wall Project. Most recently she co-founded the ONE Lawndale Project alongside a collective of women from South Lawndale (Little Village), who came together to provide mutual aid during the uprisings and pandemic of 2020. Currently, she facilitates free pop-up art workshops in various neighborhoods across Chicago, volunteers providing meals on the South and West Side. Gloria believes that art is a universal language that can be used to learn, grow, and heal.
Amanda Boston
Department of Africana Studies, University of Pittsburgh
Dr. Amanda Boston is an assistant professor in the Department of Africana Studies. Her research, writing, and teaching focus on twentieth-century and contemporary African American urban history, politics, and popular culture. Her book project is entitled The “New” New York: Race, Space, and Power in Gentrifying Brooklyn, and explores the racial operations of gentrification in her hometown of Brooklyn, New York. In it, she illuminates how histories of race and structural racism and the rise of colorblindness and neoliberalism have shaped the making and unmaking of the borough’s Black communities. Boston has received research funding and support from the Ford Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Institute for Citizens & Scholars (formerly the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation), and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, among other sources. She received her Ph.D. and M.A. in Africana Studies from Brown University, as well as her M.A. in Political Science and B.A. in Political Science and African & African American Studies from Duke University. Boston is a trustee emerita of Brown University, an alumni trustee of the New York City-based Prep for Prep program, and a member of the board of directors of the Municipal Art Society of New York. Before joining the University of Pittsburgh, she was a Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow at New York University.
Khirsten L Scott
Department of English, University of Pittsburgh
Daughter of the US South, Dr. Khirsten L. Scott is a community-driven educator who centers and embodies liberatory Black feminist and womanist practice. She works across the disciplines of rhetorical theory and writing studies, digital and Black studies, as well as critical pedagogy. Khirsten is currently working on her first book which explores HBCUs and their survival within US Higher Education. Within the city of Pittsburgh, she is lead organizer and facilitator of HYPE Media (Homewood Youth-Powered and Engaged Media), a critical literacies program focused on youth-led story-making possibilities that respond to stigmatized narratives of Black girls, Black women, and Black communities. Khirsten is Director and co-founder of DBLAC, Digital Black Lit and Composition, a virtual and in-person community offering writing support for Black scholars. Her work can be found in Kairos, Prose Studies, the Routledge Reader of African American Rhetoric, Mobility in Work in Composition, Bridging the Gap: Multimodality in Theory and Practice, and Kentucky Teacher Education Journal.
Naomi Chambers
Sibyls Shrine
Naomi Chambers is a Pittsburgh-based painter and assemblage artist; she also runs The Flower House in the Pittsburgh neighborhood Wilkinsburg. The Flower House is a community art studio and art center that responded to the needs of the balck community and families of Wilkinsburg by providing a space to create, learn, and gather. It is cultivated by group-centered artists who practice cooperative economics to empower women and families.
Alison Zapata
OOA Designs
Alison Zapata is a Pittsburgh-born, second-generation Mexican-American visual artist and art educator. She works in oil, acrylic and watercolor. Her expertise lies in painting, portraiture, murals, collage, and sign painting. She is the owner/ lead artist of Zapata Studios. She has studied fine art/art education at Carlow University and is currently in the process of obtaining a teaching artist certificate at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She recently exhibited her work with Aqui, the Latino visual arts collective, in the Capitol Building, Education Department and the Vault Gallery at Susquehanna Museum of Art in Harrisburg PA through the invitation of State Representative Leslie Acosta as a part of Latino Heritage month. Her Sea Turtle painting was the featured image for the children’s tents at the Three Rivers Arts festival. She assisted on the mural, Lend Me Your Ears, in East Liberty. Alison has developed engaging arts programming in classrooms throughout Pittsburgh over the past eighteen years. Yearly, she leads several visual art residencies for students, including an Autism Support Classroom. Alison has received art education training through Gateway to the Arts, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Lincoln Center’s Aesthetic Education, and Wolf Trap Institute. She is a resident artist in the Lifetime Arts and the Artists in Education program through the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. She was awarded participation in the Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad Art and Society: Brazil/U.S. Educational Partnership. She has professional experience in educational leadership. She is inspired to make art to build community and start conversations about identity and heritage.
Shane Pilster
Shane Pilster is an artist, muralist, curator, graphic designer and web developer. Bridging his expertise in graffiti and urban arts with community involvement, he prides himself in also being an educator, advocate, mentor and well-rounded creative individual. Originally from the San Francisco Bay area, Shane has called Pittsburgh his home since 2004 and is a pioneer in bringing awareness and shining a spotlight on urban art and its artistry in ways never done before in the region. Working with Rivers of Steel since 2012, he created its Urban Art Tour and interactive workshop curriculum to showcase the post-industrial history of Carrie Furnaces, alongside its unique canvas for experienced and emerging artists and muralists from around the world. In addition to organizing and curating the legal painting areas of this National Historic Landmark, he has increased the scope and reach of his art programming in schools and communities, as well as organized art components and live demonstrations at events such as Homestead First Fridays, Thrival Festival and the Three Rivers Arts Festival. Always looking to expand his passion for giving back, he is also a co-founder of Hemispheric Conversations: Urban Art Project (HCUAP), which brings visiting artists of Latin heritage from Chicago and Mexico to paint murals, lead workshops, give lectures and interact with communities. Most recently, he curated a pop-up urban art show in Homestead with 10 other artists from Pittsburgh, Chicago, and León, Mexico. Shane is the founder of 82Concepts, his graphic, web and art design firm, where he works with businesses and organizations of all sizes including Marriott Hotels, Vitamin Water, Whirl Magazine, Pittsburgh Brewing Company, the ACLU, Rivers of Steel, and Community Forge, among others. Named one of Pittsburgh’s “Who’s Next: Art” by The Incline, Shane is constantly honing his craft and artistic expression by finding the human component of creating to connect with others and fulfill his desire for self-betterment. He hopes to develop and curate more locations for aerosol and mural artists to paint throughout the Western PA region and abroad, as well as continue to strengthen programs with Rivers of Steel and other organizations and find new ways to connect art with meaningful experiences.
Max Gonzales
Max Emiliano Gonzales, also known by his artist name “GEMS”, can be classified as an activist, art educator, muralist, graffiti writer, printmaker, curator and much more. Originally from the Southwest side of Chicago and raised in Latino communities, Max brings a unique perspective to Pittsburgh as a queer identifying, Chicano artist. Max was brought to Pittsburgh in 2012 to attend Carnegie Mellon University's Fine Art program on a full ride Scholarship. By 2016 Max had graduated with honors, secured multiple positions with the University, and was arrested as Pittsburgh’s most wanted graffiti artist. Rather than let the notoriety of his graffiti dwindle, Max has gone on to develop a career from it as practicing artist, muralist, curator, and art educator. Max has presented as a guest artist, lectured, and run workshops at locations including The University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, Winchester Thurston High School, Youth Places North Side, McKeesport, and Homewood, Assemble Pgh, and The Environmental Charter School. Max is also a member of Boom Concepts, Flower House Gallery, Wicked Pittsburgh, Hemispheric Conversations Urban Art Project, and Pullproof Studios. Currently, Max works for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh as a Labs Mentor, servicing local teens with workshops and art programming. Through his different roles as an artist, Max seeks to give value to underrepresented voices, movements, and art forms to challenge any established socioeconomic barriers, elitism, or bigotry to redefine the role and importance of art.
Curry Chandler
Curry Chandler is a writer and researcher working in the areas of urban theory, rhetorical criticism, and media studies. His published writings have appeared in academic journals and the popular press, and cover topics such as media effects, digital labor practices, and technology studies. Curry holds a PhD in Communication from the University of Pittsburgh, where he has also taught as a Visiting Instructor. In addition to his background in critical media theory he specializes in urban communication studies and the rhetoric of space & place. His current research focuses on the policy discourses and technological infrastructures undergirding “smart city” developments.
Oreen Cohen
Oreen Cohen grew up between the Rust Belt of the United States and Northern Israel, currently living and working in Pittsburgh, PA. Her interdisciplinary art practice spans the potentiality of material, body and space in sculpture, painting, drawing, public art, intervention and video performance. Oreen received a Master of Fine Arts degree in Sculpture (2014) from Carnegie Mellon University and a BFA (2008) in Painting at the University at Buffalo. She has been active over the past sixteen years participating, collaborating in exhibitions and public commissions nationally and internationally building work in challenging sites, including; “When Artists Enter the Factory” at the Brooklyn Army Terminal (2019), Alloy Pittsburgh, Carrie Furnace(2015), FIGMENT Sculpture Project, Govenor’s Island (NYC), Flint Public Art Project, Chevy in the Hole (Flint, MI 2014). Oreen has well as participated in the class of 2013 at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and CerCCa Casamarles Residency in Catalonia, Spain. Recent projects include a permanent public art installation at Wightman Park, Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh installed Fall 2021 with the Pittsburgh Department of City Planning, an upcoming Solo drawing exhibition at Buffalo Arts Studios and private art commissions for the Summer 2021. Oreen serves as a program coordinator for Radiant Hall Studios in Pittsburgh, as well as program coordinator and co-founder of Hemispheric Conversations Urban Art Project and served over the years as a programming and education consultant for several non-profits throughout the Pittsburgh region.

In-Person Registration

If you plan on attending any events in-person as a non-Pitt affiliate, please fill out this form no later than the day before the event. If you are not Pitt-affiliated, you will recieve an email confirmation from Pitt Guest Registration before the conference to allow you into the appropriate campus buildings. There is no deadline for Pitt affiliates. Register here.

Virtual Registration

If you plan to attend any events virtually, please fill out the respective Zoom registration forms below:

Keynote Address by Njaimeh Njie (March 24th): Register here

Post-Screening Discussion of Style Wars (March 25th): Register here

Panel, Creative Industries and Urban Development in Global Contexts: Tourism, Gentrification, Heritage Work, and Social Justice Advocacy in Urban Arts (March 26th): Register here

Panel, Creative Practice and New Narratives of Place by and with Youth (March 27th): Register here

March 24

6:30 - 8:15PM

Cathedral of Learning, Room 0G24 and Zoom

Keynote Address by Njaimeh Njie: 

Exterior Landscapes, Interior Lives: On Photography and Mapping the Cultural Memory of the City

Memory, imagination, and place are inextricably connected. This talk will present three public art, exhibition, and photo book projects that Njaimeh Njie has created to explore how the lived experiences of Black Pittsburgh residents are held within the landscape of the city. These will serve as a launching pad for thinking through the connections between shared space and shared stories, and what these mean for how we see ourselves, our present, and our futures in the places we call home.

Watch a recording of Njaimeh's keynote here.

March 25th

6:30 - 8:15PM
Cathedral of Learning, Room 0G24 and Zoom
Screening of Style Wars, with conversation led by Pittsburgh writers Max “Gems” Gonzales and Shane Pilster after the screening

University members can access this film through the University Libary System.

March 26th

10AM to 12:30PM
Wesley W. Posvar Hall, Room 4130 and Zoom
Panel discussion: Creative Industries and Urban Development in Global Contexts: Tourism, Gentrification, Heritage Work, and Social Justice Advocacy in Urban Arts 
"Artivism as a Response to Tourism and Gentrification: An Analysis from Cultural Practices and Public Spaces in Barcelona" with Ricardo Klein
"Festive and Contemporary Culture and Urban Life of the Arts: Potentialities and Pitfalls of Cultural-Led Urban Developments in Valencia, Spain" with Joaquim Rius-Ulldemolins
"A Subtlety: Race-Making, Refinement, and Redevelopment in Brooklyn" with Amanda Boston
"Pressure on People, People on Streets[1]: Creativity, Politics of Urban Public Space and Street Cultures" with Ligia Ferro
Participants: Ricardo Klein, Joaquim Rius-Ulldemolins, Ligia Ferro, Yina Obando, Amanda Boston
[1]: From the song “Under Pressure”, Queen, 1981. 
Watch a recording of this panel here.

March 27th

10AM to 12:30PM
Wesley W. Posvar Hall, Room 4130 and Zoom
Panel Discussion: Creative Practice and New Narratives of Place by and with Youth

"HYPE Media: Reframing Narratives of School, Home(wood), and Black Girl Futures" with Khirsten Scott

"Creating Black Creative Space: Additive & Subtractive Sculpting of Place" with Naomi Chambers

"Art for Placemaking and Community Connections" with Alison Zapata

Participants: Khirsten Scott, Gloria Talamantes, Naomi Chambers, Alison Zapata
Watch a recording of this panel here.


Associate Professor of Communication, 2021-2022 GAP Fellow
Caitlin Bruce
Associate Director, Global Studies Center
Veronica Dristas