At the Artsmiths of Pittsburgh Arts and Cultural Center, all are welcome in the appreciation and making of art. The mission of the Artsmiths is not a small one: “to address inequality…by providing access to high-quality arts education to individuals of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds.” For several years, the Artsmiths has been organizing adult and youth arts programming for individuals to think creatively and nurture skills that support their everyday lives. In 2020, owner Kate McGrady co-founded the Art4All Pittsburgh movement, a program that supplies inspirational craft kits to kids during the pandemic. To this day, the Artsmiths also continues to support local artists and makers by showcasing their goods in their main street shop in Carnegie (and their online store).
For 15 years, the Artsmiths has been an integral keystone for the local maker community in Pittsburgh. They have represented over 450 artists by showcasing their handmade goods and connecting customers with meaningful creations. In support of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Artsmiths is also proactively connecting with local Black makers and artists of color to support all creatives in their artmaking.
The Artsmiths looks like a gallery in and of itself, curating handcrafted jewelry, ceramics, fiber goods, glassworks, bath and beauty items, illustrations, photography, paintings, woodworks, and more. In more ways than one, the Artsmiths staff are the representatives and caretakers of the artists and their creations; they are the storytellers of their creative labors, guiding customers through the skillful process that birthed every item. Their ultimate wish is that the work of an artist sparks a personal connection with customers.
In October 2019, the Artsmiths officially became a nonprofit organization to expand their arts education programming while continuing to support local makers. Their adult art classes and summer camps for kids were growing steadily earlier that year. For people who didn’t consider themselves creative, the classes encouraged them to stretch their creative muscles in new ways through workshops like indigo fabric dying, garden art, and metalsmithing. After seeing the positive impact that the workshops had on participants, Kate felt inspired to move further in that direction.
“People walked out of the classes beaming, saying, ‘Look, I made this!’ I knew that they were proud and felt a sense of accomplishment. The last four years have been difficult for a lot of people, and they could forget about everything for three hours to make something. Art can transport you to your own place, and you’re happy,” says Kate.
The Artsmiths’ in-person workshops continued to engage adults and youths into 2020. Then, the Covid-19 pandemic abruptly ended them. The Artsmiths was settling into their new location at 329 E. Main St. in Carnegie; Kate had expected a small decrease in activity, but not a complete halt.
In a conversation with her friend, Tricia Brancolini-Foley, the executive director of Handmade Arcade, Kate and Tricia felt “a deep sense of loss” for children and families whose creative worlds were shuttered during the pandemic.
“We knew that affluent families would find things for their kids to do, but other families wouldn’t have the resources. We saw that people were turning to the arts, and I always wanted to make more art kits,” says Kate.
Years prior, the Artsmiths provided their first scholarship to a young boy so that he could attend two weeks of summer camp. Knowing that the young artist probably wouldn’t have the same creative tools and organized activities at home, Kate spontaneously filled a bin with markers, paper, and books about drawing for him. Thinking about that student and all of the other kids they could help, Kate and Tricia founded the Art4All Pittsburgh movement.
With the support of community partners, Art4All Pittsburgh provides craft kits that inspire kids’ imaginations and creatively connect them with their environments. Similar to the Artsmiths’ summer camps, the kits do not merely instruct kids to complete specific tasks. They come equipped with tools and inspirational ideas so that kids can build problem-solving skills and feel creative. So far, over 20 craft kits have been designed and assembled by Kate, Tricia, and volunteers, including self-expression journals, yarn butterfly kits, and original coloring pages by Pittsburgh artists.
Throughout the spring and summer, a handful of organizations and public schools partnered with Art4All Pittsburgh so they could distribute their kits during lunch pickups and other organized services. The kits reached immigrant families and those without access to safe, engaging activities for their children. By the end of July, Art4All and its partners assembled and delivered 1,090 kits.
During the pandemic, Kate drew upon her expertise as a certified public account to keep her business expenses lean. She also picked up new skills to support her business and local artists, including grant writing, website building, and fundraising development. She successfully got some support from local foundations and created an online store. The Artsmiths is still welcoming donations to its crowdfunding campaign, which enables it to continue supporting local artists and provide arts education.
Kate’s eforever peer group in the South Hills, which she joined several years ago, cheered her on throughout the pandemic. Kate’s facilitator also helped in the assembly of some of the craft kits for the Art4All Pittsburgh movement.
“My family, friends, employees, and eforever group were telling me, ‘It’s not your fault. This pandemic is just so overwhelming’ in case we didn’t make it. But the feeling that we may come through is just amazing. It makes me feel even more like I’m doing the right thing,” says Kate.
Over the years, Kate and her business have benefitted from having a peer group to help think through business challenges and share successes.
“When good things happen, we tell each other. We’re proud of what we’re all accomplishing and we say, ‘You’ve done a great job, and look where you used to be. Look how far you’ve come.’ I think that business owners don’t otherwise have that support.”Kate McGrady
If you are a community organization in Pittsburgh or elsewhere that would like to partner with Art4All or bring the movement to your neighborhood, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are a local maker who would like to be showcased at the Artsmiths, consult their application instructions.