Welcome to #CLPSpotlights, our monthly series highlighting individuals and organizations that make a difference in their community. This month, we interviewed Edith Abeyta from Arts Excursions Unlimited, an organization that connects members of the greater Hazelwood community to artistic and cultural opportunities.
Q: What is your favorite part of what you do?
A: Collaborating and building relationships with residents, organizations, and artists to design, implement, and fabricate creative projects. Also, there is nothing like traveling on the subway with 40 other people ages 1-80 in NYC.
Q: How did you come to found Arts Excursions Unlimited?
A: Arts Excursions Unlimited was a community creative project that was the result of a year-long artist residency I was selected for that was administered by the Office of Public Art and in partnership with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Hazelwood. Seventeen creative public art projects were suggested by community members during the residency. Through a series of meetings, an arts and cultural travel program was selected as the public art project to move forward with. It began in July 2015 and is still going strong today. It is directed and defined by the community.
Q: What do you wish the public knew about Arts Excursions Unlimited?
A: The level of commitment that community members have to the success and implementation of the program is probably not apparent to people outside of Arts Excursions Unlimited.
Q: Tell us your favorite story about the library!
A: There are lots of great stories to share about the library. One of them is the work we do together every year to decorate trees for the holidays that are given away to the community during Hazelwood’s Light Up Night. The library serves as a drop off and collection point throughout the year for donated trees, ornaments, lights, and other decorations. For a couple of days, the meeting room turns into a tree decorating space where community members and library staff join together to bring the trees to life. There is always lots of discussion, gossip, laughter, and critique.
Q: What role does CLP have in helping Arts Excursions Unlimited?
A: The support Arts Excursions Unlimited has received from the many CLP branches and departments, particularly the Hazelwood branch, is too extensive to fully list here. We rely on the knowledge, expertise, and resources of the library every day.
Some of what we utilize is:
● Technology: this includes computers, laptops, cameras, Cricut, Wi-Fi, headphones, presentation systems, printers, copiers, magazines, books, DVDs, cords, art supplies
● Expertise: document editing, computer program instruction, research, archives
● A drop-off spot for materials and getting the word out
● Meeting location
● Resource sharing
● Community connection
● A warm space in the winter and a cool place in the summer
● Comfort and support
● Advice and inspiration
Q: Who’s your favorite author or artist at the moment?
A: There are two books I read this year that resonated and impacted me in a deep way. They both include art and writing. One is Paying the Land by Joe Sacco. This is comprised of black and white drawings and text in a comics style that share the stories of First Nations people in the north of Turtle Island, resource extraction, and community resilience. Through these illustrated interviews, Sacco and his interviewees share with the rest of us the stories of real people facing oppressive church, state, and corporate forces head on.
The second book I randomly picked up when I was in the children’s section of CLP-Hazelwood. It is Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen. Sparse watercolor drawings/paintings tell the story of isolation, community, and the benefits of being in relationship to others in a sometimes bleak and harsh world. The main characters are “cute,” astute, and complex. Minimalist dialogue with maximalist impact.
Q: If you could change one thing about Pittsburgh, what would it be?
A: There are many inequities in Pittsburgh – racial, economic, environmental, social, health, food, and transportation that need to be changed. We visit many arts and cultural institutions, large and small throughout the region, and we do not always get treated fairly so we have to directly confront these injustices through a variety of actions.
Q: What was an especially fulfilling moment for you in your work?
A: Going on our first multi-day, out of town excursion to Washington D.C. was a dream come true for many community members and myself. It was a significant milestone to scale the excursions up from one-day regional visits to long distance, three-day travels with 40 people.
Q: What is a favorite local business or organization of yours?
A: Dasawn Gray, a young Black entrepreneur who worked with Arts Excursions Unlimited as a teenager, is opening up the Hazelwood Cafe in 2022. This is going to be my favorite Hazelwood business.