Updated 12:20 p.m.
For our first-ever Who’s Next: Art class, we asked you, our readers, to nominate the under-40 professionals you know who are shaping the future of Pittsburgh through the arts.
We received dozens of nominations, and we are proud to announce our inaugural Who’s Next: Art class, comprised of 22 people making art and making a difference. They’re visual artists, curators, arts leaders, designers, directors, illustrators, writers, poets, actors, drag performers — and some do many of those things.
Their art goes deeper than what they create in the studio or present on-stage. They’re also demanding inclusion in the arts, illuminating social issues, and exploring identity. They’re giving platforms to marginalized voices, breaking down barriers, and inspiring the next generation of artists.
These 22 Pittsburghers are the latest to join our Who’s Next series, presented by S&T Bank, which introduces you today to Pittsburgh’s up-and-coming stars. Meet our previous Who’s Next classes here, and sign up for Who’s Next email alerts by clicking the “Follow This” button.
Without further adieu, we are pleased to introduce our Who’s Next: Art class for 2018. Learn about their work, then join us at this happy hour in their honor. Get your tickets here.
Join us at a happy hour in honor of The Incline's Who's Next: Art class. This event is for you if you're fascinated by the local art scene or are trying to break into it. At this celebration:
- Meet the rising stars nominated by their peers and selected by The Incline's editorial staff.
- Enjoy light appetizers and samplings of beer, wine and spirits.
- Support our local newsroom, which is committed to keeping you informed by reporting relevant, original and actionable news.
Where: The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh at 10 Children's Way (Northside)
When: October 24, 2018 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
How much: $25 for public | Free for Who's Next: Art honorees
Some people paint on giant canvases. But Le’Chele Barnett paints on just about the tiniest surface imaginable: The human nail. Her art is known for realistic portraits of people (like Martin Luther King, Jr.), detailed designs (featuring glitter and rhinestones), and unmatched creativity (a nail featuring a pourable Hennessy bottle). Creating nail art “brings me pure joy each and every day,” she said. During the day, she works at at Ambiance Hair & Nail Gallery on the North Side, and at night, she creates designs that go viral on Instagram. Her sister Lakeya Richardson says, “Like the lioness, she rules the kingdom of creativity.” Barnett lives on the North Side.
A multidisciplinary artist, Sheena Carroll describes herself first as a writer. She performs poetry as miss macross, and her first poetry collection, “MISS MACROSS VS. BATMAN,” was published by CWP Collective Press in August 2018. She also writes fiction; her novelette, “If I Ever Feel Better,” will be released as an e-book in December. In addition to her writing, she organizes and hosts readings and variety shows, models, paints, and serves as the lead singer of blues rock band Sister Sheena & the Shadow Puppets. Carroll also works as outreach and resource development clerk at Millvale Community Library and as a facilitator for Girls Write Pittsburgh. The Millvale resident earned two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree from Slippery Rock University.
In his day job, Tony Cavalline oversees the new arts in the park initiative and the city’s art collection, a searchable tool for city public art, statues, and memorials. That work is “helping to bring opportunities to artists through the local government for projects in parks and city streets that anyone can apply to,” his nominator said. After work, Cavalline creates mixed media art exploring memory, perception, and identity. His solo exhibition, “Say Nothing Of My Fable,” is on display through the end of October at Boxheart Gallery. His work has also been showcased at Percolate Gallery, SPACE, Vagabond Gallery, and Elk County Council on the Arts, among others. Cavalline opens his home studio to the public on the annual artist’s studio tour. “What really makes him special though,” another nominator said, “is not only his immense talent and skills, but his passion for supporting other artists and growing the Pittsburgh art scene.” A resident of Upper Lawrenceville, Cavalline holds degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
Ashley Cecil is an artist and illustrator specializing in paintings of flora and fauna that illustrate the interconnectedness between the natural world and its inhabitants. For example, you may have seen her nursing mammals wallpaper around town or spotted somebody wearing one of her bird-inspired scarves. “Her love affair with all things organic and wild” blossomed both near (painting from live observations at the National Aviary) and far (studying landscapes with master painters in London). Her work has been shown everywhere from Phipps Conservatory to the Three Rivers Arts Festival to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Poland. Through in-depth residencies, Cecil collaborates with scientists to make research visually relatable to a broad audience, which helps the public engage with dense science related to nature and human health. A resident of Highland Park, Cecil holds degrees from University of Dayton and Sotheby’s Institute of Art London.
“I started drawing when I was 5 years old, long before I could communicate well using words,” Jarrod Edson said. “I had a lot to say but didn't know how to say it. So I started drawing.” Edson draws with paper and pencil, then scans, digitizes and colorizes the works. “His autism is an asset to his artistry. It gives him a unique perspective on life which he then translates into his art,” his website states. Edson had his first showing at the Shady Side Art Festival this summer, and his work has also been showcased at an Arts For Autism Fundraiser. “He has decided to make art his life's focus,” his nominator said. Edson shares his profits with two organizations that have had a strong influence in his life: The Children's Institute and The Friendship Circle. A graduate of The University School High School, Edson lives in Squirrel Hill.
Actor and Director Monteze Freeland balances roles as artistic director at The LAB Project, artistic associate at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, and education director at Quantum Theater Company, along with writing and acting. “Monteze Freeland is one of our region's most sought after directors and actors,” his nominator said. “He's an inspiration to his peers and community.” His work at The LAB Project strives to illuminate relevant social issues and to serve an “unconventional theater community.” At Pittsburgh Playwrights, he directed six plays and introduced new artists to the theater company. A play he directed there was chosen by the National Black Theatre Festival as one of its main stage productions and was performed at the Edinburgh (Scotland) Fringe Festival, the largest Fringe festival in the world. A Baltimore native and a Point Park University graduate, Freeland has made Pittsburgh his home for the past 13 years, and he lives in the Hill District.
“Abby Fudor will make you laugh. That is a given,” her nominator said. “But she’s also been working hard to make the entire city of Pittsburgh laugh a little more.” As creative director and a founder of Arcade Comedy Theater, a Downtown nonprofit theater, she strives to make Arcade a social outlet for adults seeking connection, to increase diversity among performers and audiences, and to improve Pittsburgh’s national standing as a destination for comedy. Fudor directs Penny Arcade, the Arcade’s children’s production, coaches the city’s only all-queer comedy troupe, LGBTQ*Bert, teaches in the theater’s improv school, and performs in shows nearly every weekend. She’s a founding member of the Arcade’s award-winning all-female troupe Frankly Scarlett. “Abby's goals moving forward are to help transform Arcade Comedy Theater as a scrappy nonprofit startup into a thriving organization that makes a big impact on the Pittsburgh community through comedy.” A Manchester resident, Fudor holds a bachelor’s degree from University of Pittsburgh and a master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University.
Shaun Cameron Hall is passionate about connecting talented artists with students across the region — a job he describes as “a dream.” Hall is building the “audience of the future,” his nominator said. He does that by running programs, such as summer classes and a Shakespeare monologue contest, that introduce elementary and high school students to theater. An actor for more than 20 years, Hall has performed in dozens of plays, commercials, and films, and he teaches an improv class at the Public Theater. A Point Park University graduate, Hall lives in Mt. Lebanon.
As co-founder of BOOM Concepts, a creative hub located in the Penn Avenue Arts Corridor, DS Kinsel ensures that BOOM serves as a space and creative incubator for minorities and marginalized voices. “As a creative entrepreneur and cultural agitator, I express my creativity through the mediums of painting, installation, curating, and #HASHTAGS,” Kinsel told The Incline. “My work puts focus on themes of space keeping, urban tradition, hip hop, in-formalism and cultural re-appropriation.” “He has surpassed all odds to practice cultural agitation, creative entrepreneurship through the mediums of encaustic painting, street art, installation, curating, Action-Painting, and Performance Art,” his nominator said. A Hill District native and a Community College of Allegheny County graduate, Kinsel now lives in Garfield.
By day, Christina Lee works as a designer at American Eagle. By night, she’s a freelance illustrator who’s created art for American Greetings, Teen Vogue, NPR, Penguin Books, and Them. In addition to her illustration work, she helps to organize the annual Pittsburgh Zine Fair and works with PULLPROOF Studio, which provides affordable access to silkscreen printing equipment. She recently curated the feminist exhibit “I’M NOT WITH HIM” at Future Tenant located Downtown. Lee, who hails from San Jose, Calif., now lives in Garfield. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, she has also studied at the University of Arts London and the School of Visual Art in New York.
On a mission to establish more equitable representation and compensation in Pittsburgh’s performing arts scene, Abigail Lis-Perlis founded folkLAB in 2017. FolkLAB's fourth show and 2018 season finale "OTHER: multiracial folklore" is coming to the stage this December. Recent performances included an all-female-identifying ensemble and an all-queer-identifying ensemble, and an upcoming performance will feature underrepresented artists who identify as bi- or multi-racial. “She is pushing boundaries and bringing completely new and exciting stories to life, all while giving a voice to many of those who haven't traditionally had any,” a nominator said. Lis-Perlis began acting in plays as early as kindergarten and over the years shifted into directing and producing. She studied with The Year Out Drama Company, in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, where she trained in and discovered a passion for devised theatre, in which the work is formed by collaborative and improvised effort rather than from a script. In her free time, she enjoys “writing, reading graphic novels and feminist philosophers, contemplating a post-gender society, and binge watching quality television.” Hailing from the Washington, D.C. area, she attended Beloit College and now lives in Regent Square.
Correction: Information on her time at Beloit has been corrected
Adil Mansoor describes himself as “a theatre director and educator centering the stories of queer folks and people of color.” As a founding member of Pittsburgh’s Hatch Arts Collective, he directed all of their productions including “Reasonable Assurance,” a performance confronting the economic realities of higher education, and “Driftless,” a series inspired by court transcripts, interviews with people impacted by fracking, and the Bible. He’s also directed productions for groups such as Bricolage, Prologue Theatre, and Pittsburgh Playwrights. As an educator, Mansoor worked at Middlebury College, The Mori Art Museum, and The Warhol, among others. Previously, he served as an advisory member with the Heinz Endowments’ Transformative Arts Process, a grant-making initiative supporting justice-based arts education within black communities in Pittsburgh, and artistic director at Dreams of Hope, an LGBTQA+ youth arts organization. “He is a kind, creative, and driven artist with a passion and vision for Pittsburgh, social justice, and the lives of people of color and LBGTQ+,” his nominator said. A Lawrenceville resident, Mansoor is a Point Scholar who earned degrees from Northwestern University and is currently pursuing his master’s of fine art at Carnegie Mellon University.
What exactly does the manager of social and entrepreneurial experiences at a century-old museum do? Well, she creates programs that “allow communities to experience the museum in new ways.” For her it’s all about “breaking down barriers to entry for communities to experience arts and culture.” In this new role, Laura Zorch McDermit builds programming to shift audiences by building partnerships with artists and creative agencies. Before joining the team at Carnegie Museum of Art, she worked with the Office of Public Art providing education experiences related to the art in public places in the city. McDermit lives in Lawrenceville and has a bachelor’s degree from Westminster College and a master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University.
Shannon Merenstein is the owner, creative director, and lead educator of Hatch Art Studio, which she describes as part art-making studio, part community-gathering space. Hatch aspires to be a special place in Pittsburgh for people of all ages to explore, create, and imagine. Merenstein said she is “endlessly inspired by the creativity, joy, and imagination of children.” For nearly a decade, she’s worked as an art educator, instructional coach, and facilitator, all the while dreaming up and testing out new and creative art projects for children as young as 18 months. She wrote the recently published book “Collage Workshop for Kids,” written in collaboration with the Eric Carle Museum, which explores child-led process art. Previously, she worked as an art educator at the Environmental Charter School helping students understand the connections between science and art, especially as it relates to the Earth's rapidly changing climate. A graduate of the Pratt Institute, Merenstein lives in Wilkinsburg.
Njaimeh Njie balances her work as an independent artist with running a multimedia production company. “Working across photo, video, writing, and curating, her work is rooted in social justice and cultural enrichment,” her nominator said. Njie leads Eleven Stanley Productions, a nonfiction storytelling company. Her photo and video series “Power(ed) by Grace: Musings on Black Womanhood” earned national attention. She is developing a neighborhood-wide public art project in Pittsburgh’s historic Hill District, with a “temporary placemaking and public art commission” through the Office of Public Art and Neighborhood Allies. While this work focuses on Pittsburgh, she has also gained international experience by documenting black Muslim life in Paris. Who’s Next is certainly not her first award. She’s been awarded as part of the New Pittsburgh Courier’s 40 Under 40 List, as Creator of the Year by the Creative Industries Network, and as the 2018 Emerging Artist of the Year recipient by the Pittsburgh Center for The Arts. The Bellevue resident earned a bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree from University of Missouri in St. Louis.
Shane Pilster views “artistic expression as a means of both work and play.” At 82Concepts, he’s a freelancer who works with local ad agencies and nonprofits, creating for everybody from Marriott Hotels to Tree Pittsburgh to Vitamin Water to the ACLU. He’s skilled at tackling graphics, logos, web design, and even graffiti art, his nominator said. “Shane is a testament to understanding how to adapt to the ever-changing genre of what it means to be an artist,” his nominator continued. When he’s not in the office, he’s teaching urban lettering to young adults, live painting at events, and inspiring youth to explore the history of graffiti through a partnership with Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K. and Rivers of Steel. “The human component of creating for a living gives value to my work,” Pilster told The Incline. A Cabrillo College alumnus, Pilster lives in Wilkinsburg.
When Jessie Rommelt first entered 5106 Penn Ave., the space that was to become Bunker Projects was a burnt-out shell of an apartment, her nominator described. “She did most of the work to convert Bunker into a livable two-bedroom apartment with an attached gallery and studios herself,” her nominator continued. Now, the Bunker team offers the space as a nonprofit gallery and artists’ live-in residency. It has hosted eight residents annually and shows 12 exhibitions every year. An artist and curator, Rommelt’s work combines nonprofit residency development, exhibition-making and organizing in the field of emerging contemporary art. “The most amazing thing about Jessie is that Bunker has never received enough funding or support to be able to have a paid staff, so this work she has been doing has been entirely volunteer work,” a nominator said. “She has been tirelessly dedicating herself to improving artists' lives in Pittsburgh and I think she deserves some credit.” When she's not working with artists and exhibitions she's on job-sites with her design-build company restoring lovable residential spaces. A Penn State graduate, Rommelt resides in Garfield.
Community Forge transformed a former elementary school into a community center, striving to create opportunities for the people of Wilkinsburg and surrounding areas. The building houses more than a dozen local businesses, co-working areas, education nonprofits, arts organizations, community outreach groups, a youth after-school space, and weekly community events. Community Forge offers inclusive programming designed to showcase the community and residents, while providing opportunities for growth and advancement for local entrepreneurs, artists, and makers. “Community Forge has shown leadership in the Pittsburgh area in bringing arts programming to a neighborhood that lacked a vital arts presence,” Michael Skirpan’s nominator said, praising the entire team there. “It’s community-orientation is a model for local engagement.” Skirpan also serves as special faculty and Carnegie Mellon University. A Mon Valley native who now lives in Wilkinsburg, he holds bachelor’s degrees from University of Pittsburgh and a PhD from University of Colorado.
When asked for a bio, Shan Soleil responded that they are “a genderqueer meralien sent to experience and observe human life. More a product of wind and wave action across the sands of time, rather than a human, they write words which bring sorrow, catharsis, and glory.” As a writer of poems, stories, and social media activism, Soleil works to engage in meaningful dialogue through art, and amplify others’ voices to do the same. Soleil’s writing and art is aimed at exploring “uncomfortable themes with whimsy and grit.” They cohost the monthly Poetry & Pints reading circle at East End Brewing’s Strip District tap room, participate in writers’ circles, craft poetry out of song lyrics, and perform around town. “Shan is a very active reader, organizer, and activist in the DIY art and poetry scene in Pittsburgh,” a nominator said. A Bloomfield resident, Soleil is a graduate of Rutgers The State University of New Jersey.
“My tag line in drag/explanation of my name is ‘long legs, dark eyes and a terrible childhood,’” Brandon White (Bambi Deerest) explains. “While it’s a joke on the Disney film ‘Bambi,’ it’s my reality. I was the feminine kid from an all blue collar family that was labeled as ‘different’ and ‘artsy.’” Drag, White continues, is about “reclaiming time I spent ashamed of myself and creating spaces for people I wish I had upon entering the community.” Indeed, a nominator lauded the performer’s ability to make patrons feel at home. “Bambi strives to make the Pittsburgh LGBTQ+ scene as inclusive as possible. It can be hard to be different, and even harder to be different when part of a marginalized community,” the nominator worte. As one of the most well-known drag performers in Pittsburgh, White is known as much for pushing the “boundaries on fashion, gender, and androgyny” as much as donating to causes helping LGBTQ Pittsburghers, another nominator said. “I didn’t go into this to be a voice or a pillar,” White explained. “It just kind of happened. I was never good at keeping my mouth shut.” White is a South Side resident who attended Point Park University.
Correction: Information on White's time at Point Park has been corrected.
A tech industry veteran and a web design pioneer, sarah huny young launched her first website in 1999. These days, she’s a creative director, visual artist, and photographer who works as creative director at Supreme Clientele Design Agency. Her projects include The Women’s Freedom Conference, a 12-hour digital conference that centered women of color worldwide; 1839, a Pittsburgh-based magazine that offered a nuanced perspective of race, politics, the arts, and culture in the city and beyond; and “AMERICAN WOMAN,” an award-winning portrait and documentary series about Black American women that received the Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grant in 2016 and will be on view at Manchester Craftsmen's Guild beginning in January 2019. Previously, huny was a Senior Frontend Developer at BET/Viacom, Interactive Art Director at VIBE Magazine, and Director of Marketing & Communications for Pittsburgh Filmmakers / Center for the Arts. An advisory board member at Carnegie Museum of Art, huny is among Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s “12 People to Meet in Pittsburgh 2018” and The Root 100. Hailing from New York City, she’s a Downtown resident and a Howard University alumna.
Dave Zak’s work ensures that 15 to 20 shows can happen each year across four galleries Downtown. He works in tandem with a curator, installers, attendants, artists, and other local curators and thrives on collaboration. In addition to his work with Wood Street, SPACE, and 707/709 galleries, Zak often supports smaller arts organizations, independent artists, serves as a freelance art installer, DJs, and hosts dance nights in various bars and clubs to raise money for local causes he believes in. Previously, he served on the board of the Bunker Projects. “Through his work, Dave interacts with the community and facilitates shows to ensure their success and that all parties are satisfied and excited,” his nominator said, adding that he takes “care to curate and install art with precision and quality to ensure successful shows for artists from around the world.” Zak is a Friendship resident.