UnSmoke Systems Artspace
How is the project operated?
Unsmoke is a project of the non-profit Braddock Redux, which is focused on revitalization efforts in the Borough of Braddock.
How long has it been in existence?
Nearly five years.
What was your motivation?
The project is motivated by community revitalization efforts in Braddock. The space is used in ways that are intended to bring energy, activity, and focus to this town that has been distressed and neglected for a long time. In addition, the space intends to benefit artists as well as the local and regional art scene.
Number of organizers/responsible persons of the project.
How are programs funded?
Programs are funded in a variety of ways. Most frequently, artists and organizers come up with creative solutions to cover the costs associated with launching an exhibition or event. The artists we work with tend to be very resourceful, using shoestring methods to bring their visions to life.
Who is responsible for the programming?
This is an artist-curated venue and we pretty much allow the people who want to show in the space to do what they want with the facility.
Number and average duration of exhibitions/events per year.
Typically, we have about 9 – 10 exhibitions/events per year. Exhibitions most often run for three or four weeks, while other events may last one night or a weekend; it all depends upon the needs of the artists.
What kind of events are usually organized?
Most often, the gallery is used for art exhibitions that each last about a month, including an opening event and sometimes other exhibition-related events. But we’re open to everything – we are not confined to being purely a visual art space. We’ve had readings, concerts, performances, community events, etc. and we’re always interested to hear new, creative ideas about how to use the space.
How is your programming determined?
What’s unique about us is we are not a self-curated space. We try to give artists the freedom to pursue their own ideas; it’s about working with what people bring to the table. One important factor in determining programming, though, is the availability of the space; our visual art calendar is typically booked around 12-16 months in advance. Longer if we’re lucky enough to receive that kind of interest.
Do you accept proposals/submissions?
Yes! We do accept proposals and submissions. That’s exactly how we operate! We use the word ‘proposal’ very loosely. There’s not a formal proposal process. People will write us an e-mail and we’ll meet to see how their ideas can work and how UnSmoke can help.
What is your artistic/curatorial approach?
It’s a very hands-off approach. We support the vision and help make it happen, and facilitate rather than curate ourselves. The artists have complete freedom about what they want to create.
What’s working? What’s not working?
There are a number of unique aspects about UnSmoke – the gallery space itself, the context, and the community – that have successfully attracted all types of creative people, and has led to a lot of interesting work. There’s no real formula to what we do, and that flexibility is important.
It is also important to us to get more of the immediate community involved in UnSmoke, and, while this can sometimes be a challenge, we are always looking for ways to improve upon that.
What kind of role do you hope to play in your local art scene or community?
In terms of being part of the local art scene (Braddock local and local Pittsburgh) → [Braddock being a part of Pittsburgh too] we want to be important in both respects.
In Braddock, we bring in art and energy here that wouldn’t be, and getting people out and thinking about both the neighborhood and the questions the art poses.
From a Pittsburgh standpoint- the art space is much bigger, which is unique. We also have 13 studios in the building. There aren’t many other spaces in Pittsburgh that offer both exhibition and studio space.
The commercial art scene can be difficult in Pittsburgh – it is hard to be an artist and to sell art. We aren’t really operating in that space either. But UnSmoke plays a pronounced role in our local scene. It operates on a different model, so it presents a unique opportunity to people typically not selected to gallery spaces.
What idea are you most excited about for the future?
Looking forward, we’d like to bring even more art into other open spaces around town. Braddock has a lot of open space, and there’s great potential here for even more artistic activity beyond UnSmoke’s walls.
Images courtesy of Unsmoke Systems Artspace.
Sarah Croop is an undergraduate American Culture Studies student at Washington University in St. Louis. Her work explores the intersection between the photographic object, specifically in the vernacular of the family snapshot, and the psychology of memory, and how the interaction between these is changing in the age of digital photography and social media.