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Yarn bombing the Andy Warhol Bridge

Don't look now but sometime this summer, if all goes as planned, the Andy Warhol Bridge will be yarn bombed.

As in, covered with works of yarn by many volunteers from all over the region.

Nearly 600 panels of knitted or crocheted yarn work, each one measuring 34 by 72 inches--think the size of a sofa--will (most likely) soon decorate the bridge on Seventh St. that spans downtown to the North Side. As viewers walk the bridge’s sidewalks they will be able to take in the bright and splashy colors of the acrylic yarn which was chosen for both its affordability and durability. The color choice is intended to catch the eye and lift the spirit.

Because of the style of the panels and the bridge walkways, the fiber work will be “framed as if they are picture frames," says Kitty Spangler who is the technical advisor behind the group Knit the Bridge. “I love the idea that it’s an ‘arts for arts sake’ project'," she says. 

It's that and more. Pittsburgh fiber artists were seeking a way to mark Fiberart International 2013, the 21st juried exhibition of the best in contemporary fiberart, produced by the Fibrarts Guild of Pittsburgh on a triennial basis. The renowned event which attracts international artist, starts April 19 and runs through August at two locations: the Society for Contemporary Craft and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

It was a lead artist in the Pittsburgh guild, Amanda Gross, who spun the idea to yarn bomb the Andy Warhol Bridge.

Gross, 29, from East Liberty, began formulating the idea during the Downtown Pop-Up Pittsburgh event in 2011 where they had proposed a yarn bombing idea.

So where to begin? They had already yarn bombed trees and lampposts throughout the Cultural District which made Gross think larger scale. She considered: "What’s more Pittsburgh than bridges?”

The Andy Warhol Bridge was a natural, chosen because it’s the first bridge to be dedicated to a visual artist in Pittsburgh.

Now the group is well on their way with plans to transform the bridge to draw attention to the Fiberarts Guild, even if it's late for the exhibit. The group was hoping to complete the yarn bombing project by June. And while the project is bound to happen, says Spangler who estimates a likelihood in the high 90 percent range, it probably will be later than June. More like August.

Still they had hoped to do more than just draw attention to the Fiberarts Pittsburgh Guild exhibit. One goal was extending the community outreach program and educating others on fiber arts. And another is to bring artists and amateurs alike together for a common purpose. People will notice the yarn-bombed bridge and the recognition will follow.

“One stitch at a time we are bridging people, neighborhoods and communities” says Spangler. “It’s a broad project including as many people as possible. It's not just for fine artists; it can be young adults to grandparents."

And the project just keeps growing and mulitplying, she adds.

Guerrilla girls?
Yarn bombing can be either guerilla art, stealth art typically done in the dark of night much like graffiti, or it can be public art when the right permission is granted.

“We’re doing all the right things,” says Spangler, who is still going through steps for project approval with the keepers of the bridge as well as the Office of Public Art for permission and insurance of the month-long exhibit. Not to mention the legal aspects.

For now, let's just say It could be any day now that official permission is granted, she says.

The group is receiving generous donations of yarn and tools from the Center for Creative Reuse as well as manufacturers and individuals. 

And their community outreach is going well. Gross shares their ambitious goal of reaching all the Pittsburgh neighborhoods as well as all the boroughs in Allegheny County. “We have 58 out of 90 Pittsburgh neighborhoods (represented) and 92 out of 130 Allegheny County townships and boroughs” she says. “We are meeting our geographic goals.” A graph on their website colorfully charts their progress.

In addition, Gross and the Guild are reaching out to communities through local events like “Art on Tap” held at the Westmoreland Museum or others at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum and the Neighborhood Academy. And of course they've contacted knitting circles and meet ups to reach out to everyone from children to seniors for participation.

The more people who know about this the better, says Spangler. "They will be our eyes and ears to keep it from being vandalized and to help push it through."  Everyone has connections, she says, and as an example, someone will have a connection to a rigging company. "So we get more and more support to accomplish various aspects.

“The project is completely volunteer run”, Spangler adds. “People are spending their time and energy. Anybody who can knit or crochet is welcome,” including anyone willing to learn.

So yes, the project still needs volunteers to knit as well as help with the actual installation of the piece.

Spangler has taught several new volunteers the ropes of crocheting and she believes in “to each one, teach one,” a motto that means for everyone taught, there will be an opportunity for the them to teach in turn.

She has also been holding ‘Knit Ins’ at her home along with several other volunteers who host these events at their own homes or at local coffee shops and libraries.

A total of 61 have participated in these Knit Ins which meet twice a month. With this project they have had the opportunity to visit local schools, nursing homes and libraries to teach fiber art and create a closer knit community.

“It’s been a really good adventure,” Spangler says.

For more information on how to volunteer with Knit the Bridge, visit their site .

Rebecca Lessner is a junior at Point Park University majoring in photojournalism. Through her work on this article she met Kitty Spangler who taught her to crochet.

This article is from the Point Park University news service. Pop City editors contributed to the piece.

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