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Civic Impact

A.R.T.S. does legwork for local artists' connections to exhibits and sales, plans arts-teaching fest

Multimedia artist John Shook owns Graphic Cellar in Plum Borough, where he does his airbrush art on clothing and items from softball helmets to vehicles. Just three months ago, he met Michelle Barabas, who founded and runs the Art Resource Teaching Society Inc., or ARTS.
Barabas networks mostly Pitsburgh artists with each other and potential buyers through ARTS, which also collects arts supplies to give out and aims to connect its artists with classes to teach. Shook is too busy to do any of that himself. But in just three months, ARTS has found him a place to hang a photo exhibition in Bridgeville and, potentially, a new airbrush artist to hire.
"Everybody's been exchanging information and networking," Shook says of his 120-plus fellow ARTS members. "If you've got a lot of artists coming to one place you can collaborate. [Barabas] is doing the legwork for the artists."
Barabas, who lives in Dormont, graduated from the International Academy of Design and Technology in 2008, only to be hit immediately by the start of the recession. She moved out of Pittsburgh temporarily to take jobs unrelated to her own arts -- graphic art, fashion design, photography and modelling. "I was crushed," she says. She wanted a place for people to see "the best artists in the U.S. I wanted that to exist. So I created it."
Now ARTS is more than a full-time job. "This is my life," she says.
Barabas has chosen the current roster out of 900 applicants, she reports, including everyone from a firespinner and jeweler to makeup and visual artists.
The members meet periodically to explain their onging projects and to find out what they'd be willing and able to help other do. The ultimate aim is to get ARTS artists showings and sales. ARTS holds it own events, from fashion shows to corporate parties, and is organizing its first interactive arts festival called Art Squared on Sept. 28-29 in Market Square. Artists in all media will be teaching their art, from photographers to models and fashion designers. The group is planning an oil-painting contest, a perform-your-own-comedy booth, all-day music and a dance-off to finish the night.
"The whole idea of the festival is to get people involved in the creation of the art, and to get them informed about quality art -- and why it is worth paying for."
The group is also looking for a new partner -- last year it was Volunteers of America's All of Us Care program -- to accept donated supplies and the art-teaching services of ARTS' artists to help at-risk youth get art education and to let ARTS members gain teaching experience.
Artists who hope to get involved with ARTS should contact Barabas here or by calling (412) 680-1117.
"I think this would really take off if people get involved," says John Shook. "I think this is something the city could use."
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Michelle Barabas, ARTS; John Shook
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