NEXT Pittsburgh

Start with Art: PGH giving original art to area newborns

Deanna Lee

Every year, thousands of parents walk out of Pittsburgh hospitals with their newborn babies. Many are anxious. Most are sleep deprived. And they’re all armed with diapers, blankets, instructions, and plenty to worry about.

This year, some of these parents will leave with something else, something unexpected: their baby’s first original work of art.

Matthew Conboy, an artist and professor of media arts at Robert Morris University, is responsible for helping the babies born this year at St. Clair Hospital, UPMC Mercy and The Pittsburgh Midwife Center become the world’s youngest art collectors.

His project is entitled Start With Art: PGH, and its funding was secured thanks to a $10,000 grant from the nonprofit organization, Crusade for Art. The grant is awarded annually to “unique, approachable programs that bring new audiences to photography” and this audience is about as new as it gets.

After winning the grant for his unique vision, Matthew selected 12 artists—one for each month—to contribute to the project. Every day in 2015, the “goodie bags” that are sent home with parents and their newborns will include an original photograph from that month’s artist. The photographs are printed small enough so that they’re easy to frame, hang on the refrigerator or place in a baby book.

The art is definitely kid-appropriate, says Matthew, but “it’s not just blue, or pink, or primary colors. We are working with renowned artists, so we thought it was important to give the babies something that represents their work.”

The photographs are indeed diverse—from landscapes and portraits to more conceptual and abstract works.

So, why exactly does a baby need art? “It’s about opening new eyes up to what art can do,” says Matthew. “The value of it is looking at our surroundings, our lives and our beliefs from a different perspective. I think we all need to do that, and why not start as soon as possible?”

Start With Art: PGH is free to both the hospitals and the families who receive the photographs. Looking toward the future, Matthew’s goal is to secure more funding from local foundations, so he can help all Pittsburgh babies get their art collection started right away.

For more information on the project, as well as a full list of the 2015 artists, visit www.startwithartpgh.org.