Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

New Project at St. Clair Hospital sends newborns home with art

David Mayernik Jr.

Joshua and Danielle Karlovich welcomed their third child, Michael Eli, at St. Clair Hospital on Jan. 21.

They went home to Canonsburg with him and a photograph, “Mist Over the Ohio,” as part of the hospital's new Start with Art program. Joshua Karlovich said the photo — depicting a haze over the Ohio River — brought some peace to a stressful but joy-filled time.

“I know whenever you're having a baby, it can be a very dramatic time sometimes, but I thought it was really peaceful. We're going to see if we can frame it and put it up in his room.”

Michael is one of 67 babies born so far this year to receive original works of art in the program initiated by Matthew Conboy, who teaches media arts at Robert Morris University.

Last fall, he bested about 160 entries to secure a $10,000 grant from Crusade for Art to build audiences for photography. This year, every baby born at St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon, The Midwife Center for Birth & Women's Health in the Strip District and UPMC Mercy in Uptown will receive a photograph.

Conboy, 37, from Washington, D.C., said the idea to give away art came from two sources.

He was inspired by St. Clair's tradition of sending babies home with a Terrible Towel and by stories about Jennifer Schwartz, creator/director of the Atlanta-based nonprofit Crusade for Art, which aims to introduce people to art.

“I want to make sure these babies born this year kind of get a 20-year head start on collecting art,” he said.

He met with St. Clair Hospital officials in early January to pitch his project.

“It literally took five minutes and two emails to come to an agreement on the project,” he said. “It was probably one of the most amazing things I've ever seen because there was no talking bureaucracy, no questions asked.”

Linda McIntyre, director of St. Clair's Family Birth Center, said Conboy brought photos with him and the hospital started giving them out the same day.

“We obviously thought it was a great idea. It fits in with our philosophy of treating our newborns and families with respect and dignity and doing that with a little bit of fun from the very beginning of their lives.”

Conboy expects 3,500 newborns to go home from the hospitals with photographs this year. About 1,300 are born each year at St. Clair Hospital.

Each month is assigned to a local artist who will create an original work that will be gifted to newborns and their families.

January's photograph is by Aaron Blum, who originally is from West Virginia. His photo, “Mist Over the Ohio,” reflects his exploration of what it means to be Appalachian.

Conboy hand-delivered prints to families at St. Clair Hospital last month.

“They were just so happy to have something for the baby's wall when they go home,” he said.

McIntyre said she hopes the program is an extension of the hospital's many wellness program and hopes it can kickstart an appreciation of the “finer things in life” from the beginning.


Matthew ConboyComment