Launched by artist and Robert Morris professor Matthew Conboy in January of 2015, Start with Art gives every baby born at The Pittsburgh Midwife Center, St. Clair Hospital, and UPMC Mercy a photograph by a local artist. John Lawson, a poet and professor of English at Robert Morris, has also written descriptions of each photograph.
In 2006, Matthew moved to Pittsburgh from Athens, Ohio, where he was working on a doctorate in interdisciplinary arts at Ohio University. He was familiar with Pittsburgh and had been coming here since 2001 to visit the Mattress Factory and see the exhibits at the Carnegie and Warhol Museums. When he began teaching courses in art at Robert Morris University, he was shocked to find that he had students who had never been to a museum or art gallery. It was then he realized that he wanted to find a way to reach people and change their perception of art and culture well before they got to college.
Matthew had heard that St. Clair Hospital was giving Terrible Towels to all of their newborn babies as a part of gift baskets that went home with mom and baby. He imagined how many Terrible Towels were distributed to newborns throughout Pittsburgh, and thought about how giving children the gift of art and enabling them to begin life as art collectors could be life-altering. He developed the idea for Start with Art in early 2014.
“I had this idea that if I was going to give away art, it would be to babies who could grow into it. I could also support emerging artists and give them an audience that was exponentially larger than any they had ever encountered before,” says Matthew.
In 2014 Atlanta-based nonprofit Crusade for Art awarded him their $10,000 inaugural Audience Engagement Grant. Start with Art has also received help from a Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts grant and assistance from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.
This July, Jessica Server, writer, poet and instructor at CAPA High School will be the featured artist and Start with Art will give their 5000th piece of art to a newborn baby. Mayor Bill Peduto will also present Matthew with a proclamation at a Pittsburgh City Council meeting this summer.
“The thing that excites me the most about this project is that I am sharing my love of art with an entire generation of kids in Pittsburgh. From the moment they’re born, they will be collectors of art and photography and that is something that no one can take away from them.”
If you’d like to make a tax-deductible donation to Start with Art, you can do so through New Sun Rising.