Black LED Community Spotlight: Dominque Chestand, Office for Public Art – PGH City Paper | Candle Made Easy

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Many Pittsburgh artists say there is a funding gap that separates those with close ties to foundations and those who feel outside. Through her position at the Office for Public Art, Dominique Chestand aims to fill this gap by working directly with artists to find out what they need and how the local nonprofit can source it for them.

In late 2021, the organization hired Chestand as a consultant to support them in their goals of helping existing artists working in the public arts and recruiting more.

A Chicago native, Chestand relocated to Pittsburgh in August 2021. When she arrived, she was the coalition coordinator for VACE (Visual Arts Coalition for Equity), a group of seven small visual arts organizations with a stated mission to make Pittsburgh’s arts field “more equitable, more visible, and more sustainable.”

Chestand has a strong background as an artist and as an administrator, and she brings that experience to her consulting work with the Office for Public Art. She says that early in her career she often had disagreements with arts organizations about their capacity for the work they do.

“I think a lot of leaders are very open to conversation when they’re in the incubation process and talking about ideas to make the fine arts sector more equitable, right?” says Brust. “They’re very willing to rethink things, but I think when it’s time to turn that conversation into action, people tend to act with a lot of fear.”

This fear keeps art administrators from fulfilling their promises to artists, she says, leading to a breakdown in communication between the two. But Chestand says she doesn’t encounter this problem in her work with the Office for Public Art, particularly the work of Sally Ann Kluz, the executive director.

“A lot of leaders lead with the wrong question, especially when their missions say they serve in these communities, in the artists’ city, but the conversations that fall under those missions are moving in exactly the opposite direction,” says Chestand .

As a consultant, Chestand reaches out to artists, arts administrators and funders to understand the gaps between what artists need and what they receive. After extensive discussions, they bring what they have learned back to the Office for Art in Public Space and they adapt their framework to their findings.

One of the things that Chestand personally focuses on in her discussions is the needs of black artists because, as she explains, when you fulfill the desires of black artists, you also fulfill the desires of other artists.

The specific considerations she withdraws relate to how artists are paid and how much they are paid, what services the Office for Public Art can provide, and how artists can be engaged in using the resources available to them.

“What often happens is that organizations say, ‘These are the needs of artists. Those are the artists’ barriers, but they’re not out there asking the artists, out there the admins working with certain communities are asking, ‘What are the barriers?’” she says. “You sit there and play the guessing game and create a system based on a guessing game, and that’s not how you should work.”

Chestand has only been in town for a short time and has had many conversations with people in the communities that the Office for Public Art hopes to serve. She says she learned that Pittsburgh’s arts ecosystem is based on philanthropy and that many artists receive money from the same donors, and those with the best relationship with donors get the lion’s share.

She says administrators and funders need to come to the artists in their communities, rather than wait for artists to come to them, and use “non-traditional marketing avenues” that involve building relationships with communities to provide a customized process and expand the pool of artists making art in public space.

In terms of the services the Office for Public Art offers, Chestand focuses on longevity and supporting artists, not just for short bursts, but for long-term projects.

The office currently operates under the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, but they are severing that relationship going forward and becoming a separate entity due to differing visions.

The office also works with Jessica Gaynelle Moss, who created the Seed Fund, a grant program for black artists, on an initiative that connects black artists with others who have the specific skills they need to succeed to be.

“Regarding their services [the Office for Public Art] have workshops for people to learn more about public art,” says Chestand. “They also commission artists to ensure that more public art is created by artists from the city of Pittsburgh.”

Office for Art in Public Space.

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