Rachel Saul Rearick, Pittsburgh International Airport’s (PIT) first ever full-time Arts and Cultural Manager, is quietly and deliberately curating a high-flying art exhibition to engage the roughly 9-million people who scurry through one of nation’s top-ranked airport, which was also the first domestic airport to be awarded airport of the year. Rearick’s stark motivation to make an impact through art is a conviction not taken lightly. She approaches her job with a cerebral outlook on how each piece can interact with passengers and is constantly on the hunt for talented local artists who can gain much-needed exposure from such a massive public platform.
Rearick took The Collective on a tour of the sprawling space and sat down with us to answer a few questions about art, air, and the ascent of local art in Pittsburgh. Oh yeah, we also chat about her ability to do gnarly skateboarding tricks and the movie she’s filming about her life.
Photos by Julie Kahlbaugh
TPC: What was the process in becoming the first FT arts and cultural manager?
RSR: There has been a path that has led me to this position, which I would say started in graduate school. My research was focused on the effect of art on development. I knew early on that while I loved making artwork myself, administration was what really drove me. So with an undergraduate degree in Fine Art and a minor in Art History, I pursued a Masters in Public Administration.
Right out of school I spent some time as a grant writer, which solidified the importance of collaboration and partnership. I managed a studio and an education program for an arts non-profit, and also worked in City Planning for a short time. On the side I wrote the occasional arts review, and created a program called Pittsburgh Women MAKE It, which highlighted women artists and entrepreneurs.
I also serve on the Board at Artists Image Resource. I guess that all says that I feel ingrained within the local arts community, and I wanted to offer my knowledge and experience to a position in which I could make an impact for that community. The position at the airport is the perfect marriage of my experiences and interests.
TPC: Is this a newly created position, or were there part-time people helping with the initiatives?
RSR: The Vice President of Planning, Richard Belotti, has been a champion for the arts here at PIT for many years. The Art in the Airport program has existed in various forms, and artwork has been shown through a variety of practices. Prior to my position being created, pieces of my roles lived within the Planning Department, Customer Programs, Marketing and Communications, and Terminal Operations.
In addition, Richard has worked with a contract staff member two days a week for a number of years, from the Office of Public Art. As for the Creating a Sense of Place program, Tracey Cullen spearheaded that prior to my arrival. The position was created with the intention of ensuring there would be a dedicated, full-time employee who would be devoted to managing and facilitating all facets of the various programs.
TPC: What’s your philosophy on art?
RSR: I believe that art is a tool-and a powerful one at that. It shows us who we are as a society, and who we want to become. It speaks to individual interest and desire. And in the public realm, it speaks volumes to what we support and value as a collective community.
TPC: How do you think music and art effect travelers?
RSR: Art and music both have a way of activating space, whether by livening it up or toning it down. In my opinion, art and music in an airport not only improves aesthetic and experience, they can serve as wayfinding components or indicators. And let’s be honest, travel can be stressful.
Many people get antsy about security and they have anxiety about getting to where they need to be, in time for a flight. Arts and music in the airport improve the overall experience, offering moments to relax-whether that be intentionally, or through the use of pass-through experiences. I think it is fantastic that the leadership of our airport is supportive of including these elements, making both art and culture more accessible.
TPC: What’s the importance of sourcing local artists?
RSR: Because the airport is the gateway to our region, my role is to make sure that Pittsburgh Arts and Culture is represented in our space. In one regard that literally means showcasing local and regional artists, and in another regard that means showcasing the importance of the international influence of art within our community.
We have a myriad of talents artists that call Pittsburgh home, as well as we’re blessed with cultural institutions that represent or show the work of the most preeminent contemporary artists of our time-like in the current Carnegie International. With close to 9-million passengers per year, the airport has the opportunity to be the megaphone and the platform for those artists and institutions.
TPC: How has art positively affected you over the years?
RSR: The answer to this question is endless. I believe that art has the power to be catalytic, healing, persuasive, and transformative. I spent a number of years managing the Education programs at Contemporary Craft, in the Strip District. That afforded me varies opportunities to spend time with students from local universities within the gallery, talking through personal discoveries, which originated in the artwork that was focused on social justice or impact.
Those moments were always equally insightful for me. Beyond my profession, I too am a printmaker. Art is home for me-it is where I generate creative problem solving approaches, and where I continually return to ground myself.
TPC: What do you feel are the largest stumbling blocks for artists?
RSR: In many cases, I think one of the greatest stumbling blocks for an artist can be their own apprehension. Through formal training, artists are taught to always question and critique. That can sometimes stifle people, putting them into a cycle of, “Is this finished.” Or in regard to taking on larger commissions or work in public art, I think that same mindset causes artists to ask themselves, “Am I ready for something that large, will the panel select me, can I deliver…” That said, I would encourage more artists to take risks and just apply.
Aside from that, I think that the other boulder for many artists can be a lack of business skills. Those aren’t necessarily taught in many fine art programs. So when artists come into the professional arena, they don’t always know how to write a proposal or what percentage of a profit they should be building into a project budget, for their own time.
TPC: What do you think is the biggest misconception about art, and artists?
RSR: That they are late and unorganized. Many artists are very professional, and the most meticulous people that I know happen to be artists.
TPC: Do you think the gender gap has significantly closed in the art community or is there still a lot of work to do?
RSR: I certainly don’t want to speak for everyone on this topic, and there are many layers to this answer. Looking around our region, we have women in arts leadership roles. When it comes to artists showing work and being represented, I think we’re beginning to close in on this. Outside of our region, the chasm is a bit wider. So of course there is more work to do, and certainly more work to do in order to be assured inclusivity for women of color.
TPC: What type of programs are available for women who want to pursue art?
RSR: I don’t know that there is any one place for a woman to turn regionally, if she wants to pursue art. There is Prototype Pittsburgh, for women that are interested in makerspaces. And there are an increasing number of opportunities for women to network or find entrepreneurial assistance-like Hustle HER Way, or the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham.
Just this past year, the Pittsburgh Foundation announced a prize that will be awarded every two years, specifically given to a woman-but the woman must be a painter. Aside from those, anyone looking for resources can certainly connect with the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. There is an Artist Relations Manager there that I am sure would be happy to provide insight or assistance.
I am always happy to sit down and talk career paths or network opportunities. All of that said-you’ve hit on the gap that I have been thinking a lot about over the past two years…there needs to be a woman focused arts venue; that would also advocate for women to succeed outside of the Pittsburgh region.
TPC: In ten years, what do you want people to say about your work in the arts community?
RSR: Oh wow…I suppose I would hope that people say I truly cared for our arts community. And that everything I did was in effort to support that community. Ultimately, I hope that the work I’m doing offers opportunities for everyone to be represented, and that individual artist careers have been elevated as a result.
TPC: What’s something not many people know about you, but you’re going to tell us anyway?
RSR: I love to skateboard. I’m not into hills or doing tricks, but if I can get away to an area with flat land that is also near a body of water, with a skateboard…then I’m happy for days.
TPC: If there’s a movie of your life being produced, what would the title be, who would play you, and what are your top 3 songs on the soundtrack?
RSR: On the Periphery
let’s go with Ruby Rose
and the songs would be:
Lonesome Dreams by Lord Huron
High Hopes by Panic at the Disco
Sway by Anna of the North