What would Pittsburgh’s landscapes and communities look like if they were part of a healthy, functioning ecosystem?

This summer I participated in a project sponsored by Hive Pittsburgh in which a group of ten Pittsburgh high schoolers including myself were to paint a mural answering that question.

I thought the question was kind of intimidating at first. Where to begin? And how was I, who can barely draw a stick figure, supposed to paint a mural answering it? But this was the task, and we had a week to complete it. The weird thing was, it didn’t even seem hard: it seemed like fun. After a week, the mural was finished and we had all become great friends.

Plants and Paints muralists discussing their workBefore we even started painting, though, we had to think of what to paint. Luckily, we had a lot of help on this part. We talked to various environmental organizations, including Tree Pittsburgh, the Clean River Campaign, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the Sierra Club Allegheny Group, and Sylvania Navies, about our project, and they gave us their take on the most important components of a healthy ecosystem. We talked about many environmental issues, including biodiversity, green infrastructure, and energy sources. We looked at the issue from multiple perspectives–considering community involvement, politics, and economic issues as well as the environmental consequences of certain ideas.

Next we used these ideas to create sketches. We split off into pairs; each pair had one garage door to paint, and there were five garage doors. Working together on this was really fun, and each group had a lot of artistic talent between the two members. We also got help from a few awesome local artists, Silvija Singh, Karen Coyne, and Maria Harrington. They helped us think about color and line, unity and continuity. I was amazed that by the end of the second day, each group had come up with such a great design.

The last three days of the week, we painted. We started by painting an outline of our designs in a neutral beige. Then we began filling in with color. We started with large sections that we could paint all in one color. After that, we began filling in details, adding swirls of white in the blue water of a river, drawing veins onto leaves.

And before we knew it, we were done! We had analyzed the question considering environmental, social, political, and economic aspects, and we had created a finished mural that depicted our answers. We had just designed a healthier, more sustainable future. And it was so fun, too!