Longtime activist Richard Parsakian trusts public art to transform Pittsburgh

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By L.E. McCullough

Richard Parsakian arrived to Pittsburgh in 1971 as a younger VISTA volunteer, hoping his newly-earned levels in architecture and developing science from New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute could possibly support him create favourable social change.

He commenced at the literal grassroots amount, developing playgrounds in Homewood, Perry Hilltop and other underserved neighborhoods. A half-century later on at age 73,  he’s still a prolific adjust-generator for his adopted hometown in a myriad of remarkable approaches that his 22-yr-old volunteer self could barely have imagined.

Pursuing his VISTA provider with the Pittsburgh Architects Workshop, Parsakian ventured into regional media and co-published the city’s very first LGBTQIA+ newspaper, The Homosexual Instances, from 1972-76.


A longtime trend enthusiast, he sold vintage clothes from his home ahead of officially opening Eons Style Antique in 1986, a cozy Shadyside emporium stocked with a extensive variety of men’s and women’s attire spanning the 1880s via the 1980s.

Eons was a swift retail accomplishment and grew to become the go-to resource for Pittsburgh theater costumers and checking out Hollywood film and television productions starring Jodie Foster, Debra Messing, Denzel Washington, Helen Mirren, Billy Porter, Viola Davis and other A-checklist actors. 

Richard Parsakian with friend Billy Porter. Photo courtesy of Richard Parsakian.

Obtaining at hand a ready stock of numerous and sundry wearables also gave Parsakian the chance to develop his talents as an event designer and producer for dozens of nonprofit companies from the Persad Heart and Pittsburgh AIDS Job Pressure (now the Allies for Health and fitness + Wellbeing) to the Mario Lemieux Foundation and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. 

His many years of advocacy and volunteerism have garnered regular honors, together with a particular proclamation from the Pittsburgh City Council declaring Oct 23, 2017, as Richard Parsakian Day in the Town of Pittsburgh.

At present, Parsakian serves on the boards of Pittsburgh Earth Day and the Higher Pittsburgh Arts Council, as well as on the Pittsburgh Dance Council’s advisory board, Prepared Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania’s fund enhancement committee and the City of Pittsburgh’s LGBTQIA+ Fee. Given that 2019 he’s been a member of the Metropolis of Pittsburgh Art Commission.

NEXTpittsburgh spoke with Parsakian about his get the job done and how he believes public artwork can transform the life of Pittsburghers.


A close up o the EONS neon sign outside of the boutique.

Eons Style Antique in Shadyside. Photo by Sebastian Foltz.

NEXTpittsburgh: What is the purpose of the Art Commission?

Richard Parsakian: Any one who desires to employ artwork to change the physical nature of the Town of  Pittsburgh in the public suitable of way — or land owned by the town — has to occur ahead of the Art Fee for approval of their challenge. We hold month-to-month meetings, broadcast by Zoom at current and viewable on general public obtain television. A challenge gets a thorough review course of action, and it is a really transparent course of action. There are 7 customers on the fee, each and every symbolizing a different self-discipline this kind of as architect, muralist, social activist employing art, curator and so on. I fit several labels.

NEXTpittsburgh: The Art Fee has the said mission to “improve the aesthetic excellent of the City’s general public areas.” How do they go about it?

Parsakian: Sometimes the significance of public art does not lie in what the object is, but in who is creating it and for what rationale. You can come across a modern instance Downtown alongside Strawberry Way from Grant Street to Smithfield Street. It is an artist-in-residency application arranged by Morton Brown and Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership with 36 Resourceful and Executing Arts students portray and drawing on two blocks of asphalt guided by two specialist artists, Max Gonzales and Shane Pilster. The models are amazing, an remarkable gradation of shade, effectively the rainbow spectrum. It gives these college students the chance to have a seen voice in their city.

Imaginative and Undertaking Arts pupils painted street art on Strawberry Way amongst Grant and Smithfield streets as part of an artist in residency plan organized by Morton Brown and Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. Picture by Sebastian Foltz.

NEXTpittsburgh: What is a crucial element of the commission’s review system?

Parsakian: Each and every proposal has its personal analysis conditions, but engagement with the group is normally vital. If you are an artist placing forth a proposal, you have to have to have group enter, meetings where you listen to individuals and master how they see the project. Does the artwork speak to the local community? Did the artist carry out a social discussion that was inclusive? We also search at sustainability. How does it influence the carbon footprint? Does it conform to the new Dark Sky ordinance and so on. 

NEXTpittsburgh: So the commission seems at the huge photograph?

Parsakian:  We glimpse at the biggest photograph achievable. Every single commissioner has a unique viewpoint, but as a entire body, we want to make absolutely sure the art and the process of creating it consist of the voices of the local community where it will live. All over heritage in each individual society, public artwork has advised a story of the people today in that modern society, and we do not want individuals in our community to be left out of the discussion.

NEXTpittsburgh: Can community artwork make us improved folks in some ways? Support us fully grasp every other a little bit more, even if the knowing is partial or primarily symbolic?

Parsakian: We have to open up people’s minds. Artwork does that, but it does not take place ideal away with new art. When I go to an art museum, I might see “classic” art that’s been all-around for a couple of centuries. But when it originated, it was “contemporary” artwork, not common, and quite a few people of its time and spot would not have recognized or preferred it. But now it is approved, and we get in touch with it “classic.” I like to go to a museum and be shocked and get a new way of wanting at something. I do not want to see a portray of tomatoes unless Andy Warhol did it. It is great for people to have a visceral reaction to art. But also to master about by themselves and each individual other. Murals are a type of public art that do this very properly. They seize heritage, they honor people who resonate with the group. 


NEXTpittsburgh: It is a basically democratic kind of civic discourse.

Parsakian:  Public art will allow a local community to have a conversation. No make a difference exactly where you are in that group, what your economic or education and learning stage, you can have a voice with community art, mainly because it is public and, consequently, shared by quite a few men and women in lots of techniques. General public artwork can give a particular person pride in their community. It offers tangible recognition that “we are below.”

L.E. McCullough is a Pittsburgh musician/writer/journalist with a lifelong curiosity about Who, What, When, The place, Why and particularly How.


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