As an artist, Ryan Lammie knows what artists need. In the past ten years he has rotated through a variety of art-related jobs that have helped him understand the industry.
He’s built 135 feet walls to anchor events. He’s transformed raw spaces with no electrical outlets into exhibition centers. He’s lived in Brooklyn as a working artist and and he’s worked for the Carnegie Museum of Art.
He has returned to Pittsburgh where he has not only established himself as a sculptural painter but also as an art administrator, advocate, and innovator. At 26, he sits on a handful of art related boards throughout the city and is the executive director of Radiant Hall with a mission “to create and preserve studio environments for working artists.”
“Ryan Lammie is very impressive not only for his work as a sculptor, but as an entrepreneur and organizer in the art scene,” says Karla Boos, founder and executive director of Quantum Theatre. “He recognized what was holding back his peers–dependable, affordable studio space–and created that in Radiant Hall. But lots proceeded from that- he’s become a hub, because he is an artist himself, he understands all the issues and has become a person around whom others convene, to learn about potential collaborators, funding, marketing, you name it.”
The original Radiant Hall is a three story red brick building on Plummer St, a few blocks off Lawrenceville’s main drag, where artists are provided affordable, rent-controlled studios where they don’t have to worry about displacement.
“This used to be a Polish speakeasy in the late 1930’s called the Blood Bucket,” says Lammie who stands in the basement during a tour. “At the end of the night, there would be blood in the mop bucket from all the fights, so I’ve heard.”
It’s a hard image to conjure standing today, with the works of 16 studio members, in mediums ranging from textiles to mixed media throughout.
Members like Seth Clark not only benefit from stable rent but they are offered opportunities for professional development, from exhibitions to residency programs.
It’s considered safe space, where they can focus on art and not worry about rising rents or being driven out of the neighborhood. It happens in cities across the country when artists move in, jumpstart a revitalization, and others follow.
“The artists move in, find these raw moments of beauty, the rent is cheap, then young couples come too,” says Lammie. “Coffee shops and bookstores pop up, real estate prices increase and the artists are forced out.”
Lammie witnessed this process years ago in Brooklyn where he attended the Pratt Institute and he is working hard to make sure it doesn’t happen to artists in Pittsburgh.
“We could spend 10 years filling up buildings with artists in Pittsburgh,” he says with confidence.
Recently he partnered with Pittsburgh Gateways in the Energy Innovation Center (EIC) in the Hill District where Radiant Hall’s second location is being renovated as an incubator space for arts-related businesses.
EIC, housed in the formed Connelly Trade School, will soon offer 30 different areas of study from seven of Pittsburgh’s post secondary educational institutions, including Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. Companies such as Eaton and Jones Lang LaSalle are moving in next to the classrooms and there’s space for start ups in technology as well as art.
The partnership with EIC “will demonstrate a new innovative way that we can support small arts organizations that play a pivotal role in our arts ecosystem,” Lammie notes. Both the artists and the businesses will benefit from close proximity to cross-pollinate new and diverse audiences.
Lammie’s office at the EIC is simple and clean; twelve clipboards hang on the wall, perfectly aligned under the categories Radiant Hall Staff, Radiant Hall, Projects and Boards/Committees reflecting his roles as both artist and art administrator.
Last week he co-chaired the highly successful Q Ball, held at the EIC which was transformed from raw space into an old Parisian ball replete with painted dancers, a silk rope aerialist, 350 some party-goers, many in inventive and whimsical costumes. His girlfriend, Maddison Fyffe was co-chair and his parents, Scott and Susan Lammie, both a force in the community, were present.
Next, Lammie and other local artists–including Kilolo Luckett, Atticus Adams, Gavin Benjamin and Mia Henry–will travel to New York City as part of 412 Made–where Pittsburgh-based artists and designers can create new work, launch ideas, connect with one another, and showcase work to regional and national audiences–to participate in the Architectural Digest Trade Show. It’s a first for Pittsburgh, yet another innovative way to shine a spotlight on Pittsburgh artists, funded by a Kickstarter campaign.
While he speaks out for other artists, when it comes to his own art and process, the humble Lammie isn’t as revealing. He creates striking sculptural painting and works using found materials and he hopes his art will make viewers stand still and conjure a new source of energy.
Meanwhile Lammie is creating all kinds of energy in the local art scene, finding transformative spaces for artists and enabling them to create without worry while convincing funders that art drives the economy and getting exposure for artists outside the city.
With Lammie at the reigns, Pittsburgh artists are finding it easier to work here and –this is key–to staying put.