Workers transform concrete bridge pillars into ad hoc gallery space as part of Riverlife's #TBD project.

An old wall will take on a new look over the course of this year’s Three Rivers Arts Festival, and everyone who attends is invited to contribute.

Riverlife announced yesterday that the side of the 10th Street Bypass ramp to the Fort Duquesne Bridge which faces the Allegheny River will host the first phase of a public art project called #TBD, which refers to sites along Pittsburgh’s riverfronts where development is still to be determined.

“This is one of those places where, if you were in any other city, there’d be something here,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said while standing in front of 900 feet of concrete wall, freshly coated in dark gray paint. “Unfortunately, for decades it’s been a place where people have said, ‘when are you going to get the public works crews out there? When are you going to do something to clean it up?’ I’m proud to say that this is going to be a public space where weeds will be growing.”

Well, not literally.

The mural, an original work called Adjutant by local artist Kim Beck, features oversized, silhouetted images of common weeds in shades of black, white and gray. Beck and her crew spent last night projecting and tracing the work onto the wall, which is just a few hundred yards along the Allegheny riverwalk from The Point. Festival-goers are invited to help paint the mural between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. for the entire duration of the arts festival.

“It’ll basically be paint-by-numbers,” said Jay Sukernek, Riverlife’s acting director. “Come down, paint and make 900 feet of weeds appear on the riverfront.”

The inspiration for Beck’s design comes from a passage Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal in 1906 in which he describes a pair of blue herons wading in shallow water on river’s edge:

There they stood in the midst of the open river on this shallow and weedy bar in the sun leisurely sentries lazily plumbing themselves as if the day were too long for them. They gave a new character to the stream. Adjutant they were to my idea of the river, these two winged men.

Sukernek added that this temporary mural is just the first of many steps Riverlife hopes to take in harnessing public opinion in overhauling similar spaces along the city’s riverfronts.

In addition to helping paint the mural, you can track its progress though daily photos and videos by texting “grows” to 51555. You can also submit comments and feedback by texting “TBD” to the same number.

“Despite completing over 80 percent of Three Rivers Park, there are still gaps,” Sukernek said. “We want to inspire the people of Pittsburgh, the region and the county to dream about the future of this public space.”

In addition to the mural, the concrete pillars supporting the 10th Street Bypass and the nearby Fort Duquesne Bridge will form an ad hoc gallery space, showcasing 24 submissions from Design Pittsburgh’s Young Architects Studio Competition, all of which focus on design solutions for urban voids and underutilized spaces along the riverfront. The exhibit is a compilation of past proposals for the Young Architects Studio Competition (YASC) presented by the Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Pittsburgh) as a part of their annual design awards competition. The purpose? To engage young and emerging design professionals to find innovative ways to approach a regional design problem. The objective is to make a place, create an experience and connect communities to each other and to our waterfronts.

public art
The side of the 10th Street Bypass which faces the Allegheny River is the canvas for artist Kim Beck’s engaging new work. Photo by Matt Wein.
The side of the 10th Street Bypass which faces the Allegheny River is the canvas for artist Kim Beck’s engaging new work. Photo by Matt Wein.

Matthew Wein is a local writer, editor, blogger, storyteller and proud native Pittsburgher. Once described as "a man of things," he covers city design, spirits and craft beer for NEXT, where he keeps all of the editorial meetings light-hearted and interesting. His interests include sorting books, looking at old things and candles which smell like old-growth pine forests.