The Arts Greenhouse program had its origins in the Center for the Arts in Society, an interdisciplinary association of faculty members at Carnegie Mellon. In addition to producing scholarly articles and monographs, artistic exhibits and performances, several members urged the Center to create programs designed to reach out to the Pittsburgh community. With this in mind, in 2003 Judith Schachter, then Director of the Center, and Riccardo Schulz, Teaching Professor in the School of Music, developed a project that would introduce young performers from local neighborhoods to the resources at Carnegie Mellon, including the state-of-the-art recording studio in the College of Fine Arts.
After a trial run with a Carnegie Mellon student, we turned outside the campus to recruit high school students who had enjoyed composing, performing, and occasionally recording music but had little to no support for this activity in their schools. At that point, we realized the significance and the power of hip hop, a discovery confirmed by Natalie Ozeas, a professor in the School of Music who has extensive experience working in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. With her advice, we chose hip hop and rap as the foci of an arts education program; hip hap and rap not only drew on the interests and passions of youth, but also served as the core of commentary on life in a rust-belt city with a long history of racial and ethnic intermixing.
Staffed by instructors from the community, a series of Saturday afternoon workshops offered participants a safe space in which to practice composing, lyric writing, performing, and recording of original songs. We learned as we went along, changing our program to suit changes in the city and nation, in the responses to hip hop and rap by our participants, and in our interpretations of the program’s goals. We added to the workshop instructors, faculty and students from designated university courses, including humanities, social sciences, and the arts.
In 2015, we began to structure the connections between the program and the university by hiring a graduate coordinator to make the contacts. Over its decade and a half of existence, Arts Greenhouse has expanded to include a focus on social justice, on civil rights, and on the role of music and the arts in historical movements. These lessons offer agency to individuals whose voices are often not heard or listened to.
Throughout the program’s history, we have recruited students from under-served schools, and we have partnered successfully with other organizations that share our concerns with the deprivation, discrimination, and disaffection experienced by a part of the Pittsburgh population. The Arts Greenhouse does not train professionals but rather teaches young artists the importance of self-expression and collaboration for taking part in one’s community.