Shots from the Block: Duquesne Brew House & Abolition Art Show

This past weekend I went on a walk around my neighborhood with a friend who lives on my block. She had messaged me asking if I had gone outside to take advantage of the abundant sunlight we were having that day. I had been inside grading all morning and was eager to take a break from working and to get some fresh air, so I suggested we take a stroll. We started out along Sarah Street, aimlessly meandering further into South Side without a clear destination. After a couple of blocks we spied an alluring landmark: a dramatic and historic-looking building facade that neither of us had noticed before.

As we approached the building we were able to discern markings that referred to the Duquesne Brewing Company, as well as the designations “Brew House” and “Stock House.” This structure had evidently once housed part of the brewery operations for the local Duquesne beer makers, and I surmised that the building had followed the same fate as many other postindustrial relics and disused churches in the area by being turned into condos. A banner on the side of the building advertising apartments seemed to confirm these suspicions, but we also noticed signs stating “Gallery Open,” so we investigated further.

What we learned is that the former Duquesne Brewery has indeed been renovated into residential properties, but the re-developed complex also includes a pronounced arts emphasis complete with a gallery space and artist residency initiatives. The arts initiatives are overseen by the Brew House Association, and the 2,700 sq. ft. gallery space hosts a regularly rotating roster of exhibitions.

The current exhibition is titled “Empathy is the Seed, Truth is the Water, Solidarity is the Bloomage.” This exhibition is organized by Let’s Get Free: The Women & Trans Prisoner Defense Committee as their fifth annual art show for abolition. Let’s Get Free describes their mission as follows:

We are a group working to end perpetual punishment, build a pathway out of the prisons back to our communities through commutation reform, support successful possibilities for people formerly and currently incarcerated, and shift to a culture of transformative justice.

The Empathy art show features “artists on both sides of the prison walls”:

This year’s show features 34 artists in prison and 29 artists in solidarity expressing a range of media, from watercolor to cross stitch to sculpture. First-time participant Marilyn Dobrolenski submitted a beautiful piece entitled “Harmony,” which features a lush and verdant wetland scene with water lilies, done in acrylic paint. Marilyn turned 69 this year and is one of over 70 women serving a life sentence over the age of 65. #LetGrandmaGo

It was an extremely powerful collection of works. We were able to learn more about some of the pieces through artist statements and accounts of the historical context, but the overall impact of the collection in conjunction with the appeals for humanity and social justice that permeate the exhibition was overwhelming. I was particularly glad to have met Etta, a Let’s Get Free member who was also acting as a gallery guide, and to learn about the array of advocacy, outreach, and education initiatives that the group is involved with.

The Empathy art show continues through December 19th. There will also be a Radical Art Market hosted at the Brew House on December 18th and 19th.

What began as an aimless afternoon stroll resulted in eye-opening discovery. It was wonderful to not only learn more about the historic sites in South Side, but also the robust arts and activism work taking place throughout Pittsburgh and right here in my own neighborhood.

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