Purposeful Placemaking

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In October 2021, Erie Arts & Culture commissioned a mural on the exterior of the former Wayne School, which is now home to the Erie Center for Arts and Technology, the United Way of Erie County, and several other service-based organizations. This mural, along with a trip to Flint, Michigan, where they created 200 murals in a two-year time span, encouraged Erie Arts & Culture to be more strategic in our approach to future public art initiatives.

In 2022, we launched an ambitious placemaking and wayfinding initiative - curating and commissioning 50 new murals along the United Way of Erie County's Safer Walking Routes. 

Social Impact of Purposeful Placemaking

Did you know that students who attend Erie’s Public Schools (EPS) and live within a 1.5-2 mile radius of their school are not provided bus services? This means that guardians either have to arrange daily transportation for the youth in their households or students are left with no other option than to walk. Those who walk are expected to cross a daily distance of up to four miles in a range of weather conditions, five days a week. On the average day, an estimated 7,000 students in EPS walk to school. Too many of our community’s youth are starting their day at a disadvantage before they’ve even entered the classroom. This is of serious concern because we know the daily obstacles and challenges students face when navigating between home life and school life can have a direct impact on attendance and learning outcomes. We also know that equitable access to education when a person is young can largely impact their upward mobility later in life. 

In an effort to improve school attendance rates by addressing these transportation challenges, in 2021, the United Way of Erie County partnered with Lake Effect Leaders, faculty and students of Gannon University’s Geographic Information System (GIS) program, the City of Erie, and members of the Blue Coats to collect and interpret data related to walking hazards and neighborhood safety - with the objective of identifying the safest walking routes that should be used by students who attend one of the five community schools in the City of Erie - McKinley Elementary School, Edison Elementary School, Pfeiffer-Burleigh Elementary School, Strong Vincent Middle School, and East Middle School. Routes have been identified for each school and the United Way and their community partners are now working diligently to raise awareness of the routes and to improve walking conditions along the identified routes. Their advocacy efforts have honed in on sidewalk conditions, snow removal, crossing signals, lighting, and more. 

In 2022, in an effort to support the work of the United Way, Erie Arts & Culture launched Purposeful Placemaking. This large-scale mural initiative will result in 50 new murals created in the City of Erie in 2022 and 2023, with all murals being concentrated along the routes mapped by the United Way. The colorful works of art will serve as wayfinding mechanisms, while also improving the visual landscape of our urban core by combatting conditions of disrepair and predatory advertising.

Community Outcomes
  • Continue to support improved school attendance, which directly impacts student academic success and workforce development. 
  • Build neighborhood pride and sense of place, creating bonds between neighbors, schools, and local businesses.
  • Improve low neighborhood attachment and community disorganization, which directly impacts destructive behaviors like violence, delinquency, and drug use.  
  • Restore a feeling of ownership to communities which in turn will lead to resident retention.
  • Make visual art more accessible to the public at large while improving the visual landscape and appeal of our neighborhoods and commercial districts.
  • Build the capacity and support the talent of artists living and working in Erie County.
  • Provide mentoring, skills development, and experiential learning to students from the community schools who participate in the mural project.
Aesthetics of Place

The aesthetics of the visual landscape are often overlooked as an important contributor to quality of life. The Knight Foundation's Soul of Community Study, published in 2012, surveyed 43,000 people in 43 cities across the United States. The study found that aesthetics of place - its art, parks, and green spaces - ranked higher than education, safety, and the local economy as a driver of attachment when choosing a place to live and open a business. Additionally, the study found there is a correlation between attachment and GDP growth.

Thank you for your support! Your support helps us re-imagine and shape the built environment.

Artist Selection Process

EAC is committed to an inclusive and transparent selection processes for lead and assistant artists – including prioritizing hiring artists from within the neighborhoods where the murals will be installed and extending opportunities to artists who have historically been under-resourced. EAC values and appreciates all artistic disciplines, but artist assistant positions through this initiative are reserved for painters, specifically painters who are interested in gaining knowledge and developing skills related to the design and creation of outdoor murals.

Erie-based artists interested in being considered for a lead or assistant position should submit a letter of inquiry through Submittable. National and international visiting artists will be selected on an invitation-only basis.


nicole v2Nicole Salgar (Miami, FL)

Artist Assistants: Sarah Howard, Raina Harden, Precious Thompson, and Katherine Peters 
Instagram: @nmsalgar

Nicole Salgar is a painter and muralist of Latin descent. She has always had a passion for  traveling and learning about other cultures. She believes it has undeniably influenced her style. Through artist residencies she has traveled to Cuba, Europe, South America and the East coast working with the local communities painting with adults and the youth. When asked about her craft, Nicole says that “art and design are both something I see as a powerful, transformative force which can elevate the practitioners, the people and their communities.” Self expression has always been instinctual for Nicole,and she found her way to communicate that through art. Her creative work takes on various forms, which are intended to draw the viewer in, as a co-author and witness.  In an effort to create new and unpredictable cycles of thought and association, as well as challenging one’s perceptions and perspectives.

emilyEmily Ding (Los Angeles, CA)

Artist Assistants: Doug Bailey and Cally Paparelli

Emily Ding is a muralist who draws inspiration from flora, fauna, and human temperament. Her large-scale work is characterized by expressive animals and figures, which come to life through bold color gradients and a fluid, painterly style. Resonating deeply with the phenomena of the natural world, she aims to communicate emotions and experiences through storytelling with wild creatures and people.

anaAna Balcazar (Peru)

Artist Assistants: Calie Maloney, Precious Thompson, Raina Harden, and Jamarion Hobson. 
Instagram: @anabalcazarbartra

Ana Balcázar Bartra is a Peruvian visual artist. Her artworks reflect on her condition as a woman and the places she inhabit, such landscapes, botanical or abstract compositions, full of emotion and life experiences, depicted in illustrations, canvas or murals. Since 2009, she has participated national and internationally in six solo shows, and more than twenty-four group exhibitions, in Berlin, Washington D.C., California, México D.F., Erie and Lima, among other cities. Her works are part of the TD Bank Collection in Miami. Since 2017 she has been working actively in muralism, having participated in Casacor and Amazonarte, in Peru, and collaborated with the collectives Casa Morada and Salvajes Colombia, in Medellín. Between 2016 and 2019 she was professor in Toulouse Lautrec Institute in Peru.

steve miksteve mik v2Steve Mik and Brian Bonner (Erie, PA)

Artist Assistants: ECAT students

Steve Mik is an Erie-based artist who firmly believes that public art is the key to making beautiful, healthy, and thriving communities. He discovered his passion for the arts while attending Mercyhurst Prep and started working as a muralist in his early twenties. His early projects employed airbrush and aerosol techniques and he collaborated with local street artists. During this time, he also worked for two years as a KeyStone SMILES AmeriCorps member and through this opportunity he organized community service projects and art programs for students of Erie’s Public Schools. It was through this experience that he developed his passion for helping communities and artists work hand in hand. In 2012, Steve founded Evolving City Mural and Art Production and in 2019 he joined Tom Ferraro and Ed Grout at The Looking Glass Art Project. This new partnership introduced him to new techniques and processes, including working with Polytab. Steve has created murals throughout the City of Erie and Erie County.

Brian Bonner, originally from Cleveland, Ohio, is an Erie-based artist whose work integrates elements of abstraction, street art, and pop culture. In 2021, Brian assisted Mwanel Pierre-Louis with the creation of a mural on the exterior of the Erie Center for Arts & Technology. That same year, Brian launched Artistic Souls, an apparel company and lifestyle brand. Brian believes that the arts can be used to build social bonds and create opportunities for critical conversations.

christinaChristina Wolfe (Erie, PA)

Artist Assistants: Youth from Career & Dreams
Instagram: @wolf_e25

Christina Wolfe is a mural and mixed media artist working in northwestern Pennsylvania. Her primary mediums include photography, drawing, printmaking, and sculpture. She has worked in Erie and the surrounding area on large scale projects including many public murals and sculpture projects. Christina enjoys working closely with the community to create meaningful works of public art with an emphasis on community involvement. She employs symbolism to create playful works of art. Conceptual themes are used to depict her subject matter in a new light, often playing with scale and ambiguity. Wolfe resides, with her two sons, in Northwestern Pennsylvania.

ceasar v2Ceasar Westbrook (Erie, PA)

Artist Assistants: Youth from Career & Dreams.
Instagram: @c_west100

Ceasar Westbrook is an Erie-based fine artist and muralist. His work is best described as being at the intersection of abstract and realism. He employs a style that is graphical in nature and often revolves around figurative subjects. To achieve his creative objectives, Caesar relies on bright colors and bold lines. He aims to put the viewer in a space that is both familiar and reflecting of the present time and circumstances.

alexAlex Ann Allen (South Bend, IN)

Artist Assistants: Jessica Borchert and Bella Fried
Instagram: @alex_ann_allen

Alex Ann Allen is a self-taught traveling muralist living and working in South Bend, Indiana. Although Alex has been painting for 12 years, Alex's career began in 2018 when she took the leap to make art full-time. Alex paints bold geometric patterns and bright empowering portraits to transform spaces and uplift viewers. Her passion and dedication lies in creating public art that brings communities together and helps beautify neighborhoods.

The driving force behind Alex’s work is universally shared human emotion and motion; she continually seeks movement within her pieces. By combining patterns of gradients and perspective grids, Alex utilizes visual language to create one unique image. Alex’s intentionally minimalistic approach to design is carefully placed alongside futuristic color planes, leaving the viewer's eyes wandering. In both portrait painting and outdoor public art, Alex’s end goal is to evoke joy and inspiration, and to have the story of color take viewers to another world. 


antonio v2Antonio Howard (Erie, PA)

Artist Assistants: Sarah Howard, youth from Career & Dreams
Instagram: @antoniohoward_artist

Antonio Howard (Peggy’s son) is an autodidact artist. At the young age of 15, he was incarcerated and sentenced to life in prison, where he served 26.5 years. While in person, Antonio educated himself through instructional books on the concepts and processes of visual art. Released in 2018, Antonio is now 45-years-old and lives as a valued member of the Erie community, committed to serving others and creating connection points through art that sparks meaningful dialogue and relationships. Antonio created his first exterior mural in 2019, and since then has both led and assisted various mural projects in Erie County.

jason v2Jason Amatangelo (Erie, PA)

Artist Assistants: Youth through Career & Dreams
Instagram: @jayart

Jason Amatangelo is an artist based in Erie, PA, with his wife Linda and three kids. Born and raised in Erie, Jason moved to Columbus, OH, in the early 2000s. He returned to Erie in 2013. While in Columbus, Jason learned about working in Abstract painting forms, hanging, and meeting other artists. He fine-tuned this style over the years and is known for his brightly colored Geometric Abstract works. Typically working in layers, Jason’s works give the illusion of 3-D. Utilizing forced perspective, light, and shadows, his work can look like it’s coming out of the wall. Jason is constantly challenging himself with new media and techniques to see what can be accomplished.

ms yellowMs. Yellow (Los Angeles, CA)

Artist Assistants: Gabi Keebler, Sage Hülingues, and Ileecia
Instagram: @msyellowart

Ms.Yellow (Nuria Ortiz) is a self-taught Mexican-American muralist and teaching artist. She has dedicated her time to the creative development and empowerment of communities, working closely with schools, cities, community centers and others to develop workshops, murals, and mentorship to the youth. 

Ms. Yellow has taught various art classes and created murals throughout the United States, Mexico, Haiti, Poland, Australia, Egypt, Japan, Spain and France centering on themes such as culture, folklore, sisterhood, education, unity, love and social justice. She has also partnered with various commercial organizations to create original artworks for Apple, Doritos, the NFL, LA Galaxy, Long Beach Airport, SoundCloud, Angel City FC, METRO, Women's Shelter of LB, El Paso Museum of Art, and the Museum of Latin American Art.


Sarah Jacobs

Sarah Jacobs (Erie, PA)

Artist Assistants: Grace Rhodes, Steve Mik
Instagram: @sarahjacobsart

Sarah Jacobs is a contemporary artist. Her work has been exhibited in the US and in Europe and she has taken part in artist residencies in Grimma, Germany; Cali, Colombia; and Taos, New Mexico. She has won multiple grants, including the Arts Council England Grant, and her work can be found in public and private collections in the US, UK, and Hong Kong. She has had solo and two person exhibitions in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Baltimore; Wrocław, Poland; and London and Bristol, England, among other cities. She has a 2023 exhibition slated at Zynka in Pittsburgh.

Sarah was educated in Art History at Gettysburg College and received her MFA from the Hoffberger School of Painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore in 2010. There she studied under Joyce Kozloff and Timothy App. Sarah moved back to the USA in 2014 after 3 years living in London and Bristol, UK where she became a naturalized British citizen.

Sarah presently lives and paints in Erie, PA

Cathy Ferraro

Cathy Ferraro (Erie, PA)

Artist Assistants: Brian Henderson, Jasmine Lamison
Instagram: @adogsportraitetc

Cathy Ferraro studied Fashion Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology and drawing at the Art Students League in New York City. She shifted her creative gears to accommodate a different lifestyle after moving back to Erie, and becoming a mother of three. With adult children, Cathy has recommitted herself to her personal arts practice. Working out of a private in-home studio, Cathy has immersed herself in drawing and painting.

Cathy began working on large-scale mural projects with Tom Ferraro, her husband, and Ed Grout, Tom's partner in the Looking Glass Art Project. Through that experience, she learned various techniques of mural making, working extensively with acrylic pigments. While she continues to work primarily in acrylic, Cathy experiments in many different mediums including watercolor, pen and ink, and oil sticks.

Shaun ThurstonShaun Thurston (Jacksonville, FL) (Los Angeles, CA)

Artist Assistants: Ileecia Moffatt, Ceasar Westbrook
Instagram: @shaunthurston

Shaun Thurston was born in 1979 in Jacksonville, Florida. After graduating from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, he attended Florida School of the Arts in Palatka then transferred to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia with a portfolio scholarship. But he left when a professor told him he didn't need a degree and student loan debt to make a living with his art. He has completed more than fifty commissions since his early twenties, as well as hundreds of personal and public works. His artwork has been included in exhibitions at The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens and Art Basel in Miami. His murals appear throughout Jacksonville and Atlanta.

Purposeful Placemaking Sponsors

Donations supporting Erie Arts & Culture through Erie Gives

Platinum Benefactors
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ErieInsurance 9118c0081dba4c14a7d18a51438ca81f
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Silver Benefactors
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Bronze Benefactors

Tim and Lisa NeCastro
Robin Scheppner
Zaphiris Family Limited Partnership
Tom Hagen
Gene Davis Sales & Service
Doug and Deb Murphy

Champion Donors

Keith and Kelly Kennedy
Michelle Butler
Jay and Mona Kang
Brian and Linda Graff
Tom and Carol Tupitza
Jason Walker
David Bennett

In-kind support provided by Sherwin-Williams Commercial Paint Store (Downtown Erie) and Fernandez Painting & Pressure Washing

Erie Arts & Culture

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