I grew up in southwestern Pennsylvania during the waning years of America’s post-war industrial paradigm. Shortly after my birth in 1980 the steel mills closed and the coal industry consolidated. Small towns in Southwestern Pennsylvania braced for an economic winter from which many communities have yet to emerge. As a child I developed romantic notions of America’s industrial past that were typified for me, by the ruins of a 19th century tannery located near my family cabin in Elk County Pennsylvania. Now hidden amongst the dense overgrowth, these ruins were the backdrops for my childhood reveries and continue to inform my research. Like an effigy to the impermanence of progress, rectangular mounds of dirt and moss now supplant the solid railroad ties that once transported hides to and from that tannery. I remember searching with my siblings for the gnarled iron spikes still embedded in those mounds.
My creative work is primarily rooted in site-based research exploring notions of human progress and identity through “place.” Projects inspired by this research critique the pursuit of progress through a variety of lenses from technology and social economics to cultural identity. Areas of continued interest include land surveying, environmental preservation, extraction industries and labor identity. My studio work maneuvers a range of disciplines including drawing, painting, video projection, sculptural installation and text. As curator I feel it is my duty to reach across disciplines and inspire creativity; to build meaningful bridges between institutions and the community; and to develop projects that encourage thoughtful investigation of the world around us.
In my recent posts as Kipp Gallery Director for Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Chief Curator of Art for Rivers of Steel Arts (RoSA), I have come to understand the value of working both inside and outside the gallery space. I value the gallery as a vital platform for challenging assumptions and exploring how the ideas above resonate in contemporary life. However I also feel that successful arts programming must reach beyond these walls. Some of my most exciting and challenging projects have been produced off site as an extension of the gallery programming and yielded measurable impacts on the local community. One such project entitled Alloy Pittsburgh is an ongoing site-based initiative exploring the adaptive reuse of the Carrie Furnaces National Historic Landmark. As a site-based research laboratory and exhibition, Alloy Pittsburgh continues to foster new community partnerships and celebrate novel ways of reimagining familiar places.
Chris McGinnis is an artist, curator and educator working in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. He has exhibited extensively nationally and internationally, with over ten solo exhibitions and over 40 group exhibitions in recent years. Chris has created projects for the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Urban Institute of Contemporary Art, the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and The Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation. He is co-founder of Alloy Pittsburgh a site-based art project and research laboratory developed for the Carrie Furnaces National Historic Landmark. His work has been published in the National Studio Visit Magazine, European Art Magazine, Manifest’s International Painting Annual as well as numerous local and university publications including Pittsburgh’s Post Gazette and The Tribune Review. Chris has worked for institutions across the country including Carnegie Mellon University, The University of Arizona and Indiana University of Pennsylvania where he served as Director of the University’s Kipp Gallery from 2011 - 2016. He is currently Founding Director and Chief Curator for Rivers of Steel Arts, a division of the Rivers of Steel Heritage Area.