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Press Release

Eric Sloss

For immediate release:
May 22, 2003

Persephone Project Leads a Collaborative Event That Focuses on Gardening, Art and Generosity

PITTSBURGH—The STUDIO for Creative Inquiry's Persephone Project, the Pittsburgh Garden Swap and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts (PCA) will host an event that focuses on art and gardening. The Shared Garden: A Celebration of Gardening, Art and Generosity, will take place from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 31, on the front lawn of Pittsburgh Center for the Arts' Studio Arts Building, on Shady and Fifth avenues.

The special day combines two innovative events, the Pittsburgh Garden Swap, where gardeners bring plants and garden supplies to trade, and the Magic Penny Garden day of the Persephone Project, where participants contribute a special plant from their garden to share with the project, which commissions artist-made gardens. Magic Penny Gardens are created with these shared plants. Participants are also invited to tell the stories of their plants, which will be documented by the Persephone Project.

Organizers Renae Geraci, who conceived the Plant Swap, and Stephanie Flom, research fellow at Carnegie Mellon's STUDIO for Creative Inquiry and director of the Persephone Project, met last year when both were getting their ideas off the ground. They recognized the intersection of their projects immediately and offered support for each project. After the success of the two events, they decided to combine forces and collaborate with an event that integrated the plant swapping with the plant sharing. Mary Brenholts, education manager of the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, volunteered the PCA for this year's location and offered the addition of participatory plant-related arts activities.

The activities for this year's event include:

Garden Swap
The second annual Pittsburgh Garden Swap offers new and experienced gardeners an opportunity to trade garden materials, such as plants, shrubbery, trees, garden and lawn tools, seeds, produce and other materials (i.e., fish, mulch, etc.). "Western Pennsylvania gardens include a diverse range of plants," said Renae Geraci. "The Garden Swap allows local gardeners the opportunity to clear out excess plants and introduce new ones to their gardens without spending a dime."

"Swapping" is based upon a barter system, and all plants, trees, shrubs and materials are traded for agreed-upon values. Generally, plants are traded on "a pot for a pot" system. For example, one pot of Asters is traded for one pot of Astilbe. Special plants may be given a greater value. Gardeners will receive tickets, which they may then redeem for plants and other garden materials. All plants should be labeled and placed in pots. It is also helpful for participants to include information about their plant and its preferred growing conditions. This is also a great opportunity to clean out the tool shed. "At last year's Swap, gardeners traded shovels, pots and even garden hats. The traded materials were very diverse," said Geraci.

On-site gardening experts and educational materials will help participating gardeners identify plants and learn how to increase the bounty of their gardens. The Front Porch People, a group of local citizens working to raise awareness of environmentally friendly products, will provide information about invasive species that can cause harm to the environment. They will also demonstrate environmentally friendly gardening techniques including composting, utilizing rain barrels, and care and maintenance of hand-pushed lawnmowers. Mung Dynasty, a leading provider in organic vegetables and sprouts, will once again offer free sunflower, broccoli and bean sprouts, which may be planted directly in the garden.

Magic Penny Garden: Sharing Plants and their Stories
The Persephone Project connects the public to art and to the environment by promoting the garden as contemporary art and by recognizing gardeners as artists. The Persephone Project is creating a first-of-its-kind, large-scale, outdoor contemporary public arts venue, The Art Gardens, where the primary medium of the commissioned installations is growing plants.

The Persephone Project also commissions Magic Penny Gardens in Pittsburgh neighborhoods. Individuals who attend The Shared Garden event will have the opportunity to contribute a plant for the Magic Penny Gardens. The public is invited to bring a special plant from their garden. All participants who donate a plant for the Magic Penny Gardens will receive one complimentary trading ticket.

The first Magic Penny Gardens were created in 2002 at Frank Curto Park, and in two public lots in Polish Hill and the Hill District. Lily Yeh, director and founder of the Village of Arts and Humanities in Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh artists Paul Bowden and Jorge Meyers, created the gardens. Donated plants will be used to create two additional Magic Penny Gardens this summer. Gary Plesch will create a Magic Penny Garden in Wilkinsburg and Jan Loney will create a garden at 39th and Butler streets in Lawrenceville.

The Persephone Project will also be collecting the stories that participants associate with their plants. Those interested will be videotaped telling the story of their plant while others may wish to complete Magic Penny Garden journal pages. The beautifully designed journal pages will also be given as a gift to participants so that they can begin their own Magic Penny Garden journal or supply a page or two to a friend, when passing along a favorite plant. Wendy Osher's Magic Penny Garden videotape of stories told at last year's event will be shown.

Hands-On Art Activities with Natural Materials
The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts will host several hands-on opportunities for making art with natural materials. Artist Constance Merriman will guide participants in on-site papermaking, nature-printing and journal-making activities. Individuals will be able to use these techniques in creating their own Magic Penny Journal pages to document the gifted plants in their garden or create art pages that they would like to pass along to friends with the plants that they give.

Admission to the event is free, although attendees are encouraged to bring garden materials to the event in order to participate. Free parking is available in the lot along Shady Avenue, directly behind the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and near the Phipps Garden Center. Volunteers will be on hand to help participants load and unload garden materials from their cars.

The event is presented by the Persephone Project, Pittsburgh Garden Swap and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and is supported by Conservation Consultants, Inc., Mung Dynasty and Whole Foods Markets. Magic Penny Gardens are funded by The Heinz Endowments, Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts, a program of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts administered in Allegheny County by ProArts, and The Sprout Fund.

The Persephone Project is a resident program of the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon and an activity of the Tides Center of Western Pennsylvania. The STUDIO for Creative Inquiry is an interdisciplinary research facility within Carnegie Mellon's College of Fine Arts. The College of Fine Arts is a community of nationally and internationally recognized artists and professionals organized into five schools: Architecture, Art, Design, Drama and Music, and their associated centers and programs.

For more information or to volunteer for this event, please call the Shared Garden hotline at 412-431-4449 x230 or visit and click on the upcoming events calendar.


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