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Course & Subject Guides

Archives & Special Collections Exhibits

Guide on Past and Current Archives & Special Collections Exhibits @ the University of Pittsburgh Library System - Oakland (2020-present)

"A Place to Grow": The Selma Burke Art Center

Date of exhibition: Fall 2021- Fall 2022

Curator: Rebecca Giodano (PhD candidate, History of Art & Architecture, University of Pittsburgh)  and Megan Massanelli (Archives & Special Collections Engagement and Outreach Librarian)

Location: Archives & Special Collections exhibit gallery, 3rd floor Hillman Library, University of Pittsburgh 3960 Forbes Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15260


From 1971 to 1982, the Selma Burke Art Center (SBAC) provided high-quality, accessible art education supporting Pittsburgh’s Black community. Located in East Liberty, the SBAC offered a variety of arts classes, local and international art exhibitions, and community events. The SBAC was founded by prominent African American sculptor Selma Burke who had trained in Paris and New York, with initial support from the Carnegie Institute and the A. W. Mellon Trust.  At the invitation of the Mellon Trust, Burke came to Pittsburgh in 1968 following the civil unrest in the Hill District to document and support the Black arts community in Pittsburgh. A veteran instructor and renowned artist, Burke worked between the existing Black arts community and the city’s white-run philanthropy networks to build a center for creativity that centered Black youth.   

This exhibition draws from University of Pittsburgh Library System collections to highlight some of the SBAC as a hub for Black theatre, visual art, and dance in Pittsburgh. In addition to classes, the SBAC provided space for events, exhibition, and rehearsal for the larger community. It also connected organizations like Kuntu Repertory Theatre and Pitt’s own Black Studies and Theatre departments to local youth. SBAC recruited arts instructors from these and other Black arts organizations. Leading directors and choreographers cast SBAC students in their productions and used the space for performances. During the 1970s, the SBAC uniquely brought together Pittsburgh Black arts communities across ages and institutions. The unity it fostered gave rise to subsequent groups including Women of Visions, a collective of Black women artists. Their member’s work is on view in the University Art Gallery 2021-2022.


All materials featured here come from the A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust Records, 1930-1980, AIS.1980.29 and Bob Johnson Papers, 1949-2003, CTC.2014.03. 

  • Photographs of the Mellon Bank on in East Liberty and of SBAC instructors;1971 
  • "Support the Selma Burke Art Center" bumper sticker; 1949-2003
  • Clipping, Sculptor Of Roosevelt Profile Here On Search For Talented Negro Artist; 1967
  • Brochure, A Place Show, A Place to Grow; 1971,
  • Brochures; Fall '76; Spring '76; Summer '76

Exhibit Photographs