James Simon has been at the forefront of revitalization in Pittsburgh’s Uptown neighborhood. Since 1998, when he returned to live in his hometown, Simon has worked to bring change through beauty, joy, and art.
In 2000, Simon purchased a warehouse in the city’s Uptown neighborhood to use as his sculpture studio. But it has served to do much more than that. The studio on Gist Street and Gist Street itself has served as a hub for grass-roots revitalization and change in a blighted neighborhood.
Through small public art projects and events in the space like the popular Gist Street Reading Series, Simon brought audiences to the neighborhood organically instead of through bulldozer-like gentrification. Simon has contributed to and curated the gallery on Gist Street which comprises public art framed like gallery works by artists John Fleenor, Jean Foss, Luis Castellanos, and others. He has also been commissioned to contribute mosaics and a relief sculpture in the neighborhood—one of these is a large, sparkling Welcome to Uptown sign that has helped define the neighborhood beyond a drive-through no man’s land between Downtown and Oakland.
Now, a revitalization is occurring nationwide through an organization in Portland Oregon called, EcoDistricts. Pittsburgh, PA’s Uptown region was chosen among eight other neighborhoods in the United States to become an EcoDistrict incubator. City leaders are creating a plan that will integrate transportation, the environment, energy consumption, and community identity into future housing and commercial development.
Simon believes public art brings about positive change in neighborhoods and cities, that sustainability is connected to beauty and art for the people. Jeanne McNutt, executive director of Uptown Partners in Pittsburgh noted in a Pittsburgh Post Gazette article: “His contribution to the vibrancy of the community has been immeasurable.” Today, Gist Street is an out-of-the-way discovery for visitors coming to Pittsburgh, and a deliberate destination on city-sponsored tours of the area. The momentum of change in Uptown is drawing a trickle of artists and creatives to the neighborhood.
Due to Simon’s dedicated work in communities he has been awarded the “Artists and Cities Award” in 2015 by Pittsburgh’s ACTION Housing as well as the “Neighborhood Leader Award” from the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group (PCRG).
Simon’s sculptures can be found worldwide including Vallauris France, Sao Paulo, Brazil, as well as various cities in the U.S. including his newest large scale commission for the city of Tampa, Florida, which is now in progress.
"What grounds my work is the feeling that my art is part of a celebratory experience that creates imaginative and insightful enviorments. I came from a family that pulsed with music and dance. I have traveled the world, spending many years living in Brazil, Mexico, Australia and England. What each of these cultures shared, and what is reflected in my work, is the primal impulse towards creative expression situated in daily life that uplifts the human spirit. I trained as a violinmaker, a renaissance art that demands precision and discipline. My work utilizes the discipline of this classical training while incorporating a “street freedom” that depicts history and contemporary life in a poetic, transcendental style. The heart of my work is to give. To give to a community, to pay homage to its history, while representing its contemporary life, to create a magical environment. "
Many Influential leaders, and artists have visited James’s studio including the current mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, the governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, Brasilian artists such as photographer Vic Muniz, painter Jose Roberto Aguilar, virtuoso guitar sensation Diego Figueiredo, renouned NYC filmmaker, Robert Young readings by national book award winner, poet Terrance Hayes, the powerful Venassa German, and hundreds of writers and poets.
Educated in the early 80s in the art of violinmaking in a private Apprenticeship in Oxford England with Andrew Dipper, Simon is known for his dramatic large scale works such as the Liberty Avenue Musicians In Downtown Pittsburgh, the Renaissance Man in Vallauris France, and the recent Perry Harvey gateway sculptures, in Tampa Florida - He works in a variety of mediums, including ceramic, concrete, bronze,glass, and marble.