Teens Find a Creative Home at the Mattress Factory

By Serena Zets – 10th Grade, Pittsburgh CAPA

The first thing you notice when you enter the residency space at the Mattress Factory Art Museum is a sign posted with a list of rules, such as: treat yo’ self, practice reckless optimism, check your privilege, and don’t forget to take your meds.  At any other art museum, these rules would seem out of place, but they fit right in at the Mattress Factory.

This summer, the Mattress Factory Art Museum is hosting The Summer Art Cooperative – a free summer program that gives teens the opportunity to curate and install exhibits, plan events, meet with local artists, and explore contemporary art. For the duration of the program, participants work towards their final exhibition on August 7th. In addition to planning that event, they also learn how to do everything from pickling to mud dancing. The program has been a great success.

In a lot of art museums, it’s easy to forget about the people behind the scenes, but the Mattress Factory values its installers and curators, including those who specialize in different forms of art.  Kathryn is one of the few participants who isn’t a self proclaimed visual artist. Instead, she’s interested in the publication and magazine industries. “I’m here because I know that I love art even though I’m not a visual artist,” Kathryn says. “I would love to maybe start my own magazine with positive messages… We spoke with the head of marketing for the museum, so this program is putting us in contact with people who have been where we want to go.” Kathryn is a great example that you don’t need to be a traditional artist to make an impact in the art world.

Another topic explored in the Co-Op is marketing. The Mattress Factory uses installation art to explore relevant and diverse topics. But despite their international acclaim, few people in Pittsburgh know about the museum. Ada, another participant, wants to change that and attract more locals. She explains: “Most of the museum’s visitors are white which I found was surprising because we’re in the North Side which is a hub of people of color. But then I realized the admission price is like $20 which is probably why.” Ada’s individual project for the exhibition examines white privilege and stereotypes surrounding black culture. She hopes that using an instillation piece will make the viewer think about the meaning behind the piece, and not just what’s in front of them.  “I want to hopefully do a critique on how white people consume black culture, but they don’t appreciate black people.” Another one of her goals is to market the museum’s discounted ticket rates. The Mattress Factory offers half off admission prices on Tuesdays and for residents of the North Side in the 15212 and 15213 zip codes. Ada is working closely with museum staff to raise awareness of these deals to locals in an attempt to bring in a more diverse group of patrons.

One of the most well known pieces at the Mattress Factory, Word Balloons by John Pena, reads “Sometimes I just don’t know how to be in the world.” It seems like the participants in the Summer Art Cooperative do know how to be in the world. They’ve all found their artistic niches, and those happen to be at the Mattress Factory.


IMG_7695Serena Zets is a sophomore at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts High School. At CAPA, her discipline is literary arts where she received the opportunity to take part in an introductory journalism course. She is a resident of Squirrel Hill where she bakes, reads, and most importantly sleeps.

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