Filed Under Culture

Halfway Art Gallery

The Halfway Art Gallery was a short-lived but pivotal cultural institution in the Hill District. The gallery's origins can be traced to 1966, a time when the neighborhood was undergoing significant social and political changes. The gallery emerged from the vision of local activists and artists Ewari "Ed" Ellis and Carl Williams, who proposed the idea to Richard Martin, a young priest training for missionary work under St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Sewickley, PA.

"It is a halfway point for aspiring artists who get some financial reward from the sale of their works here, and a ‘halfway area’ where…people who need some direction can find understanding, a shoulder to lean on, a helpful word or a guiding hand”
-Patricia Packard, describing Halfway Gallery in 1966
Under Ed Ellis' direction, and financial support from St. Stephens, the Halfway Art Gallery quickly became a hub for artistic and cultural expression in the Hill during the late 1960s. Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright August Wilson remembered the gallery as a vital center for fostering the artistic spirit of the community. The gallery's establishment was not only a testament to the power of collaboration between activists and artists but also reflected a commitment to providing a platform for marginalized voices.

One of the key figures in the creation of the Halfway Art Gallery was Patricia Packard, an Episcopal church outreach mission worker deeply involved in drug treatment work. Her dedication to addressing community issues and fostering positive change contributed significantly to the gallery's mission. August Wilson once penned a poem titled "For Pat Packard," as a gesture of gratitude for her work.

"When I was writing poetry...we had a place in Pittsburgh, the Halfway Art Gallery, and the musicians and the poets would go down there on Saturdays and Sundays. And the musician would tell us, you [can] read while we set up."
-August Wilson, in a 2001 interview
The Halfway Art Gallery went beyond visual arts, establishing itself as a broader cultural and community resource. In 1968, the gallery initiated the publication of a poetry magazine called Signal, providing local poets with a platform to share their work. In addition to exhibits and artistic programming, the gallery also served as a food bank distribution point, hosted drug treatment therapy meetings, and served as an informal referral service for neighborhood residents in need of social services. Sala Udin, a long-time friend of Ellis, recalled Halfway as "a political center for the new African Cultural Consciousness-Black Power movement in Pittsburgh."

Halfway Art Gallery closed sometime in the early 1970s.

Video

Curtiss Porter interview Dr. Curtiss Porter, author and educator, recalls the role of the Halfway Arts Gallery in nurturing the literary and theater culture of the 1970s Hill District. Source: Interview with Renee Wilson Date: November 2023

Images

Ewari (Ed) Ellis, founder of Halfway Art Gallery Ewari (Ed) Ellis, founder of Halfway Art Gallery on Centre Avenue, pointing to paintings of carved African heads at an exhibition Source: Charles "Teenie" Harris Collection, Carnegie Museum of Art Creator: Charles “Teenie” Harris Date: c. 1960-1975
Feature on Halfway Art Gallery In 1966, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a full feature on the founding and vision of the Halfway Gallery Source: Pittsburgh Post Gazette Date: May 14, 1966

Metadata

“Halfway Art Gallery,” Hill District Digital History, accessed June 17, 2024, https://hillhistory.org/items/show/35.