The International Free Expression Project is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to dramatizing and popularizing the fundamental importance of free expression at a time when it is under grave threat around the world.
A monument to free expression: The project will sponsor, with the Pittsburgh region, a design competition to create a towering, internationally recognized work of public art symbolizing a free press and free expression. Its site will incorporate massive, recently dismantled presses of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette whose ancestors were among the first to publish the U.S. Bill of Rights in 1791. It will soar above the front entrance of a major American city as a 21st-century version of the Statue of Liberty, dominating Pittsburgh’s version of New York Harbor. It will declare to the world that all people should be able to say what they want and be who they are.
Location: The monument to free expression will rise at or near the former Post-Gazette building where the busiest expressway in the region funnels travelers into Pittsburgh. Among its neighbors will be a 100-foot spire of water that shoots up at the confluence of three rivers, one of the most recognizable symbols of any American city. A re-imagined PG site will display artworks and artifacts, including a gleaming green and silver 40-foot-tall press. All or part of the vast, block-long former pressroom will serve as Pittsburgh’s front parlor, strikingly visible through 30-foot arched windows that stretch along a major downtown boulevard. It also will serve as home to the International Center for Free Expression.
The International Center for Free Expression: The centerpiece of the PG building is envisioned as a festive gathering place in The Pressroom, featuring food stands, coffee carts, café tables, artworks and installations, projections, buskers, popup performances and the like. Sprinkled throughout will be videos, robots, e-games, theatrical docents and interactive displays that entertain while driving home the elemental importance of free expression. These will constitute the International Center for Free Expression, a stealth museum slipped into a bustling place where people just want to hang out. Visitors who have no intention of learning about free-expression rights, who have never seriously considered the rights they do or don’t have, will confront new ideas and absorb new realizations. Most of the center’s e-games and digital activities will be available to the world online, perhaps with customized versions for the use of teachers and free-expression advocacy organizations.
A major art exhibition: The slowly unfolding public introduction of the project will include popup displays and performances, followed by a major exhibition featuring artifacts and artworks, many fashioned from or inspired by the PG pressroom. Included will be paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, press plates, page negatives and laser imagery, as well as historic articles and photographs. Hundreds of these items already are in hand and will be available for display at the International Center for Free Expression. A wide variety of artists, photographers, writers, filmmakers and performers will be invited to display or perform their work at the center. Artworks will be offered for sale, as will keepsakes such as prints, hats, T-shirts and news pages or images printed robotically on a PG press. One goal is to morally and materially support artists while making the center financially self-sustaining, with revenues generated by retail sales, event rentals, performances and beverage and food sales, among other sources.
Engagement and education: The project will call on schools, colleges, communities, institutions and individuals to help create the International Center for Free Expression, as well as their own free-expression initiatives. Students will be encouraged to write essays and create works of art. Performers will play music, present films and mount theatre productions. Such activities will be ongoing, as well as organized around special occasions. Outreach will be targeted especially at young people, particularly those who might find purpose in art or advocacy.
Early supporters: International Advisory Board members so far include Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature; Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron; Tom Brokaw of NBC News; actor/director Michael Keaton; historian David McCullough; Omar Rabago Vital, 2014-2016 convenor of the International Free Expression Exchange, a network of 115 free-expression organizations headquartered in Toronto; and Jillian York, the Berlin-based director of international free expression for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The advisory board will be expanded and diversified.
Local supporters include the mayor of Pittsburgh, the chief executive of Allegheny County, Pittsburgh business leaders (the Allegheny Conference for Community Development), the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Carnegie Museums, City of Asylum, Pittsburgh Office of Public Art, The Pittsburgh Foundation, Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh and VisitPittsburgh. Advisers include the former CEO of the Newseum and the director of the Boston Waterworks Museum.