The International Free Expression Project is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to working with advocacy and educational organizations to build public support for free expression at a time when it is under grave threat around the world.
An iconic symbol of free expression: The project will sponsor, with the Pittsburgh region, the commissioning of a signature, internationally recognized work of public art representing a free press and free expression. Its site will incorporate parts of massive, dismantled presses of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, whose ancestors were among the original publishers of the world’s seminal proclamations of free-expression rights: the U.S. Bill of Rights in 1791 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This iconic symbol will stand near the former Post-Gazette site at the front entrance of a major American city. It will be the first of its kind in the world, declaring that all people should be able to say what they want and be who they are.
The location: Among the neighbors of this monumental work of art 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 Post-Gazette site will display artworks and artifacts from a vast pressroom where two historic newspapers were published, as well as a towering green-and-silver press. All or part of the block-long former pressroom will serve as Pittsburgh’s front parlor, strikingly visible through 30-foot arched windows that stretch along a central downtown boulevard. The pressroom 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, a Marketplace of Ideas featuring food stands, coffee carts, cafés, artworks, projections, buskers, popup performances and the like — an explosion of expression. Sprinkled throughout will be videos, robots, e-games, 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 newly invented e-games and digital activities will be available to the world online, with versions adapted for the use of teachers and free-expression advocacy organizations.
A major art exhibition: The unfolding public introduction of the project will include popup displays and performances, followed by a major exhibition featuring artifacts, projections and original 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 eventually will be displayed in the Marketplace of Ideas. A wide variety of artists, photographers, writers, filmmakers and performers will be invited to exhibit 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, even 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. For instance, 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 are troubled and 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 chair of the International Free Expression Exchange, a network of 119 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.