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Artist Interview #22: Multimedia Artist Fran Flaherty

· mixed media,sculpture,fiber,artist interview,Interdisciplinary

Fran Flaherty was the print technician pro at CMU when Sam was a student there over a decade ago. She might be the artist she's known the longest that we've interviewed for this series so far. Plus, you know how much we love studio visits that include doggies!

As a first generation immigrant from the Philippines, her work is centered in issues surrounding migrant family relations and assimilation, maternal feminism, disability aesthetics, and social work. Read on to learn more about her!


Fran Flaherty

Where can we find you online?

Where are you from?

Manila, Philiipines

What neighborhood do you live in now?

Allison Park

What type of artist are you?


When did you first get interested in art?
I've been painting since I was 12, but when I was 10, a friend of my dad, named Jimmy Marcus was an architect. And I was copying this house from a book, and it was just a real quick sketch and it was pretty good. And he looked at it and he said, "Wow, you have real talent." And so he looked at my dad and he said, "You should send this girl to art class." And then I realized oh, I do like doing this stuff. I had a 10 year old flare for it.

Who are your biggest influences?

Louise Bourgeois, definitely. And of course some close friends like Joyce Kozloff.

Oh my gosh, there are so many out there. And there are Filipino artists that I really like to follow. Well my art teacher when I was 12 was a national artist named Rody Herrera. And I would say Ang Kiukok, he was the 2001 Philippine national artist.

What is your favorite part of being an artist in Pittsburgh?

That there's so many artists in Pittsburgh you can collaborate with. Pittsburgh is a big city, small town. You can just talk and hang out with different artists. Artists who are super popular and those who are just starting out. That's really what I like about it.

What would you love to see more of in the Pittsburgh arts scene?

More of that! More of mentoring of successful artists, established artists to the emerging artist. Real mentoring, sanctioned mentoring. Mingles and stuff like that. Just , you know, to help each other out.

Is there something you've created that you are most proud of?

I think I'm really proud of my breast milk jewelry. Being able to get that down. That was kind of like the start of what I would say is my real art career. You know, I was at CMU for a long time, dabbling, dabbling, dabbling, and then I had my kids and then I had all this breast milk in the fridge and they had just finished nursing on me. I knew I didn't want to throw the breast milk away, and I knew I wanted to make art about it. So I had all this milk in my freezer for a ... decade. My husband was saying, "You know, we really need to get rid of all this breast milk in the fridge." Okay, so I ended up making them into jewelry, and then I did it for other women too. I think that probably was like this moment where I found my calling. This is what I need to do, this is what I need my art to be about.

What other things do you do when you are not making art?

I have 3 kids. Full stop.

But really, I have 3 kids. I teach at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. I teach digital fabrication. I also work with a lot of different museums consulting with them on deaf art and accessibility practices. And I consulting with different educational institutions. Right now I'm working with Duquesne, the director of special education at Temple, so I got my tentacles all over.

What would you tell artists who are just starting out?

Don't be afraid to ask for compensation.

Always, always, I think it's good practice to be able to ask for compensation for your work. I think it's good practice for just being an artist. It's also good for your confidence level to reinforce the fact that you're making something valuable, it's worth something. That would be the first thing, don't be afraid to ask for compensations ... the worst thing that they can do is say no.

And there's a map for that. Somebody asked me, "Hey, wanna do something blah blah blah?" Oh yeah, what's your budget? And they might say, "Uh, none."

And then you think about whether you still want to take it on or not. But I think if you get into that habit of asking for compensation, then I think you'll be in a much better place. Instead of waiting for the fact that you think, oh okay, now I can ask for compensation because I feel more valuable. That pay's never gonna come.

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