8 Black Women ‘Feeling Good’ in PIT Portrait Series

New artist-in-residence project puts airport staff in spotlight

By gmastrangelo

Published February 26, 2024

Read Time: 3 mins


They are mothers, sisters and daughters, and a few are grandmothers, too. Eight Black women in all, with something else in common.

They all work at Pittsburgh International Airport.

On Feb. 26, PIT artist-in-residence Korey Edmonson gathered with the eight women who modeled for his portrait series, “Feeling Good,” to celebrate the project and their participation. Attendees at the event included airport staff, relatives of the models and Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato.

Valerie Townsend, Director of Airport Security, voiced what Edmonson’s series means to her and all the women featured.

“This is something that’s never been done,” she said. “As a Black woman in our society, we don’t often get recognized in this way for feeling good and recognizing who we are. We are proud to be part of such a dynamic art project that crosses into important diversity initiatives.”

In addition to Townsend, the series features Virginia Culbreath, DBE Program Administrator; Prudina William, Manager, Administrative Services; Cara Kuczma, Director, HR Business Processes; Kandace Adams, former manager, Operations; April Laukaitis, Customer Care Agent; and Customer Service Representatives Tameka Adams and Shelly Snyder.

“As we recognize Black History Month during February, we know that our region has a long legacy of Black leaders who should be recognized, not just within the month of February, but each and every day,” Innamorato said. “This public art initiative continues in a tradition of talent and one that will inspire more generations of artists and leaders.”

Vince Gastgeb, PIT’s Chief Government and Corporate Affairs Officer, added that Edmonson’s work aligns with ACAA’s mission to support diversity and inclusion at the airport.

A year in the making

Edmonson became PIT’s artist-in-residence in 2022.

He started work on the series shortly after he arrived. To help bring the portraits to life, he went further than briefly talking to the women about their roles at the airport. He wanted to learn more about their lives outside of work, too.

“Each and every one of these ladies had their own unique story to them. I think that played a big role in this exhibition,” Edmonson said. “Painting has to do a lot with feeling and technical ability. Getting to know these women allowed me to connect emotionally with the paintings.”

For Edmonson, “Feeling Good” — inspired by the Nina Simone song of the same name — encapsulates each of the women’s stories and their ability to find happiness despite facing challenging times in their lives.

“The final portrait of me was spot on,” said Culbreath. “The portrait described my disposition through canvas and paint. The plus was the bird on my shoulder and in all the portraits. It’s a message to all to soar!”

Edmonson is proud to have his work on display at PIT and hopes the series gives passengers a behind-the-scenes look into the employees who help the airport function every day.

“The main thing is being able to learn more about people and also being able to highlight the Black women within the airport so when people walk past, they can learn more about some of the employees who work there,” Edmonson said.

ACAA Vice President and Chief Human Capital Officer Lisa Naylor said the series spotlights the women in the workforce who all have a hand in the success of the airport and moving the region forward.

“These women are more than airport employees,” she said. “They have faced challenges which have made them strong and resilient. This is the reason why this particular arts and culture program is so very special. It’s about people.”

Innamorato, who took office in January, has made “building an Allegheny County for all” a motto for her administration. She called Edmonson’s project a manifestation of that vision.

“Representation matters,” she said during the event. “I’m proud to see this display in place. As people walk into the airport they get to see first and foremost what Pittsburgh is about and who makes Pittsburgh run.”

Edmonson’s series will be on display at PIT through the end of March, and then the portraits will be gifted to the respective models.

Korey Edmonson’s ‘Feeling Good’ series will be on display at PIT through the end of March, located on the Landside Terminal ticketing level. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

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