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Current Newsletter, 2013-16


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The Firefly Tunnel Project, Egypt/US performance and installation art exchange

I have worked with Tavia both as an artist and as a producer of my work and she is a sensitive and charismatic networker who makes things happen. Her ability to translate ideas and images into thought provoking pieces, will stimulate new work and new artists in a fertile land, rich with the minerals of historic art making. I believe in her morals as a politically driven artist and activist. Border Theory is a philosophy as well as a method. I am excited to see what she brings back to the States both as an artists and an academic.

MacArthur Genius Award winner and Performance Artist, Guillermo Gómez-Peña

At the Mattress Factory, American and Egyptian artists put a fresh spin on global politics, December 2011

Public space is under scrutiny these days, as street mobilizations and tent camps continue to spring up around the globe. The occupation of parks and squares reiterates the fact that physical spaces are still necessary forums for airing grievances, and that the freedom to assemble is a principal tenet of democracy. While some of these spaces are actually private, such as Zuccotti Park in New York City, and Pittsburgh's BNY Mellon Green park, they are a great reminder of what democracy looks like. “Tahrir2” celebrates the use of public space as an instrument of change and a crucial indicator of democracy in action…Overall, Sites of Passage offers a space to reflect on the auspicious events of the past year, and on the global dynamics of changing political landscape.

The City Paper, Nadine Wasserman

Sites of Passage bridges America, Egypt Art exhibit encourages visitors to consider politics, strife in Egypt through artistic dialogue, Fall 2011

In particular, Noha Redwan's “Over My Dead Body” attempts to re-create the experience of Egyptians traveling on the subway during this year's revolution using a variety of media. The experience is both powerful and unnerving. Redwan incorporates seemingly mundane objects, such as seats from a coach bus, a map of Egyptian subway routes, and steel grab bars as part of the installation. In addition, the artwork includes audio of riveting commentary by Egyptian artists discussing brutal crackdowns by loyalist police forces. In the background, one can distinctly hear the rhythmic clacking of a departing subway train. The effect is eerie and atmospheric. Each piece is similarly interactive, allowing one to also become an active participant of the exhibit and feel its emotional tenor…the works that comprise the exhibit are compelling, and the experience is powerful.

The Tartan, Sujaya Balachandran

Pittsburgh Artist Works with the Egyptians on a Language of Peace, Fall 2011

…Now, the project has evolved from the virtual world to the real world in the form of “Sites of Passage,” the latest exhibit to open at the Mattress Factory's annex gallery on Monterey Street. For this Pittsburgh portion of the workshop-exhibit, La Follette and independent curator Katherine Talcott assembled the works of about half a dozen Egyptian artists and about half a dozen Pittsburgh artists, with some overlapping in between. In some ways, the two art worlds—that of Pittsburgh and that of Egypt—are similar, at least demographically speaking. “The contemporary art scene is quite small and I made lots of friends quickly,” La Follette says. “Because it is a Muslim-based society, much of what we learn in modern art is not taught there. However, the young people I worked with were very driven and self-taught. Most of the artists I taught in the workshop were under 30. Most of them were not well versed in installation or performance art.” La Follette says the artists were anxious to show Pittsburghers their city and their art. So much so that she was invited to come back to Egypt in March of this year to teach at an International Art School run by a renowned Egyptian painter, Mohamed Abla. “Abla also runs the only political-cartoon saloon in the Middle East,” says La Follette, whose husband is political cartoonist Gary Huck. “Gary was invited, too. And then the revolution broke out! We decided to go anyway and with a delegation of U.S. artists who I knew I wanted to work with,” La Follette says.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Kurt Shaw

Egypt Initiative Bookend a Revolution, Spring 2011

In her travels to Egypt, Tavia La Follette accidentally bookended a revolution. Starting last summer, the Pittsburgh-based performance artist, designer, puppeteer and curator set a modest goal with her new Firefly Tunnels project: to “build a language of peace through the actions of art.” She first visited the city of Fayoum last summer. On March 17, she completed her second trip, having spent two more weeks participating in what she laughingly calls “an Outward Bound experience of performance and installation art” at the Fayoum Art Center…La Follette says the Egyptians are extremely proud. “The revolution changes everything about this project,” she says. What was once supposed to be purely cultural became inescapably political. Artists who could once have been arrested for making revolutionary art can now explore it. In Egypt, things felt safe enough that La Follette brought her two young children, but she and her artists were still uncomfortable bringing a spirit-of-the-revolution-type puppet they crafted to Tahrir Square.

Pittsburgh City Paper, Lucy Steigerwald

Pittsburgh Artistic Renaissance

ArtUp, a leading arts education organization in Pittsburgh…

The Economist, Yael Friedman

ART BRIEFS, August 2006

The July 7 Gallery Crawl, a quarterly multi-venue event sponsored by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, drew “an incredible number of people” to Artists Upstairs' two-story space, says Burroughs. Burroughs expressed admiration for the group—“they really have had some great installations,” he says —and for its energetic founder and executive director, Tavia La Follette. “Tavia's just, she's terrific,” he says. “She's a ball of fire, that woman.” RIDC has been trying unsuccessfully to market the cavernous first-floor space to restaurateurs since early 2004, and has no plans for it, says Burroughs.

Artists Upstairs ( had occupied the 5,800-square-foot second-floor space since New Year's Eve 2005. La Follette, now an acting instructor at Chatham College struck a deal with RIDC to use the bare-brick-walled, concrete-floored venue, renewable monthly, in exchange for nominal monthly payments. She assembled a team of notable (and essentially volunteer) collaborators, including fine-art curator Erin O’Neill, theater artist Melanie Dreyer and political cartoonist Gary Huck. The space—and later the similarly sized first floor—hosts a wide variety of visual art shows and theatrical and musical performances by artists local and national, established and emerging.

Pittsburgh City Paper, Bill O’ Driscoll

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