Artists Debut in ‘Butterfly Legacy’ Mural on Duolingo Building | Visual arts | Pittsburgh
Public art, particularly murals, has become increasingly prominent in the Pittsburgh art community. In 2003, “Lend Me Your Ears,” a mural by Jordan Monahan, completed with the help of Alison Zapata, was one of many art projects that welcomed visitors and honored the residents of East Liberty.
But in 2015, “Lend Me Your Ears” was painted over, and soon after, language-learning software company Duolingo took over ownership of 5900 Penn Avenue where the mural was located. Many community members saw this as a result of the rampant gentrification plaguing the neighborhood and criticized the decision to paint over the mural.
In response to concerns and criticism, Duolingo pledged $150,000 in grants focused on “creating public art in Pittsburgh and supporting local artists and arts organizations.”
Zapata and fellow artist Natiq Jalil have collaborated on a new mural project supported by Duolingo, titled “The Legacy of Butterflies.” On April 6, the artwork was unveiled after years of planning and can now be seen from the S. Beatty Street side of the Duolingo building.
The mural marks the first piece of public art to come out of Duolingo’s community arts program.
Jalil says he was still living in New York when he was approached by Zapata about the mural. He says working on the piece was different from painting on canvas, which is what he usually works with, and also needed protective elements to help the mural sustain damage associated with UV rays, rain and other difficult conditions.
Jalil also says he used a new method: painting the mural in pieces rather than combining them together.
“It took more than a year to complete the bureaucracy part of the project, such as contracts and other documents, sourcing materials and supplies, obtaining permits, etc.,” says Jalil. Pittsburgh City Paper by email. “It took about three to four months of actual painting time to complete the six panels that make up the mural.”
“The Legacy of Butterflies” is added to “To Be Human”, another mural wrapped around parts of the building. Completed in October 2020, “To Be Human,” which was performed by Detroit-based artist Ann Lewis, was cited by Duolingo as a response to community outrage over the loss of “Lend Me Your Ears “, and included an outreach to student premises, as well as a companion project from Pittsburgh filmmaker Chris Ivey.
Jalil says that while making “The Legacy of Butterflies” presented its share of challenges, the project was always rewarding.
“Overall it was a great experience,” says Jalil. “There were many setbacks, including losing the project at one point, then having to negotiate what we could paint, and then getting paperwork signed. However, once we got the panels into the studio , it was nothing but fun. We had an amazing time.”