Art in the Garden

Art in the Garden is OMA Pittsburgh’s first educational program. It’s centered around investing in the resiliency and social and emotional development of Pittsburgh’s youth.


Art in the Garden is OMA Pittsburgh’s first program for youth. Art in the Garden started in 2012 when Scilla Wahrhaftig, the former head of the Pittsburgh branch of the American Friends Service Committee, saw a void in East Liberty in activities available to youth after school and in the summer. Following her lead, Art in the Garden continues to engage youth in urban gardens in active, structured, and supportive ways. Every year since Art in the Garden’s inception, youth and their families have expressed a desire and need for expanded programing.

In 2017, Art in the Garden expanded from a few hours 1x a week to four hours a day 3x a week.

In 2018, with support from The Heinz Endowments, the Neighbors Committee, and individuals like you, we were able to expand enrollment and to hire more staff, including two Junior Counselors who had attended Art in the Garden in the early days! We’re so proud they are choosing to be leaders. We also were able to offer two Surviving to Thriving training seminars to the public. These seminars focus on social, emotional, mental and behavioral health issues of youth and skills adults can use to support youth.

In 2019, Art in the Garden is expanding programming to the African Healing Garden in Larimer. Youth will be able to attend camp at a single site—the African Healing Garden on Mondays or Borland Garden on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays—or at both sites. We are also developing and implementing a curriculum to be used by Art in the Garden teachers (and ultimately to share freely with other interested programs!) which focuses on fostering resilience and social and emotional development through hands-on projects in the arts and ecology.


Art in the Garden helps to create a just society. In line with the recommendations from The Aspen Institute’s 2019 report, From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope, Art in the Garden aims to affirm the cultural backgrounds of the youth we serve, focus on whole-child development, engage restorative approaches to conflict, nurture relationships, engage youth in arts and ecological activities that support values of responsibility and resilience, and help youth develop tools to process and heal from trauma. The report states: “[A]ll children can experience stress and trauma, regardless of family income or background. But low-income students and students of color in our society, as well as their families, are more likely to be exposed to chronic unbuffered stress—such as violence, food shortages, homelessness, or the loss of a parent…. Ensuring access to high-quality, equitable learning environments that respond to each child’s needs, assets, culture, and stage of development can help mitigate some of these stresses and provide a pathway to a more equitable future.”

Supporting the social and emotional development of youth—such as helping youth develop tools to process and heal from trauma—contributes to the creation of a healthy, inclusive, and equitable society. Above all, Art in the Garden seeks to enable youth to grow in their understanding of connectedness to themselves, each other, and our earth. Our programming supports youth knowing—in deep and lasting ways—the interconnectedness of all living beings, and the ways in which we are all whole and all belong.

Surviving to Thriving Seminars

Surviving to Thriving training seminars are free and open to the public. Our vision is for Pittsburgh to become a model for best practices in social & emotional learning and in trauma informed care & resilience. In order to support this vision, we at OMA Pittsburgh hold Surviving to Thriving seminars.

Save the dates! Summer 2019 Surviving to Thriving Seminars are Saturdays, June 15th & August 10th. Attendees—educators, administrators, parents, grandparents, and anyone working with youth—will gain an understanding of social, emotional, mental and behavioral health issues and learn necessary skills to support youth. Keynote speakers and workshops teach concrete, actionable holistic skills adults can use to support youth in developing resilience and stronger brain architecture including: developing mindfulness practices, strengthening conflict transformation, fostering supportive relationships with youth, and skills that support youth for development of social and emotional intelligence. Using community collaborative learning sessions, we are developing greater awareness about the needs that exist for healthy youth development and holistic and accessible skills that can support the healthy development of mind, body, and spirit beyond our program in all aspects of their lives.


Camp runs from 9-1 Mondays-Thursdays, June 24th-August 22nd. Youth will be able to attend camp at a single site—the African Healing Garden in Larimer on Mondays and Borland Garden in East Liberty on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays—or at both sites. Youth receive free breakfast and lunch from Earthen Vessels. Registration priority is given to underserved youth from the neighborhoods we serve. All of our programming invests in the resiliency and social and emotional well-being of youth. Youth develop abilities to identify and process emotions and channel their energies into activities that support their ability to live their fullest expressions of themselves. Our vision is to become a model for best practices in social and emotional learning and in trauma-informed care and resilience. Research shows that youth thrive when they can recognize and express their emotions in healthy ways: their emotional intelligence and social skills increase, anxiety and depression decrease, they are less likely to bully others, they have better academic performance, and they have stronger leadership skills. 

Community Partners

Art in the Garden features workshops with community partners that empower youth to see themselves as creators of positive change. Our 2019 community partners:

Sankofa Village for the Arts will engage youth through West African musical and performance traditions. Youth will use sound and movement as a tool for regulating emotions, and developing self-esteem, self-discipline, and self-determination.

TOPittsburgh will provide interactive theatre and drama workshops each week, using exercises and games from Theatre of the Oppressed. In Theatre of the Oppressed, developed in the 1970’s by Brazilian theatre director Augusto Boal, participants analyze systems of oppression, share stories of oppression from their own lives, and rehearse strategies to overcome these systems and make positive change in the world. Boal’s approach is across the globe in a variety of fields and contexts, including: politics, therapy, conflict resolution, and education.

The Clay Workshop with ceramic artists Sandra Moore, Shawn Terrell, and Frank McNutt will provide the tools and materials for youth to make a series of unique clay artifacts. Youth learn about a variety of surface treatments such as burnishing, stamps, texture and glaze and the low fire technique, Horsehair Raku. As youth discuss what their clay piece needs to survive the firing, which they do in a kiln built on site, they also have the opportunity to discuss resilience and what they each need in order to thrive in the face of challenges. Building on sequential firings, youth learn to create more durable and better-constructed pieces.

The Storymobile from Reading is FUNdamental Pittsburgh will bring stories, activities, books, and literary resources to Art in the Garden. Each time The Storymobile visits, youth will be given a book to expand their home libraries.

SOAR Coaching Academy provides a workshop in which youth will experience the value of being their true selves and choosing to live an authentic life based on positive self-image, identifying their strengths, and connecting to others. 

Earthen Vessels provides free breakfast and lunch for all of the youth.


The Art in the Garden curriculum focuses on secular mindfulness and emotional well-being through the arts and ecology. One strand of our curriculum, headed by Sten Carlson, combines concepts from social emotional learning and trauma informed care with innovative growing practices from permaculture and agroforestry. It engages youth in a solutions-based approach to global warming. On the ground, this curriculum observes trees and other perennial plant “guilds” that mutually support one another, improving ecosystem health and increasing biodiversity while producing food and other products useful to humans. These systems of mutual support and abundance become analogs for the social-emotional realities of youth’s lives. Youth develop empathy and sensitivity through working with plants; they learn how plants grow more resilient and adaptive in guilds through cooperation, sharing of resources, and increased diversity.

Another strand of our curriculum, headed by Emily Carlson, combines art activities with what we know about neuroplasticity and how social and emotional learning changes the brain. As youth engage various weekly themes—such as recognizing emotions, basic goodness, perspective-taking, gratitude, resilience, and compassion—through the arts, they find that that instead of reacting impulsively they’re more often able to step back and choose how they want to respond, even in difficult situations. The premise is this: when we develop our ability to care for ourselves, our compassion for ourselves and others grows. As youth create masks, poems, music, sculptures, and mosaics they learn the value of their voices, experience the joy of creation, and celebrate one another.

Monthly Activities for Youth

One positive effect of OMA’s Art in the Garden summer program has been to inspire Borland Garden members to invite young gardeners to participate in fun activities during our monthly community outdoor garden work party. Borland Garden learned best practices for community building like: offering family and child-friendly gardening activity and gardening space, offering foods to prepare and taste, teaching a game or offering an arts activity. Cathy Fitzgerald is creating a guide with a calendar of favorite gardening, cooking and arts activities to share with other interested urban gardens that have young gardeners in their community.

We Believe

We believe that when we grow in our understanding of connectedness to ourselves, each other, and our earth, we are able build a better neighborhood.

We believe mindfulness practices have the power to help youth as they work to reframe untrue and distorted or limiting beliefs and that this can create space for the positive transformation of self, family, and community.

We believe it is morally imperative to prevent early childhood adversity and equip adults with tools to support youth.

We believe that all people deserve access to healthy food.

We believe all people have a right to easily access and enjoy green space.

We believe children need nature and we believe in the transformative power and healing potential of nature.


To contact us, please email:


Art in the Garden is made possible by support from individuals like you, Borland Garden, The Neighbors Committee, and The Heinz Endowments.

“The Heinz Endowments is devoted to the mission of helping our region prosper as a vibrant center of creativity, learning, and social, economic and environmental sustainability. Core to our work is the vision of a just community where all are included and where everyone who calls southwestern Pennsylvania home has a real and meaningful opportunity to thrive.”