The North Shore-based nonprofit and event space launched in 2022 houses both public arts programming and two career development programs. Warhol Academy connects its young participants to the creative and tech economies through mentorship and cohort-based learning, and Carnegie Institute is a workforce program licensed by the state to award diplomas in digital marketing.
Both of these training programs offer real-world professional experience. The Warhol Academy, for instance, pays its participants to create content for the Pop District.
“We want to just provide access,” Warhol Academy Program Director Ryan Haggerty told Technical.ly. “And we want to be responsive and provide a space for [participants] to take these risks and feel safe and not have the burden put on them when they’re taking these risks in terms of costs.”
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Both Haggerty and the Warhol Academy’s director of digital marketing, Matt Thornton, previously worked at coding bootcamp Academy Pittsburgh, and say they see the Pop District as an opportunity for the city’s tech pros and artists to benefit one another. The org fosters this by hosting events such as Network Factory, a gathering of tech and tech-adjacent communities, but also, by connecting individuals who complete its fellowships with local jobs.
“Whether that’s somebody needing live audio done, or video, or influencers doing things for brands, people need not only the skills and knowledge to learn how to do that,” Haggerty said, “but they need a network of professionals that are actively engaged that can get them that word-of-mouth engagement, to actually get their foot in the door to do something.”
The Pop District has collaborated with the likes of Innovation Works by having its students produce content for the early-stage startup booster and its UpPrize Social Innovation Challenge. Thornton noted that part of the initiative’s goal is to pull people from underrepresented backgrounds into tech or tech-adjacent roles.
“We tap them into people that are legitimized in the tech community, and say, ‘Hey, here’s someone you can work with,’ ‘Hey, here’s the workshop you can take for free,’” Thornton said. “‘Here’s a fellowship that you could get paid for and this is how we’re bridging the gap.’”
Pittsburgher Cerrina Hagood participated in the Warhol Academy’s six-month Digital Documentary Fellowship and is now completing its Social Media Fellowship, which she felt would complement her cinema production major. She told Technical.ly that what was appealing to her about the Pop District’s programming was that it gave her the hands-on experience that wasn’t being offered to her as a student at Point Park University.
“My school wasn’t giving me the opportunities to find filmmakers who are in the industry, and who are freelancing, and actually making a career out of it,” Hagood said. “So going there, and seeing the representation, and also getting hands-on experience was something that interests me, and then also being able to make my own projects.”
The Digital Documentary Fellowship entailed weekly lessons, a personal project and a profile on the other fellows, while the Social Media Fellowship also includes weekly classes and projects where fellows are encouraged to capture events the way an influencer would. Now that Hagood is simultaneously completing a marketing internship at STEM nonprofit Citizen Science Lab, she says she’s getting to apply what she’s learning in the Social Media Fellowship in real time.
“One week we would learn about hashtags, captions, and keywords, and then we would have an assignment on that as well,” Hagood said. “Then we also have projects that we have to do and events that we have to do and capture.” She appreciates that both fellowships are paid and give fellows the opportunity to freelance at events.
Thornton said many young artists have criticized how difficult it can be to be a working artist within the city. By offering fellowships, chances to learn technical knowledge, networking opportunities, and a chance to gain experience they get to apply in real-world situations, the Pop District is a chance to provide support for artists where it’s needed.
“We’re just interested in bringing people together and then supplying them with opportunities,” Thornton said.Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.