John Burt Sanders is the first artist whose work is being featured as part of the WCDC’s newly launched Art All Over Initiative. A partnership with the Sleeping Octopus Arts Initiative (SOAI), Art All Over supports local Wilkinsburg artists by promoting and displaying their work in the WCDC’s newly renovated headquarters in the Lohr Building (725 Wood Street). To learn more, visit

As an artist, John Burt Sanders is the first to admit that his inaugural visit to Pittsburgh was less than picturesque. In fact, he describes it as wintery, grey, and dismal. Even so, he quickly decided that Pittsburgh, specifically Wilkinsburg, was where he wanted to establish his home. Learn more about his choice to stay, the inspiration behind his artwork, and his advice to young artists.


“The first time my friends and I stayed in Wilkinsburg, we had a little campfire going, and throughout the afternoon 10-15 people from around the neighborhood stopped by and we got a chance to meet them. It was a really big welcome and I think that was the instance that solidified our decision to move here.”

“Like everyone else in the world, every few years, my partner and I contemplate moving to a new area. Every time, we come to the same conclusion – it would be near impossible to build a community like the one we have here and we don’t want to give it up. That’s really what’s kept us here in Wilkinsburg permanently. In all of the places I’ve lived, I’ve never known and appreciated my neighbors as much as I do here. When we sit on our porch, every person that walks by is someone we know.

“It’s always one of my goals to make a painting that isn’t obvious – one that might take a minute or two to catch all of the details, see the entire image. It takes time. There’s a reward in spending time with a painting for a while and for there to be new surprises as you stand there and look at it. For some reason, we want this comprehensive, everything all at once understanding of the world, but I think all we end up ever getting are bits and pieces and we put the puzzle together over time – and then it changes. The ‘whole’ might be a goal, but we never get a total understanding all at once. My approach is having something change over time – that the part is maybe more important than the whole. 

A healthy way for any viewer to approach art, in general, is that an artist may have a very specific intention in their work, but as that art goes out into the world it will take on new meanings depending on the person who is seeing it. We all have different contexts behind us that change the way we interpret art. Maybe the most powerful aspect of art is that it can gather new meaning over time.”

“I hope that seeing a local artist show their work in the neighborhood let’s other artists feel comfortable coming out of the woodwork. Sometimes, as artists, we isolate ourselves in our work, and this program may catalyze art as something we do together as a community.” 

“I can’t recommend being an artist for financial security, but I can recommend it for the sense of fulfillment you get from creating something that is all your own. To have something that is yours, that you build, is an extremely fulfilling practice to have. It drives me forward. The more I do it, the more there is for me to do. It is all my own – to change it and shape it – and that is so rewarding.” 

To view John’s work that is currently on display, and to learn more about Art All Over, CLICK HERE.