What Does an Art Degree Do

Carlow's art grads don't have to go far to find a home. These six artists are finding success right here in Pittsburgh.

Art abounds on Carlow's campus. There are sculptures in our gardens, murals on our walls, photographs and paintings in our buildings.

The gallery on the first floor of our University Commons has showcased some of Pittsburgh’s greatest artists, like famed photographer Teenie Harris.

Carlow’s Oakland location—the vibrant "Eds, Meds, and Tech" heart of Pittsburgh—is also ground zero for the arts in Pittsburgh. A few blocks in one direction is the Carnegie Museum of Art. Just down Fifth Avenue is the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods are peppered with smaller galleries like Boxheart and Percolate (both owned and operated by Carlow alums). Gallery crawls in Lawrenceville and Bloomfield are a monthly occurrence, full of food, music and, of course, lots of art.

Carlow provides multiple degrees for artists. Students major in art with concentrations in art therapy preparation, ceramics, graphic design, interactive media, media arts and animation, painting and drawing, and photography. This fall, there’s a brand new Master of Arts in Art degree, meant to supplement and enhance a working artist’s craft.

“The critiques students receive in our program are gentle but rigorous,” says Dale Huffman, chair of Carlow’s art department. “The sense of hospitality that’s such a hallmark of the Sisters of Mercy is something I see daily in my studio.”

Graduates of Carlow’s art programs make great art. And they make a living, too.

Some sell their art. Some teach others to refine and hone their own art. And many of them showcase works of art in well-respected studios—and in the public—right here in our city.

In fact, Pittsburgh is known for its art. The Washington Post recently published a guide to the best public art in Pittsburgh, calling it “A City With a Big Art Scene.” You can see their walking tour at pittsburghartplaces.org.

Carlow University Magazine recently spoke with several of the many well-known art graduates who are living, working, and creating art within our city. They offer advice for aspiring artists—and they reflect on the impact their Carlow education had upon their lives.


Amber, art therapy major

Amber Coppings ’01, BA in Art Therapy

Amber Coppings started, and finished, as an art therapy major. She loved making art, and she loved helping people, too. After a decade of owning and operating her own fashion accessory business, creating fiber art and textiles, and expanding her skills to include digital design and fabrication, Coppings found herself working with POWER, the only residential program in Allegheny County designed specifically to treat women in recovery. “I’ve worked with them in different capacities over the years, but this fall I start a year-round program, using art to heal and build confidence and give back to the community.” 

Advice: “You have to be flexible with yourself. Don’t be rigid, especially in the beginning. Be open to finding out what you’re good at. Expose yourself to as many options as possible.”


Carolyn, an art major with a concentration in paintingCarolyn Pierotti ’14, BA in Art: Painting

Carolyn Pierotti, vice president of the Pittsburgh Society of Artists, director of Percolate Gallery in Wilkinsburg, owner of Purple Room Fine Art LLC, and exhibiting painter, came to Carlow in search of a school that could give her the kind of personal attention artists need in order to thrive. Pierotti knew she wanted to be a better painter, but all it took was one painting class with professor William Debernardi to convince her she made the right choice.“If Bill [Debernardi] and Dale [Huffman] didn’t push me as hard as they did, I wouldn’t be here,” says Pierotti.“They gave me the tools that I needed to be the artist I am.” 

Advice: Pierotti’s advice for her own three children is applicable to all aspiring creative people, too: “Do what you love. Life is too short not to.”


Alison, an art education majorAlison Zapata ’98, BA in Art Education

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, second-generation Mexican-American artist Alison Zapata is a painter and muralist— in addition to her own work, she assisted Jordan Monahan with his famous East Liberty mural “Lend Me Your Ears.” Not content to stick to making art, Zapata is an art educator, too. Carlow’s roots in education were a major factor in her choice of university. “Carlow had a good art education program, and it was right in the city,” says Zapata.“It set the pace for what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years.” 

Advice: “Don’t have any inhibitions about your art. Work out your ideas. Create as much as possible. And always keep an eye out for new opportunities."


Malia, an art education majorMalia Bennett ’05, BA in Art Education

Malia Bennett came to Carlow as an adult student, right after the birth of her second child. Carlow offered exactly what she wanted: to be challenged academically while still feeling like she was in a safe space to explore other areas of interest. One of those interests was teaching—this is Bennett’s first year as the head the art department at Trinity High School in Washingon, Pa., where she has taught ceramics and sculpture for eight years. Much of her work features animals and buildings, specifically a jackrabbit. “It speaks to our inner landscape, our spirituality, and our deepest, most private selves,” says Bennett. “The buildings in my work are concerned with the façade we construct in order to allow the jackrabbit to function in polite society.” In July, Bennett served as an apprentice potter in Japan, thanks to a fellowship through Funds for Teachers. She also explored the idea of an “expanded classroom,” using social media to connect with students.

Advice: “Don’t be afraid to share your work, look at the work of others, and talk about your inspirations. Allow yourself to be influenced, challenged, and supported by your fellow students and instructors.”


Nicole and Joshua, both art majors, now run an art gallery.Nicole Capozzi ’98 and Joshua Hogan ’97, BA in Art: Painting

Capozzi and Hogan embraced Carlow’s Mercy values as students and continue to do so as owners and operators of Pittsburgh’s BoxHeart Gallery since 2001. “Through the gallery, we strive to bring together artists with diverse experiences and backgrounds in order to emphasize the common set of values and aspirations that define all of us,” says Capozzi. “We look for artists who advocate for equality through their art.” Hogan, the working artist of the couple, often refers to Khalil Gibran’s words from The Prophet: “You are the way and the wayfarers. And when one of you falls down he falls for those behind him, a caution against the stumbling stone. Ay, and he falls for those ahead of him, who though faster and surer of foot, yet removed not the stumbling stone.” A semester at sea, traveling to 15 countries like Egypt, Vietnam and Morocco, laid the foundation for Hogan’s work today, as he creates shapes that communicate interactions he observes between people.

Advice: "Everything takes time, so pace yourself—allow change and growth, but be consistent and persistent."  

By James Foreman