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Randyland Is a Feast for the Eyes

by Susan O'Connor

Pittsburgh’s past as an industrial hub is still evident throughout the city. However, there is also significant evidence that the metropolis has been and continues to be a center of creativity. After all, Andy Warhol was born and raised here. Yet, something that might not be on the radar of the slew of visitors the city sees daily is a site simply known as Randyland.

Randyland is nestled in the historic North Side neighborhood. This part of the city dates back to 1784 and was once known as the City of Allegheny before being annexed by the City of Pittsburgh in 1906. Spanning about 36 blocks, the neighborhood includes parks, the Buhl Planetarium, The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the National Aviary, and other attractions. Randyland, however, is a must-see attraction.

Driving up the street, there is no doubt which property is Randyland. Even before you get to it, the bright yellow building with bursts of multiple other colors immediately grabs your attention.

As you walk up to the house, you are greeted with messages and thoughts that make you happy or at least make you think. One example is a hand-written note that states, “You don’t need a lot to have it all.” You will also notice welcome signs in various languages from around the world, reportedly the largest international welcome wall in America.

Even the bricks on the sidewalk are individually hand-painted in different colors. There is so much to see here. Everywhere you turn, a different piece of art will catch your eye. It is a hodgepodge collection of what is often considered found object art. For example, take note of the variety of Coca-Cola and other commercial signs, and the array of Christmas decorations, including trees, lights, and more, spattered throughout the property.

There are installations that can even be a bit nostalgic. For example, a sandbox filled with children’s toys, some from a bygone era, have been discarded or broken. It might remind you a bit of the Land of Misfit Toys, but these toys have been given a new life thanks to art.

Additionally, you will be drawn to the collage of paint cans affixed to a wall, the old televisions and colorful planters, and the mirrors throughout the property, allowing us to see our own reflection through the art.

Art is often used to convey thoughts, values, beliefs, and ideas. Take the installation called “Information for World Happiness,” which highlights various messages, but one simply lets us know that smiles use about 13 muscles, while frowns use up to 47 muscles.

Another exhibit includes a mountain of plastic objects with a hand-painted frowny face, reminding us of the futility of many products made from synthetic material. This statement encourages us all to recycle and repurpose items, but possibly also to rethink our consumption habits.

You see themes throughout Randyland, including peace, respect, and love, as well as the value of art and how it impacts our lives. You can’t help but feel something here. After all, art has always played a role in advancing society.

Randyland was established in 1994 by Randy Gilson and his life partner David McDermott. Gilson was born in Titusville, PA, in 1957. He moved to the North Side neighborhood in 1978 and has been a longtime neighborhood activist focused on parks, gardens, and streetscapes.

No, the art is not for sale, but there is merchandise available for purchase. If you’re lucky, someone might even be painting when you visit. Randyland is a great selfie spot or location for a perfect Instagram moment. This iconic spot, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, is worth the drive.


1501 Arch Street

Pittsburgh, PA

Article and Photography By Shuan Butcher

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