Within only fourteen days, supporters of Bunker Projects and Mr. Roboto Project raised $50,000. A total of 685 donations brought the two artist-run spaces to the goal needed to buy their building from Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, who had informed Bunker Projects founder Jessie Rommelt that they would be putting the building up for sale in 2024.  

The residency-plus-exhibition space and DIY music venue share 5106 Penn Avenue, where a mint green door invites you into Bunker’s upstairs unit and another door, so densely covered in stickers they appear almost barnacle-like, leads into Roboto’s downstairs performance space. The public comments section of Bunker Projects’s DonorBox campaign to buy the building feels a little bit like that sticker wall, covered in small messages from Pittsburgh’s art and music community.

Jacob Blumenstein-Paul’s comment proclaimed: “We need more spaces like Bunker and Roboto in our city; spaces that are oriented towards community, not commerce.” 

Justin Cummings (with a donation of $69) added: “I was one of the founding members of the original Roboto Project. Good to see it continuing decades later.” 

Others add lines like “Thank you Bunker Projects for collaborating with and platforming Asian American artists!”, “I played my first gig here with Hotdog Water; Short Fictions was headlining, the poster had a crazy ass claymation-looking shark on it. That show was the first of many and ultimately introduced me to my tribe. Thank you Roboto!”

Once the paperwork comes together, Bunker Projects will be the formal owner of 5106 Penn Avenue, with Roboto as a tenant—when BGC first informed Rommelt of the building’s sale, Bunker and Roboto immediately got together and began meeting on a weekly basis. “We had the goal of a $100,000 down payment on a mortgage, and we thought we would have to leave the campaign open over the summer,” Rommelt said. “We really didn’t expect to meet it so fast.”  

But when you hear what community members have to say about the organization, it isn’t surprising how quickly the two organizations raised the funds. Artist and former Bunker Projects board member Tara Fay Coleman noted that “Bunker has supported my professional development as both an independent curator and board member. If it had not been for the opportunity to work with them, my career would not be where it is today. They were the first space to really see me and take me seriously.” 

Bunker Projects. Art by Rosabel Rosalind and Eva Conrad.

Nick Sardo, who exhibited at Bunker Projects in 2023, said that the residency he initially did “was my very first exposure to the more professional art world when I was fresh out of college in 2016. Last year, my most recent and most successful solo show took place in their space. From literally the very, very beginning of my career, Bunker has been a hugely supportive space for me personally, and I would not be nearly as connected to the art community at large if they were not around.” 

And Laurie Trok, whose exhibition Grief Cake is currently on view at Bunker Projects, said that Bunker Projects “helped me redefine my art practice and reconnect with the Pittsburgh arts community. After having my kids and staying with them through Covid lockdowns, I returned to an old practice that I felt I'd outgrown. Bunker facilitated my re-emergence and continues to support and foster growth in my practice that has helped me see my career path forward with more clarity and definition.” 

A week into the crowdfunding campaign, philanthropist Brian Wongchaowart reached out to match it, getting the down payment to the necessary $100,000.

The campaign marks a collaborative effort between the punk/DIY music scene and a fine arts venue, as well as an example of how direct community engagement helps keep an arts culture alive. “Public funds are really precious in terms of the responsibility of using them, and with the later success of the project,” Rommelt said.

In Garfield, the longevity of arts businesses helps assure that the neighborhood’s status as an arts district isn’t just a fad of gentrification, but rather something stable in the community.  “We’re a long term part of the neighborhood,” Rommelt told Pittsburgh Independent, and expressed wanting to use the security of owning the building to collaborate more with local small businesses. 

Upon meeting the campaign goal, the Mr. Roboto Project Instagram posted a meme of the Matt Damon film We Bought a Zoo edited to read WE BOUGHT A ROBOTO. “These are both DIY spaces, and it’s really rare that this gets to happen. There’s a new sense of responsibility with being the building owners,” Rommelt reflected. “It’s a new reference point. If we did this—what else is possible?”