Through Art, A Performer Heals Traumatized Youth from Pittsburgh’s Troubled Suburbs

It took a gruesome mass shooting to draw attention to the city's bordering towns, but Vanessa German has been trying to help kids in the gun violence-riddled area for years.

It took a gruesome mass shooting to draw attention to the city's bordering towns, but Vanessa German has been trying to help kids in the gun violence-riddled area for years.

The Trace, March 18, 2016, by: Jennifer Mascia.

 the wake of the shooting death of five people, including a pregnant woman, during a family cookout in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, on March 9, legislators and community leaders in the battle-scarred community have scrambled to address the ever-present threat of gun violence in Pittsburgh and its surrounding area.

“We are not going to stand for this,” Wilkinsburg Borough Councilor Marita Garrett said at a meeting of concerned citizens three days after the targeted ambush. “No more vigils, no more meetings to discuss this, we have to take action.”

Vanessa German, a sculpture and performance artist who lives in neighboring Homewood, has spent the last five years taking action in the only way she knows how: encouraging the area’s youngest residents, who sometimes wake to the sound of gunfire, to heal their trauma by making art. It is an impulse that stems from her own childhood in the Mid-City area of Los Angeles, where gang members wielded decommissioned AK-47s from slow-moving cars with darkened headlights. Haunted by the violence around her, and obsessed with the randomness of it, she discovered that giving voice to her ideas was the way she could feel most alive.

German, 39, had the idea to engage children in her new hometown in 2011, after she saw a man fatally shoot a neighbor. That year, Rachel Maddow called Homewood “America’s most dangerous neighborhood.” German began sculpting on her porch, a spectacle that attracted curious kids from the surrounding area, who were soon making art right alongside her. She called the project Love Front Porch. Instead of playing a game impersonating gang members in nearby alleyways, kids appear on German’s doorstep ready to arm themselves with paintbrushes.

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