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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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All I really need to know in life I learned from doing graffiti

Des Moines graffiti at the Des Moines Social Club. Photo by  Regan76  on Flickr, labeled for reuse.

Des Moines graffiti at the Des Moines Social Club. Photo by Regan76 on Flickr, labeled for reuse.

The Des Moines Register, February 26, 2016 by Michael Morain, mmorain@dmreg.com.

About 50 local high school students gathered downtown Friday for an unusual workshop that could have been called “All I really need to know in life I learned from doing graffiti.”

Start with an outline. Fill in the details. Fix the mistakes. Work together. Step back and admire the results.

“You can’t short-cut things. There’s a certain level of discipline to it,” the local graffiti artist who goes by Asphate told the group. “You’ve got to set yourself up for success.”

The graffiti project on a train car-size wall in the Des Moines Social Club courtyard was one of a handful of hands-on art activities at the third RunDSM Teen Summit. The two-day event organized by students in the Des Moines Public Schools’ Urban Leadership program encourages their peers to raise issues that concern them — racism, sexism, violence, social injustice — and then brainstorm solutions.

About 200 students from all the Des Moines high schools gathered for various town hall sessions titled “The N Word,” “White Privilege” and “Media Influence on Society,” among others. Afterward, they split up to put those ideas into spoken-word poetry, photography  — or spray paint. The mural took shape over the course of an hour, first with a basic outline, then with jumbo turquoise letters that spelled TEEN SUMMIT.

Jaihon McCaleb, a North High School sophomore, stepped away from the mural for a moment to explain that the activities teach participants how to “be free,” how to “be comfortable and be yourself.”

Roosevelt High School senior Zakariyah Hill went to a morning session titled “Confidence in Color: Knowing and Embracing Your Roots” and said she learned about “our history, our roots, and then how to express that through art.”

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L.A.’s Urban Compass Starts 2nd Decade Helping Watts Youth

Photo of  Urban Compass  participant serving as mentors to young members of the community. Photo by  Urban Compass .

Photo of Urban Compass participant serving as mentors to young members of the community. Photo by Urban Compass.

New America Media, March 6, 2016, by Deirdre Newman.

LOS ANGELES - On a playground in Watts, surrounded by barbed wire, kids are playing and laughing. Immersed in the joy of the moment - and insulated from what is going on around them - they are part of a program called Urban Compass. Its mission is going into the grittiest, low-income Los Angeles neighborhoods to keep kids in school and out of gangs, typically the only other viable alternative for survival.

Now beginning its second decade, the nonprofit was founded in 2005 by Patrick McNicholas, a plaintiffs' attorney at his family's Los Angeles law firm, McNicholas & McNicholas LLP, and Don Morgan, a community development consultant who teaches public policy at the University of Southern California (USC).

300 Kids Helped--And Counting
Their model of cultivating partnerships is a big reason for Urban Compass' longevity, McNicholas said. 

“We went to one of the most difficult neighborhoods in the country and were able to find people with staying power and create an organization that has not only been supportive and successful of the community that it’s in, but it’s also a model that can be replicated easily throughout the state and the country,” McNicholas said.

Urban Compass partners with a Jesuit high school to bring underserved children from adjacent elementary schools children to receive private tutoring, mentoring and enrichment activities. 

Over the past decade, the nonprofit has served approximately 300 kids from kindergarten through fifth grade, who attend 112th Street School next to the Nickerson Gardens housing project, one of the largest in the country.

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Houston Street Cultures Unite To Break Stereotypes Through Art


Houston Public Media, January 28, 2016, by Amy Bishop

Walk into Shorty’s Hydraulics in North Houston on any given afternoon and you’ll be met with a number of sounds: grinding metal, the crackling of a welding stick, and Tejano music thumping. On this day, a shiny, copper-colored 1960s Chevrolet is hoisted several feet off the ground. It’s a lowrider that’s being fashioned with custom-designed chrome metalwork.

Sotero Villarreal, or “Shorty,” is supplying a few of their masterfully painted cars for an event that may surprise some – an art installation at Discovery Green.

“It’s a subculture just like graffiti is,” says local street artist and muralist Mario Figueroa, Jr., better known around town as GONZO247. “And I see a lot of parallels between the subculture of lowriders fighting stereotypes and knowing who you are and what you represent through your vehicle. I see the parallel with the graffiti artist and a spray can.”

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Colombian street artists graffiti for peace

A man walks past graffiti that reads: "Peace for the people, human rights" in the Chipichape neighbourhood in Cali, Colombia on January 9, 2016 (AFP Photo/Luis Robayo)

A man walks past graffiti that reads: "Peace for the people, human rights" in the Chipichape neighbourhood in Cali, Colombia on January 9, 2016 (AFP Photo/Luis Robayo)


AFP, January 27, 2016

Bogota (AFP) - A pineapple that looks strikingly like a grenade is spray-painted on one wall, while another is splashed with carnations sprouting from rifle barrels.

 As Colombia seeks a historic peace agreement to end five decades of conflict with the FARC rebels, war and peace are increasingly popping up as themes in the graffiti around the capital Bogota, where street art is booming.
"I wanted to send a message that would open people's minds," says DjLu, a graffiti artist known for dotting the city center with black-and-white images such as soldiers shooting heart-shaped bullets.
DjLu, who prefers not to give his real name, doubles as an art professor at Catholic University of Colombia when he isn't out spray-painting public spaces as a self-described "servant of peace." 

"I'm not a guy who's been uprooted by the conflict, let's be clear about that. I'm simply human, and as a human I think the conflict is absurd," he told AFP.

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