Above: Sculptor Vanessa German, in 2013, with then 5-year-old Rashaun Daffin and friends.

The small Pittsburgh neighborhood of Homewood, a low-income area plagued by high crime rates, is full of vacant lots and row houses. In 2010, 30 percent of homes stood abandoned. But in the bleak surroundings, one building catches the eye: the ARThouse, decorated with vibrantly colored handprints and a cheerful sign in one window that says HOPE.

The ARThouse is home to Love Front Porch, a community arts initiative run by artist Vanessa German. "The kids in this neighborhood have seen some horrific things," says German, 39. "So I want this to be a space where they can paint, make T-shirts, work with clay—and access the best parts of themselves."

German, a Los Angeles native, had been living in Homewood for four years when she began working on her front porch because her basement studio was too crowded with sculptures. Soon, curious young neighbors were coming by to watch, and German started setting out art supplies for her guests. "Some days I had 15 kids in my yard!" she says. When word spread about her informal after-school program, German asked to take over a larger nearby property from a low-income-housing corporation; eventually, the ARThouse was born.

Now the ARThouse, open to kids and adults, has moved to a larger permanent home, which German bought with donations and proceeds from her sculptures. While the new house needs rehab, the most important decisions have already been made. "I asked the kids what color the floor should be," German says, "and they pointed to this little girl Angel's turquoise church shoes—so that's that!"

Photo: Bill Wade/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2015, all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Next Story