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Civic Impact

Vanessa German's Love Front Porch expands to an art house in Homewood

Vanessa German's front porch community art project at her Homewood house -- Love Front Porch -- is set to expand this week when German opens an entire "art house" one door down to accommodate all the neighborhood kids who now insist on making art.
German, who sculpts and performs poetry and other arts, was creating large figures on her porch when local kids stopped playing at being a gang in her alley and started asking to join her and make their own art. That's when she knew she was onto something big.
"When they're on the porch, most of the time I am also working, so the porch becomes a kind of open studio -- an open art access point," she says. The kids use her paints, or help with sculptures, or use wood and coffee cans or anything else she can muster as their media.
German, named Pittsburgh Center for the Arts' 2012 Emerging Artist of the Year, recalls working recently with CMU artist Yona Harvey on the front porch - part of German's preparation for her PCA exhibition. One young girl visiting the porch said she had never met a poet before and pulled down Harvey's hand to read a sheaf of poems. That's how hungry the children are for art experiences, German marvels.
She and partner Michelle Carello plan to bring their other artist friends to the new art house to share their talents with the kids, including trumpeter Sean Jones and comic-book artist Jim Rugg.
"I've seen that they understand that there is a place for art and that art is a part of their lives," she says of the kids who have painted her fence and porch and increasingly crowd the small yard. "I've seen that the neighborhood protects the space. They look out for the kids and the space and they understand what is happening. It's like a sense of community that is definitely new to me, but it's wonderful.
"I live around a lot of prostitution and drug activity," she adds. "To see the way even people who are doing things that are unsavory care about and protect the front yard! They'll stand at the fence and say, 'I like that one' and 'That one is new!' The kids know the same people. It's not a judgmental space, but it is opening up a space for human communication."
The kids have learned to share, to protect each other and to accept a compliment, she reports. "I'm watching them start to steward each other. They take care of each other, and that's directly related" to their participation in the art. "When the art house opens, we'll have more art projects to direct them to."
The art house has seen its share of troubles, German says. She and Carello ended up temporarily caring for three of the four children who lived there, after they were removed and the house was closed as uninhabitable earlier this year. The house has since been cleaned up and Allegheny Housing Rehabilitation Corporation is allowing Love Front Porch to use it temporarily. German plans to hold public art days in the house as well.
Though the house opens this week, German is seeking funds to make the art house complete -- it doesn't even have furniture yet. She plans for it to have "the same organic sense of learning that artists" enjoy, and the same atmosphere as Love Front Porch: "an environment that kids can trust but explore."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Vanessa German
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