By Karen Alexander, PGH in 360 Director

It’s been a long time since the last PGH in 360 blog post, and so much has happened since then. This is the first of a few posts to catch you up on events over the year. Among other developments, 2 new videos were produced by youth through PGH in 360, more than 100 people donned VR headsets at three different events to watch our 360 videos, and the project was honored by inclusion in 100 Voices of AR and VR in Education (more on that in an upcoming post!). It’s been a good year! But sadly, this time was not without troubling, violent events.

Community Stronger Than Hate

Like so many in Pittsburgh, across the country, and around the world I was sent reeling in pain and shock by the horror and tragedy of the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Coming together with others at vigils and marches in the aftermath helped. I found in those gatherings the spirit that has endeared Pittsburgh to me, one in which neighbors care for one another and work for the good of all. PGH in 360’s fiscal sponsor, New Sun Rising, put it like this:

We are not at all surprised by the outpouring of empathy, advocacy, love, and material support from so many sides of Pittsburgh’s life to come to the aid of the Tree of Life community. NSR envisions a future where the strong social fabric and authentic potential of people creates a foundation for transformative change. Every day, we join our partners in a commitment to create vibrant communities that leave no room for hate or isolation, and resolutely build compassion for our neighbors.

I am proud that PGH in 360 is a member of the New Sun Rising Community, proud to be a Pittsburgher, and proud to stand with our neighbors against hate.

Tackling Tough Issues; Finding a Home
In June, PGH in 360 partnered with the Lighthouse Project, a program for media and performance arts based at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA. Eight young people ranging in age from 13 to 22 participated. They split into two teams, each of which produced a 360-degree video over the course of two weeks.
Gun violence emerged as an important issue that youth in the program felt strongly about and wanted to tackle in 360. While shootings had already touched the lives of some of these young people, in the first week of the program the pervasiveness of the problem was hard to ignore. On the very first day, local rapper Jimmy Wopo, at 21 younger than some of our filmmakers, was shot dead. The very next day, 17-year-old Antwon Rose II was killed by a gun shot to the back when running away from a police stop. We decided that one group of the students would go to the rally that was held downtown in response to Rose’s murder, and they captured 360 footage of it, including a powerful speech by Jasiri X, Executive Director of 1Hood Media.

The 360 video project made by this team was called Black Youth Speaks, Chapter 1: Retaliation Vs. Innocent Lives Lost. It’s an intense piece that opens with a carjacking. The video can be watched on the PGH in 360 website, or directly from YouTube.

The other team started their video with an incident of bullying. The ultimate message is a positive one: TT takes Taneiya, the victim of bullying, to the Lighthouse Project, where she finds community, a place to develop and express her talent for rapping, and A Safe Place, which is the title of the piece. Once again, the healing power of people coming together and supporting one another emerges, and the Lighthouse Project is one of those places that have convinced me of the strong community spirit here in Pittsburgh.

Wonderful creativity was put into A Safe Place and Black Youth Speaks, and they came from the heart. The issues the videos address are ones that matter, and the project gave the creators a new medium in which to explore the topics. Writing, directing, acting, storyboarding for 360, camera operation, editing, soundtracks, titles, and transitions: these were among the skills practiced in bringing the stories to life. And of course, there was teamwork. Though PGH in 360 was designed to introduce young people to XR technologies through the medium of 360, the soft skills used in the program are equally important.

Next post: The public reacts to PGH in 360 videos created by Pittsburgh youth.

Checking out 360 videos in VR at the Lighthouse Project

The crew at the Lighthouse Project