Gillian Laub for The New York Times
John Fetterman, mayor of Braddock.
At the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado last July, John Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock, a small Pennsylvania town 10 miles upriver from Pittsburgh, was introduced by Dana Gioia, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, as a man who demonstrates “how ideas can change the world.” It was four days into the weeklong festival, and Fetterman, a 41-year-old, 6-foot-8 white man with a shaved head, a fibrous black beard and tattoos up one arm and down the other, was presenting a slideshow about how art could bring social change to a town where one-third of its 2,671 residents, a majority of whom are African-American and female, live in poverty. Fetterman projected pictures of old, bustling Braddock, which steel made until the middle of the 20th century and unmade throughout the rest. Its main street was packed with shoppers, its storefronts filled with wares. Then he turned to Braddock as it is today.
“We’ve lost 90 percent of our population and 90 percent of our buildings,” he said. “Ninety percent of our town is in a landfill. So we took a two-pronged approach. We created the first art gallery in the four-town region, with artists’ studios. We did public art installations. And, I don’t know if you consider it arts, exactly, but I consider growing organic vegetables in the shadow of a steel mill an art, and that has attracted homesteading.”
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