In the South Philadelphia neighborhood of Point Breeze, known as Newbold by some residents, the issue of gentrification has strained the relationship between residents, developers and city officials.
Lee Ann Etzold, a theater artist and educator, decided the neighborhood needed an alternative to the zoning and civic association meetings held in the neighborhood: a comfortable space where neighbors could talk about their needs and how they can help each other.
That’s how Etzold’s project, PointBold, began.
“As soon as people found out I was a performing artist, I felt like they were willing to talk to me more,” she said about her experiences attending neighborhood meetings. “People who both looked like me and didn’t look like me.”
Those interactions sparked a feeling of obligation and responsibility in Etzold to have a greater part in the conversation about her neighborhood.
“I want to capitalize on that feeling,” she said.
Together, with the artists in her community, Etzold wants to provide a comfortable space where her neighbors can come enjoy art from local artists, food from local restaurants and talk about issues in a productive and laid back environment. Ideally, events would take place this summer on the last Sunday of every month.
“No matter what kind of artist you are, [artists] know how to collaborate and we’re typically fairly compassionate people who make themselves vulnerable,” she said.
“The overall objective is to see how many people we can get into a different space to have these conversations that are typically happening in heated civic association meetings,” she added.
As of now, Etzold is still looking for a physical space for the project. She said she wants to partner with Diversified Community Services, which has several spaces available in the neighborhood.
“It would be kind of a perfect marriage because they already provide services to the community, but no arts programs,” Etzold said. “We have all the art you can imagine, but I want to gear it towards serving the community.”
Etzold is hoping that the Sunday events will build momentum throughout the summer, becoming an outlet for Point Breeze and Newbold artists as well as the whole community.
She hopes to get local businesses involved, too.
“I want local businesses to consider themselves neighbors as well,” she said. “If we can get enough people and enough momentum behind what happens this year, my hope is that there will be a desire to do it again next year.”
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If all goes well in the coming months, Etzold will be able to create and perform a theater piece with other local artists for her neighborhood in August. Before she does that, she’ll need to match a 2013 grant from the Knight Foundation, which she’s looking to do using a crowdfunding campaign.
“We don’t live in isolation,” Etzold said. “It’s healthy to know the people around you. I don’t know that people feel responsible for each other the way we should for a real society to work.”
Image via PointBold-30-
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