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A West Philly community chose 10 local artists to bring art into their neighborhood

At the pitch event. April 12, 2017 Category: FeatureFeaturedMethod

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Editor's note: A quote was misattributed to Elle Tee in a previous version of this story. It has been corrected. (4/24, 10:37 a.m.)
It was last year when Lynne McCormack, director of the Creative Placemaking program at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), said that Philadelphia had some of the most impressive collaborations between arts and culture institutions and community-based organizations.

The panel at that event talked about some of those collaborations touched on some of the steps that are needed for effective relationships between communities and arts organizations —  real community engagement, collective decision-making, diverse representation and a comprehensive, well-thought out effort.

LoLa 38, a creative placemaking project that’s working to bring “artistic activation” along Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia, may have just hit all of those steps with its Artist Pitch & Participate event late last month.

Having been active since last August, LoLa 38 is a collaboration between the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University, Wexford Science + Technology and People’s Emergency Center (PEC), with grant support from the William Penn Foundation. Its pitch event brought more than 20 local artists and artist collaboratives to the former United Bank building at 38th Street and Lancaster Avenue to pitch their ideas in a fast-paced PechaKucha format to an audience comprised of more than 50 people, most being West Philly residents.

What were they pitching for? To be part of a series of periodic art installations on either the construction fence surrounding the former University City High School or the windows of the United Bank building. Each participant was asked to consider one of these three questions when pitching: Which walls are invisible? Is there a good rate of change? How does progress feel?

When all was said and done, 10 artists in total (five for each of the two redevelopments) were selected by the audience.

For the fence at the former University City High School:

  • Brian Bazemore/BCASSO
  • Melanie Booth
  • Gabrielle Patterson
  • Lucy Pistilli
  • Ellen Tiberino

And for the windows at United Bank:

  • Emilia Brintnall
  • Chanelle Hurst
  • Femi Olantunji
  • Karina Puente
  • John Schlesinger/Dear Volunteers

Elle Tee, project manager for LoLa 38, and Anna Drozdowski, project curator, explained in an email that the first installations will arrive in mid-May and continue through September, with a new artist featured each month at both locations well before any actual construction happens. The process itself will take around a week per artist, and each artist will obtain their required materials at local shops in that area.

So why a pitch event? Drozdowski said the focus was to make sure public input was front-and-center for what art installations would be put in their neighborhoods, where they pass by every day.

“In this case, the artists were more than just work-samples — they were seen as people with connections to the community, representing their work and worldview in their presentations and in conversation at the event,” Drozdowski said. “They told their neighbors who they were, why they were interested and what they would bring to these two diverse canvases.”

“You’ll see installations made of fabric, styrofoam, paint, mosaic and nearly every material you can imagine between. A few will use found materials and objects, including old safety deposit boxes that were leftover when PEC acquired the space. What ties these projects together are the ways that they’re inviting conversation about neighborhood change with nuance — these issues are complex, and the work equally so in engaging with the topic.”

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