(Photo via facebook.com/shakespeareinclarkpark)
Art has never been restricted to the walls of museums, especially in Philadelphia (see: the proliferation of street art, the longevity of Mural Arts).
More recently, we’ve seen organizations such as Philadelphia Assembled, which is bringing questions about social justice to neighborhoods around the city; the Digital Fringe portion of the annual Fringe Festival takes place entirely online; Knight Cities Challenge has funded projects such as Next Stop: Democracy! and Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture’s immigrant youth photo project; and even the Philadelphia Museum of Art has contributed to the trend with its Inside/Out program.
William Penn Foundation has historically funded arts and culture programming in the city. But since 2015, it’s brought that focus outside with New Audiences/New Places (NA/NP), a subset of its Creative Communities funding category, which also includes a focus on arts education, core support and public spaces.
In the past two years, NA/NP has granted over $15 million to projects taking place in nontraditional spaces for nontraditional audiences. Some funded NA/NP projects that have gone live recently or are coming alive now:
- The citywide, 21-artist Monument Lab project launches this month.
- Shakespeare in Clark Park performed “Coriolanus” this summer.
- Opera Philadelphia will kick off its inaugural festival, 017, next week, which includes a free broadcast of “The Marriage of Figaro” on Independence Mall.
- BalletX is hosting free pop-up performances in neighborhoods across the city this fall, starting with Olney on Sept. 23.
Executive Director Shawn McCaney said this newer “expanded focus” is about “bringing the art to the people” rather than making them come into Center City to see it, which fewer people had been doing anyway in recent years: “Folks are no longer buying subscriptions a year in advance.”
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Each project funded by NA/NP is also an example of reducing barriers to access by their cost, location and scheduling. A low-income person in Southwest Philly might not make it to the Kimmel Center, but they could probably make it a few blocks to a free performance in Clark Park.
McCaney said the funded projects are reflective of some larger trends in the cultural sector to increase civic engagement — and in a way, “all public space work is civic engagement.”
“It’s about equity and the power of shared experiences and civic dialogue created by these projects,” said the Temple grad, whose earlier career was as an urban designer and partner in an architecture firm working on, appropriately, parks and public spaces. For one, “Monument Lab is a really healthy thing for the city to promote empathy” by asking what is an appropriate monument for the modern Philadelphia.
Is this funding indicative of a greater funding trend? McCaney would say so — and he expects to see more public space-focused works from Philly artists in the coming years as a result.
“This new funding didn’t exist a couple years ago, so it takes artists time to respond and react to it,” he said. Going forward, “bringing more art to more people will be a continuing focus. Our hope is that this specific program will promote innovation. We’re hopeful and excited about the possibility of inspiring new ideas.”-30-
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