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Jul. 17, 2018 1:51 pm

The Village of Arts and Humanities turned recorded interviews into a civic engagement tool

"Home Court: The Hartranft Basketball Revival," an art exhibit celebrating the renovation of a North Philadelphia neighborhood's courts, includes interviews with community members about their collective past, present and future.

Scott Ziegler and Jordan McCree host a story circle with Hartranft residents.

(Photo by Michael Dakota)

What do the Hartranft basketball courts mean to those who live nearby? “Everything,” according to community member Dante.

“Home Court: The Hartranft Basketball Revival” is an art show and forum celebrating the renovation of the North Philly neighborhood’s outdoor courts, which had fallen into disrepair and become a magnet for violence in recent years.

The courts’ revitalization was supported by the Sixers Youth Foundation, the City of Philadelphia and Local Initiatives Support Corporation Philadelphia, while the 2,500-square-foot exhibit of photography, sound design and community history is a “beta project” for the Village of Arts and Humanities’ Civic Power Studio, a creative place-making project being funded by ArtPlace America over the next two years, Program Manager Lillian Dunn said.

The exhibit, co-created with photographer Shawn Theodore, members of local hip hop group ILL Doots, composer Mike McDermott and over 50 local basketball players and coaches, opened on June 28 at the Village and closes July 18.

At least one aspect of it will live on, though, through a dedicated “Home Court” Soundcloud account.

Three sections of the exhibit represent the community’s past, present and future with correspondingly themed photographs, interviews with residents and other sounds. Interview snippets as well as songs made from them also live on the Soundcloud.

Scott Ziegler and Jordan McCree, ILL Doots producers who met at University of the Arts a decade ago, led the community interview process of the exhibit’s sound design component and hosted songwriting workshops as artists in residence with the Village’s SPACES residency program. Ziegler and McCree spent several months starting in November traveling the neighborhood to collect the dozens of interviews, hosting their own story circles at the Village and visiting residents’ homes.

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The two were assigned to “really just talk to people about this vast history that we’re trying to encompass,” McCree said, and “researching this history of this community, of how this community has built this playground, and really built themselves up for multiple generations.”

The stories they heard were varied in their perspectives of the court, especially when comparing residents in their teens to those in their sixties, Ziegler said: Young people had never experienced the “golden age” of summer basketball leagues and a well-maintained rec center, for instance. They only knew shootings and physical deterioration.

“It’s not a linear story,” said Ziegler, who also teaches music production and songwriting five days per week at the Village.

 

Ziegler and McCree have discussed the possibility of making CDs of the exhibit’s sound components after it closes for older interview subjects who don’t use the internet: After all, “that music wouldn’t have existed without their words to begin with,” McCree said.

“I hope the impact of it might be that people will continue to be activated about creating programming on the court and giving kids in the neighborhood a super positive place to be,” Ziegler added — like how the community’s older members remember it. The new courts are “very literally a new beginning for that space.”

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