(Photo by Dave Tavani)
This article is sponsored by Village of the Arts and was reviewed before publication.
After 35 years of programming and creative placemaking in its North Philadelphia community, The Village of the Arts could kick back and rest on the laurels of its rich history. Instead, this award-winning nonprofit is working harder than ever to ensure community members determine the future of their historic neighborhood.
With a focus on civic power, equitable neighborhood revitalization and creative youth development, the organization works towards reinvestment in and restoration of the Fairhill-Hartranft community.
“Ultimately, what we are hoping to see in the future is that the residents of Fairhill-Hartranft are leaders, stewards and the beneficiaries of any reinvestment and revitalization in the neighborhood,” said Aviva Kapust, executive director of Village of the Arts.
The Village started, in part, by transforming vacant lots into public garden and art spaces. Today, the organization helps maintain 15 parks in the neighborhood.
“These beautiful, vibrant parks were built by hand by community members. The parks are a statement. They show every student, parent, and visitor who walks onto our campus that we have the power to build the world we want to see, together,” said Brittany Holiday, director of youth and young adult programs at Village of the Arts. The art parks, adorned with community murals and art installations, are just one of the ways the Village seeks to build alongside the community it serves.
In the decades since its inception, the Village has created a campus of 10 program buildings called the NextGen Village, where programming and resources are offered to anyone in the neighborhood.
Through hands-on programming for young adults, to neighborhood-wide initiatives like management of the Germantown-Lehigh commercial corridor, the Village fosters community revitalization.
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That lasting presence in the community has led to some of the generational healing the Village aims to support. Young people who went through the Village’s programming in their teens are now in their 30s and leading large community projects. This summer, the Village hired an alumna of its programming to assist in young adult education.
“She literally got to explain to the middle-schoolers, ‘I was right here in your same shoes,’” said Holiday. Whether they attended youth programming, went to an event, or were once employed by the Village, it’s rare to find a community member who hasn’t been involved with the organization in some way.
"The Village is both a physical place, and also a creative community."
“The Village is both a physical place, and also a creative community,” said Kapust. Its largest youth programs, Village Industries and Open Studios, offer paid internships that give kids 13 through 19 the chance to learn everything from music production and dance to ceramics and event production.
“We want young people to learn these art forms, to have that kind of creative expression and be able to tell their stories and find new avenues of expression that might not have been available to them,” said TJ Dean, senior manager of youth and young adult programs.
Taught by experienced professionals in each field, the curriculum focuses both on the creative side and the intricacies of running a business. During music production, students learn the ins and outs of contract negotiation. Film production students have chances to visit a live set.
“We invest in young people, where we try to model, promote and impart the values and the methods for equitable revitalization,” Kapust said. “Their vision and lived experience is what we should all be listening to in order to design a world that better serves human beings. They’re amazing.”
As the Village of the Arts has grown, the youth programming has expanded. PhillyEarth, a STEM-based experience, gives young people the opportunity to learn about urban farming and agriculture within the Village’s greenspaces.
While the pandemic may have slowed down in-person programming, the Village’s initiatives are moving forward and even expanding. Earlier this year, it became a founding member of the Care Not Control campaign along with Youth Arts and Self Empowerment, Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project and Juvenile Law Center. Care Not Control is a youth-driven initiative to end the incarceration of young people, and now has 61 Pennsylvania organizations as endorsers.
"Young people are learning the power and value of their voice in the public sphere."
“It is important that youth lead Care, Not Control because they can provide the best insight on the Juvenile Justice system. Their experiential knowledge is invaluable and cannot be replaced by any amount of data or research. The youth are the driving force of our campaign,” said Dean. “Through working on the campaign, young people are learning the power and value of their voice in the public sphere. They are learning how to organize people, how the legislative process works and how to influence it, and how to engage policy. They are also honing their soft skills and engaging with professionals in art and media to develop competency in those areas.”
As the Village moves forward, the team is focusing on programming that can serve the community at large. “It’s about allowing for access. So being able to provide opportunities, whether that’s financial, resources, or just space,” Holiday said. “It’s a very communal effort. It takes a village. We really believe that.”
As the Village looks forward to new and expanding programming, it’s adding full-time staff to its team, including an Operations Manager, Communications Specialist, and Program Manager. The roles span a variety of responsibilities. Having a sense of compassion and lots of patience is a must-have for any candidate.
“We’re looking for people who are interested in being part of a really amazing team who are continually asking how we move forward while acknowledging the past,” Kapust said.
“The work that we’re doing is difficult, but it’s also so rewarding, and every day you’ll have an impact,” Holiday added.
Candidates are highly encouraged to submit their application as soon as possible. Please note: The Village will review and select candidates for interviews on a rolling basis. All applicants will receive a response from a Village representative.-30-
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