Idea: A rowhome invites artists, activists and community to the rituals of everyday life that hold memory.
Primary artistic medium: multidisciplinary
I am a cultivator and organizer who works in public performance and visual art experiences. I teach in the Socially Engaged Art program at Moore College of Art and Design and have spent 17 years working in neighborhoods as a freelancer in Philly. My practice is in the Venn diagram of culture, community and civic responsibility.
My degrees are in Performance Studies and Anthropology. I look at everything from religious and political performance to the choreography of space and urban planning. I apply this thinking to dance, theater and music in the public realm with artists and regular folks. I am a person who can talk to all kinds of people and see value in the contributions of children and CEO’s. I believe that the way to kill fear is to approach the unknown in our neighborhoods. With cultural historian Erin Bernard, I built a mobile museum in the back of a UHaul. This Public History Truck, roved Philly by examining the Women, Infant & Children Supplemental Nutrition Program “WIC/Workshop” and engaged mothers to tell their story of food assistance.
I led the recruitment of Symphony for a Broken Orchestra, which activated a 400 person volunteer orchestra (aged 8-82) and collected 1500 defunct instruments from the School District. I produced a concert on broken violins and trumpets; we raised $500k in service of repair; then returned the fixed clarinets to the schools. This project gathered people from all corners of the city in service of music education. I was at the helm of musicians (classical, hip hop, jazz bands, mummers, students at Curtis, CAPA highschoolers) who shared a common goal.
Through Drexel, The People’s Emergency Center CDC and developer Wexford Science and Technology, LOLA38 was a yearlong series of events curated in the Promise Zone activating West Philly artists and residents about the recently razed University City HS. We organized drum lines, dance parties, jam sessions, planning meetings, a parklet, and an exhibition and festival for kids – convening people geographically proximate but worlds apart.
With photographer JJ Tiziou, I coordinated “How Philly Moves”, an airport project with Mural Arts that invited city dwellers to dance on camera; in immigrant neighborhoods, at the National Museum for American Jewish History.
I have worked with support from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, William Penn, Leeway, Redevelopment Authority, NEA and more. I’m a fellow of the NEA and the Fulbright programs, and can get by in Spanish, Danish, German and ASL. My pedigree is fancy, but in application is always practical and personal. I know the names of all of the people on my block. The arts are the way I came out of my own immigrant-family poverty, they are how I learned to thrive.
My projects are large in scale but are made of individual relationships and humans at the core. They are not about “placemaking” but revealing a place, over time and through trust, that is already present by focusing the lens of arts and culture on a community.
In 2005 I told a friend that I’d gotten a job in Philadelphia and they said: “Philly is a place that people leave, not move to.” Immediately my decision was justified – I love an underdog city; I love a place in flux – these are places of possibility, of movement, of growth. This place I pay my taxes encourages me to understand what came before, what has been paved over, what lies beneath the crust.
Inspired by my work influenced by Philly’s history of redlining, I want to focus on the ground beneath our feet – on the homes where we sleep at night and the communities that we keep. I want to investigate the change people lament as development rushes ever forward, buoyed by streams of economic support.
Can we coordinate a way for folks to understand how things have changed across time? Who lived where, and when, and what’s next? And can we do that IN A HOME – a place that has been standing stably through all the change that has swirled around it, remaining in place through generations of destruction, re-construction, re-building and re-shaping?
In partnership with local community groups, I will coordinate six months of activities in one of the homes on the 3600 Block of Warren Street. This is, by informal account, the last residential block of the Black Bottom – land almost entirely turned over into Penn and Drexel facilities, dormitories and the administration of “University City”. It is a tiny block of row-homes typical to our city. A few remain single family residences. The majority are rented to students on a short-term leasing basis.
I want to rent one of these houses for a season and fill it up with artists and neighbors, with meals, with music, workshops for children and with a place to come together to talk about the neighborhood passed, the present, and what’s to come in the future. I want to make space for conversations about precarity, for collective memory and all the ways that “renewal” can be a four letter word.
Would people join together with curiosity if we matched the West Philadelphia Orchestra (a Balkan brass band built of primarily white men) with the West Powelton Steppers (fresh off their halftime show with the 76’ers)? Would they be more willing if there was a barbeque and a block party?
The people of Mantua, of Powelton Village and West Powelton will shape the course of making meaning from the land we stand on – once Lenape, now paved over with generations of change. In this corner of Philly there are more CDC’s and RCO’s and university-led community groups than any part of town – collections of people who have trouble crossing Lancaster Ave in service of stewarding their own plot of land.
But to be invited into a HOME – a place that holds the history of change, a place where the kitchen table invites intimacy in conversation, a place where history and humans live, with art at the core we have a shot at something beautiful.