“Our neighborhood’s wisdom is as powerful as any law handed down from city, state or national government.” —Lillian Dunn, Senior Program Manager, SPACES Artist in Residence Program at The Village of Arts and Humanities
In early 2018, The Village of Arts and Humanities wrote a blog post for ArtPlace titled “Generating Civic Power in North Philadelphia.” The beautifully written story captured the essence of the self-efficacy, creativity, and collective pride that ArtPlace exists to support:
“Despite the passionate and periodically successful efforts of dedicated local activists, too many decisions have been made for, not with, our community on issues from education, to policing, to environmental design, to recreation funding. In order to make lasting change, we need to change the way these decisions are made. And to do so, we need to generate power of our own.”
The Village has been generating power of its own in numerous ways since it put down roots in North Central Philadelphia more than 40 years ago. A sampling of its more recent and awesome efforts includes:
- Places of Power. This 2015-2016 artist in residence project at The Village sought out and profiled some of the community’s non-traditional civic leaders. Nandi and Khalid Muhammad, for example, run a penny candy store from their living room that provides kids with a safe place they can visit to learn about everything from counting numbers and money management to Black history and self-respect.
- Home Court: The Hartranft Basketball Court Revival. In summer 2018, The Village produced a 2,500-square-foot exhibition of photography, sound design, and community history celebrating the renovation of their neighborhood’s basketball courts, which had fallen into disrepair and become a magnet for violence in recent years. “People couldn’t believe it when they saw themselves in the exhibit, and saw themselves as part of history. It brought a whole bunch of hope and faith to the process,” said Reggie Johnson, who grew up playing on the courts and worked as a community convener on the project. Home Court got a lot of press, and the lead artists gave a talk about it at the Philadelphia Foundation in April 2019.
- The Civic Power Studio. Currently, The Village is working to transform two vacant row homes into this site for residents, artists, law enforcement, and other neighborhood stakeholders to study and build their collective civic power and collaborate on new public safety strategies rooted in care rather than control. A July 2019 Instagram post offers this update: “Last night our design team made up of lifelong neighborhood residents gave feedback on initial design inspirations offered by architects at Woodcock Design. ... Our team had insisted on having a kitchen included in the new building, as a way to make sure people feel at home when they enter; they loved the pictures of potential kitchen setups, especially the one with a big island where people can gather and talk while food is cooked and served.”