Archive for March, 2012

Corridors Connect Focus Group Dinner

March 16, 2012

Corridors Connect will build the capacity of Business Associations across West Philadelphia commercial corridors through training and technical assistance over the next nine months. Business owners and community leaders from six different commercial corridors gathered last night to begin building connections and make recommendations to shape the program. Here are some photos of the event!

Corridors connect is a collaboration led by The Enterprise Center with partnership of SCI West, Philadelphia LISC, the Partnership CDC, People’s Emergency Center, University City District, the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, the Philadelphia Commerce Department, and the Drexel University Center for Social Policy.

Preserving an artist community – PEC plans affordable artist live-work residence

March 8, 2012

Aiming to preserve both affordable housing and a community of local artists, the People’s Emergency Center (PEC) is looking to develop affordable live-work space for low-income artists in West Philadelphia. The project would transform a large vacant lot at 4050-66 Haverford Avenue into a space for artists to live, create art, and exhibit work in the community.

The design and plan of the proposed development is a collaborative effort. PEC included many partners in the process, including: neighbors on the block near the proposed development, West Philly Arts Connect (WPAC), West Philadelphia Traction Company, and architect Teddy Cruise.

“We see [this proposed development] as a way to preserve the artist community and create a bit of a hub and generate some energy on that part of Haverford Ave,” explains Kira Strong from PEC.


PEC has submitted an application to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) for Low Income Housing Tax Credits to complete the development. With the tax credits, PEC would be able to move forward on a project that has been a vision for nearly a decade.

“We are really lucky to work in communities that have had a long history of artists who reside and work here,” says Strong. In the early 2000s, PEC began partnering with artists living in their communities of Belmont, Mantua, Mill Creek, Saunders Park, and West Powelton.

In 2006, PEC conducted a study to examine art and cultural resources in the community and identify opportunities for using the arts as an engine of community revitalization. Participation from the artist community exceeded expectations. Some 40 West Philly artists contributed to the study through surveys, focus groups, and interviews.


The study showed that artists were attracted to neighborhoods in West Philadelphia for their large stock of affordable housing, variety of active arts groups, and proximity to institutions like Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania.

A significant need came to the surface as well. “What we heard resoundingly was that there was a need for affordable live-work space,” said Strong, “Many artists were either being priced out or in fear of being priced out.”

Since the study, neighborhood conditions have continued to change: real estate values have risen, due to an influx of Drexel and University of Pennsylvania faculty and other higher income home-buyers.

Driven by its mission to serve and strengthen the existing communities, PEC was emboldened to figure out how to maintain its resident base, which includes local artists, while attracting additional amenities to the community.

While this unique artist live-work residence may be a few years away from ribbon-cutting, PEC will continue to preserve this population of artists “who are often the generator of neighborhood change, but less often its beneficiary.”

The arts and economic development work together on West Philly corridors

March 8, 2012

In October and November, hundreds of residents and visitors flocked to the Lower Lancaster Avenue galleries, restaurants, public spaces, and businesses.

They were here for LOOK! on Lancaster Avenue, a two-month program sponsored by the People’s Emergency Center (PEC) and University City District (UCD), that brought art installations to the windows and storefronts of vacant buildings, group art shows to galleries and public spaces, and public performances to various locations along the Avenue.

“Lancaster Avenue is a perfect example, where art can be an intermediate step between a vacant building and a completely thriving local economy,” explains Joe McNulty, Commercial Corridor Manager with University City District. “The Look on Lancaster project changed people’s perspectives about those blocks of Lancaster that have been empty and desolate for years. It was a way to bring people walking back down here and say: ‘This could be a really thriving corridor.’”

Lancaster Avenue is not alone. Across the SCI-West target area, organizations are using the arts to strengthen development on commercial corridors. Corridor managers like McNulty work with residents, businesses, business associations, and Community Development Corporations (CDCs) to revitalize the commercial corridors in West Philadelphia: Lancaster Avenue, 40th Street, Spruce Street, Baltimore Avenue, and 45th and Walnut Streets.

These stories of creative efforts on West Philadelphia commercial corridors reveal the effectiveness of including arts initiatives into any commercial development strategy.

Lancaster Avenue

LOOK! on Lancaster attracted hundreds of people to visit Lancaster Avenue, view the work of local artists, and spend their money at businesses all along the corridor. Its other benefits are real, but less quantifiable. “Events like these create interest in the area, and promote a sense of pride in the neighborhood,” said McNulty.

LOOK! on Lancaster also draws attention to an already engaged art community. Artists around Lancaster Avenue have been active in neighborhood revitalization for nearly four decades: renovating properties, exhibiting art, and performing locally.

“Having folks like that who really bought into their own community, with their own sweat equity and real money, promoting art has been really valuable for Lancaster Ave,” said McNulty.

Another SCI-West partner, the People’s Emergency Center (PEC) promotes the arts through a larger event. For the past five years, (PEC) has hosted the Lancaster Avenue Jazz and Arts Festival. The event attracts hundreds of families to Saunders Park with live jazz, dance, spoken word, art exhibits, workshops, and an open-air market. The annual event celebrates the rich history of arts in Philadelphia, stimulates the local economy, and energizes the community.

In warmer months, PEC and UCD host Second Friday events on Lancaster Avenue to showcase galleries and exhibitions. They dropped the event a few years ago due to budgetary restrictions, but have since revived it on a shoestring budget, citing its many benefits for the corridor.

A number of creative organizations have served as artistic anchors for the Avenue as well.

Audiences from all over attend performances at The Community Education Center (CEC), founded nearly four decades ago by community members looking to use art and culture to inspire creativity and goodwill. “Art enriches the lives of families in this community,” says Terri Shockley, [position] of the CEC. “The arts are about making individuals and communities stronger and more resilient.”

The Gwendolyn Bye Dance Studio has also engaged young people in dance classes since 1986. A local coffee shop, The Green Line Café, showcases the work of local artists. A number of other galleries and studio spaces provide space for artists to create and exhibit work.

Ultimately, these artistic efforts are changing the conversation about Lancaster Avenue. “The message is,” says McNulty, “That this is a viable neighborhood. This is a place where you could raise a child, you could open a business. You could do anything here.”

40th Street

At the crossroads of historically distinct communities, 40th Street embodies the diversity of West Philadelphia. Here the arts play a critical role in speaking across boundaries of race, class background, and generation.

The corridor is anchored by two key arts organizations: the Rotunda (at 4014 Walnut St) and the Artists In Residence (AIR) program (at 4007  Chestnut St). (See “Creativity as Engagement” for more on their efforts)

It was also on 40th Street that West Philadelphia Arts Connect was born. The collaboration of artists and arts organizations across West Philly originated from Friends of 40th Street meetings.

Looking forward, UCD and PEC plan to collaborate on several projects around 40th Street. The organizations hope to encourage pedestrian traffic and development, including public art installations that will coincide with tree planting and beautification efforts. Projects will include pole painting, public sculpture, and art installations on and in vacant buildings.

Baltimore Avenue

The artistic efforts and commercial amenities on Baltimore Avenue improve the quality of life for residents across West Philadelphia.

In February, West Philly was one of 20 cities to host a Fun-A-Day art show, organized by the Artclash Collective and exhibited at Studio 34 on Baltimore Ave. Thousands of people visited the two-day exhibition.

Even arts businesses are finding a home in West Philly. Aside from the galleries on Lancaster, there’s Vix Emporium, a “general store” selling the handmade gifts and art of mostly local artists using a consignment system. Emily Dorn, manager at Vix, says, “This area needed a place like this: a place to buy a gift.” Because these gifts are local, special, and practical, Vix is creating a win-win for local artists and consumers.

UCD promotes the arts on Baltimore Avenue in many ways. They organize Second Saturdays, a monthly arts fair outside Dock Street Brewing Company that brings foot traffic to the neighborhood and helps support local artists. Additionally, they have invited artists to contribute designs for new Baltimore corridor banners.

There are clear benefits to the arts, McNulty says, including engaging residents in community issues, improving the image of the neighborhood, attracting residents and visitors to patronize local businesses, and inspiring entrepreneurs to open businesses that can serve community needs.

“Ultimately, we are looking to make our neighborhoods more livable.”

Skills Initiative Update

March 8, 2012

The West Philadelphia Skills Initiative is being carried out by University City District and places young adults in the SCI-West target area on a career path by providing apprenticeship positions in area medical institutions and tuition-free courses at Community College of Philadelphia.

The first cohort of students in the Penn Medicine Apprenticeship program are currently working part-time and attending classes part-time, allowing them the freedom to commit equally to the apprenticeship and coursework, without the burden of extra work. LISC funds pay the students as if they were full-time employees. This unlocks employer-funded tuition benefits that allow them to attend classes at no expense to themselves.

Additionally, SCI West is using this pilot program as the centerpiece of a new Financial Opportunity Center (FOC) in West Philadelphia, slated to open before spring 2012. The Opportunity Center will be a physical space that links West Philadelphia residents directly to local employers, and to the practical training around job skills, financial education, and benefits access they need to thrive. Through the FOC, participants in the pilot program will be able to receive one-on-one financial coaching, training around accessing benefits, and other extra supports.

Digital Inclusion Program Update: Over 200 people trained, 137 computers installed

March 8, 2012

The People’s Emergency Center Digital Inclusion Program (PECDI) brings low-cost computers, broadband access, and computer training to affordable housing units throughout the SCI-West community.

So far 55 teens, 53 fifth and sixth graders, and 93 community members have graduated from their respective computer and technology courses, and another 50 people will complete courses by the end of April. In addition, 137 computers (combination of refurbished computers and netbooks) have been distributed to the community through the program.

Nineteen out of twenty Keyspot sites have been opened and are serving neighborhoods and community members all over Philadelphia. The Keyspots offer programs, trainings and open lab hours for youth, adults and seniors. PEC was also able to set up a WiFi hotspot at each of the 20 PEC Keyspots, connecting even more residents to the Internet. Since January 2011, 16,180 community members have used a Keyspot and 24,355 training hours have been delivered.

The New Corridors Connect Program to build business leadership along West Philly corridors

March 8, 2012

SCI-West is pleased to announce a new program called Corridors Connect that will help build and grow business leadership by strengthening Business Associations along selected commercial corridors.

The Corridors Connect Program, led by The Enterprise Center, will incorporate hands-on support for individual business leadership and a classroom Certificate from our partner, Drexel University. We believe that this effort will lead to important connections and collaborative projects that will increase traffic and sales along West Philadelphia corridors.

Corridors Connect is a collaborative effort among a great group of SCI-West partners: Philadelphia LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation), The Enterprise Center, Drexel University Center for Public Policy, Partnership CDC, People’s Emergency Center CDC, University City District, the Philadelphia Commerce Department and the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians.

The collaborative is currently finalizing the design of the program and will be holding a focus group dinner at Drexel University on March 15th in order to incorporate the essential input of business leaders and corridor managers into the implementation of this Program.

New Green Block Build Coalition helps homeowners go green to save green

March 8, 2012

An Update on the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative

In March the Green Block Build Coalition will complete rehabilitation and repairs for 20 homes of low income homeowners on the 3800 Block of Aspen Street. The block will celebrate the repairs at a Green Block Party on March 31, at which homeowners will be able to access programs and resources from each of the Green Block Build Coalition partners, including SCI-West, the Partnership CDC, Rebuilding Together, People’s Emergency Center, Drexel University, the Energy Conservation Agency, and the Neighborhoods Advisory Council.

The improvements at the 3800 Block of Aspen Street represent the first of several Green Block Parties the coalition is planning in 2012. The Green Block Build Coalition builds on the success of other SCI West Signature projects, including the Healthy Homes Initiative, the Green Block Party, Green Professionals Training program, and the Digital Inclusion program.

The initiative layers strong and effective programs from each partner agency, offering homeowners a comprehensive set of opportunities to improve their homes, neighborhood, environment, and economic situation. Improving energy efficiency, aka “going green,” will help homeowners save money on energy costs. Hence the coalition’s slogan: “Go Green, Save Green!” Homeowners will also learn about ways to keep their home healthy, financially sound, and environmentally friendly.

In March, some 300 skilled and general volunteers will provide critical repairs and safe and healthy home repairs for those in need in the first of several scheduled Green Block Parties in West Philadelphia. Volunteers will also install planters, clean vacant lots, and beautify the block. In addition to these critical repairs, partners in the Green Block Build Coalition will provide cool roof installations, Healthy Homes training, energy efficiency training, financial education, tangled title and homeownership preservation services, computers and technology training, and energy audits to complement the repairs. Drexel will evaluate the effects of this collaborative effort.

The Coalition will hold a press conference on the final workday for the first Green Block Build in Mantua on March 31st at 9am on the 3800 block of Aspen Street 19104. We hope to see you there!

New lighting marks beginning of 46th and Market Street Transit Hub Collaboration

March 8, 2012

An Update on the SCI-West Clean & Safe Project

Philadelphia LISC, the national LISC Community Safety Initiative, and the SCI-West partner organizations are working on a project led by UCD that aims to reduce crime through the creation of partnerships between West Philadelphia CDCs and police districts.

In February, UCD completed the installation of the pedestrian-level street lights near one of West Philadelphia’s major transit hubs: 46th and Market Streets, part of SCI West’s comprehensive Community Safety Initiative.

After participating in a LISC Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) training, SCI West partners worked to develop strategies to mitigate crime and opportunities for crime around the target area’s two major transit hubs at 40th and 46th and Market. Following this training, UCD completed a lighting study and hired a consultant to craft a plan for an improved lighting strategy for the 46th and Market area. Moving forward with implementing this lighting plan, UCD will also begin installation of residential porch lights near the hub this week.

SCI West aims to expand these small but significant improvements into a broader 46th and Market Transit Hub Collaboration that would work for further improvements (from landscaping and signage to more intense improvements like real estate development and retail attraction).

Creativity as engagement

March 8, 2012

Art can be a powerful tool in collective action. In fact, creativity is central to building sustainable communities, which requires organizing residents across social and economic boundaries, to revitalize their communities. Creative organizations work to bring people together to do this important, difficult work: using the arts to bridge divisions in the community, engage residents in meaningful dialogue, and create a strong sense of place.

In West Philadelphia, several organizations are using the creative arts to bring people together. Additionally, CDCs like the People’s Emergency Center (PEC), are incorporating creativity and public art into their community engagement and development strategies.

The Rotunda (4014 Walnut St) is a community arts venue offering space for regular arts events, classes, and shows. Founded by students at University of Pennsylvania, the Rotunda’s has a strong commitment to providing a space for almost any proposed community-based arts endeavor. Their culturally diverse repertoire attracts people from nearly every segment of the community.

Gina Renzi, Director of the Rotunda, wants to use the programming to create meaningful partnerships and catalyze social change. She encourages those who use the space to talk with others who have similar interests, to collaborate on events and performances, and to work to reach out to a diverse group of people.

Another local program that demonstrates a commitment to the role of the arts in community revitalization and social change is the Artists in Residence program (AIR). AIR awards West Philly artists 1 year of free studio space at 4007 Chestnut St, in exchange for their participation in community-based art projects – leading workshops, teaching classes, exhibiting in the area, etc. AIR addresses the challenges that working artists face, and provides them with stepping stones: tools to support their work and free up their time so that they can contribute creative value to the community.

Another key organization in these efforts is West Philadelphia Arts Connect (WPAC), which provides a space for artists and arts organizations to share information and work together.

WPAC received a SCI-West small grant to team up with Neighborhood Bike Works and local youth to create “bike art” to showcase in the New Kensington CDC’s annual Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby. The partnership worked out so well they will be working together again this year.

These efforts of artists and arts organizations to build community across constituencies, according to Renzi, is essential to community development. “We need to make art accessible and connect the arts to people’s daily lives.”

The SCI-West CDC partners are working to incorporate lessons from arts and community-based organizations in West Philly, like the Rotunda and AIR, and from other organizations city-wide. The People’s Emergency Center (PEC) in particular, incorporates the arts into their work in many ways. Kira Strong of PEC echoed Renzi’s sentiments: “Art is a part of vibrant cultures and vibrant communities, and always has been historically. It remains a vital component.”

Young people enrolled in digital literacy training at The People’s Emergency Center (PEC) use their digital media skills to help serve local businesses. Several students have created  promotional videos for businesses along Lancaster Avenue. (check out ‘Doughnut Heaven’

PEC is using creative methods to engage residents in community planning. They held an open house to coincide with the LOOK! on Lancaster art exhibitions to attract more residents. PEC used hands on mapping, drawing, photo booth, and other creative activities to stimulate and capture fresh ideas.

PEC also uses local events and public art to foster a sense of community and cut through the divisions that exist among community residents.The Lancaster Avenue Jazz festival in Saunders Park has become a source of neighborhood pride.

PEC and its partners also use placemaking improvements to engage residents while beautifying the neighborhood. Improvements at 39th and Lancaster were particularly successful. They combined public art installation, greening, and building and infrastructure renovations. The project engaged a wide array of community partners: residents shared ideas for the mural, the artists worked an auto body shop on the corner, and local youth helped paint the mural.

Placing this public art at a major gateway into the city from the suburbs was strategic. It assured that pedestrians and car drivers from outside the neighborhood would see an ongoing transformation. The public art demonstrates a sense of pride in a place often portrayed in the media as crime-ridden. The project used an effective collaboration of community partners: PEC, LISC, other SCI-West partners, Bank of America, the Mural Arts Program, and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

This combination of art, greening, and building renovations proves more effective than pursuing any of these improvements alone. A tree and bench can provide aesthetic benefits that a beautiful building cannot; meanwhile an artistic addition can transform buildings and landscapes in a fresh way. “Art brings a certain spiritual element that may be lacking in a really nice landscape design,” McNulty says. “Art gives you reason to linger.”

Strong reiterates this sentiment. “While folks may disagree on what is beautiful,” she says, “public art installations provide an excuse for public interaction and conversation.”

Ultimately, creativity and the arts can foster community engagement in multiple ways: making, exhibiting, and performing art; supporting artist collaborations; using creative and artistic methods of community planning; engaging artists in community development work; and engaging residents through place-making public art.

The effect of a comprehensive arts strategy that combines these benefits would, “generate goodwill and excitement,” McNulty hopes. “It gives people a reason to come here and stay here, a reason to be engaged and involved with their neighbors.”

See this post on the Philadelphia LISC Blog.

Finding art and culture in West Philadelphia

March 1, 2012

If you are excited to get out and experience the vibrant arts and culture scene of West Philadelphia, check out these resources to learn about our local arts organizations, performance venues, and upcoming events.

LOOK! on Lancaster ran from September 30-November 30, 2011 along Lancaster Avenue. You can see some of the highlights, including art placed in the windows and storefronts of vacant buildings, group art shows in existing galleries or public spaces, and public performances at

The 40th Street Artists In Residence Program (AIR) awards West Philly artists 1 year of free studio space in exchange for their participation in community-based art projects – leading workshops, teaching classes, exhibiting in the area, etc., on Chestnut at 40th St.

The Rotunda is a community gathering place that believes “art is a catalyst for social change” offering arts event throughout the year: live music, film, spoken word, theater, art, dance, education, youth programs, and arts incubation, on Walnut at 40th St.

West Philadelphia Arts Connect (WPAC) is a collaboration among West Philadelphia artists and arts organizations.

The Lancaster Avenue Jazz and Arts Community Festival is a one day event that celebrates the rich history of the arts in Philadelphia. This annual festival is held on the 3rd Saturday of July in Saunders Park. Live performances take place over a six hour time period which include vocal and instrumental jazz performances, dance, spoken word and at times invitations to the audience to perform.

Spiral Q Puppet Theater lives at the intersection of arts and social justice, using popular arts (parades, print, pageantry, puppets) to build an urban arts democracy rooted in principles of accessibility, inclusion, self-determination, collaboration, sustainability, and life long learning.

Second Fridays on Lancaster Avenue include visual arts, live music, shopping, and a lecture series from April through July, fostering a greater sense of community in the neighborhood, showcasing the talent of local artists, and benefiting businesses by increasing foot traffic along the Avenue.

Satellite Second Saturday, a monthly art and craft event at 50th and Baltimore (during warm months) presented by VIX Emporium and the Satellite Café, invites a number of local artists will set up shop on the triangle in front of West Philly’s firehouse, selling their wares from 11am to 5pm.

The Green Line Café, a local, family-owned coffee shop and café that features local artists and performers, located near the intersection of 38th St, Lancaster Ave, & Powelton Ave, at the corner of 43rd & Baltimore, and at the corner of 45th & Locust.

The University City Arts League (UCAL) offers a year-round program of exhibits, classes, and cultural activities for children, teens, and adults, at 4226 Spruce St.

The Mural Arts Program (MAP) of Philadelphia is the largest public art program in the United States, uniting artists and communities through a collaborative process, rooted in the traditions of mural-making, to create art that transforms public spaces and individual lives. MAP has an online Mural Explorer which lets you explore some of the city’s 3,000 murals and projects, and discover the stories and people that inspired them.

The Community Education Center is a nonprofit performing arts center and artists incubator space, supporting the local arts community and hosting outstanding presentations of dance and performance, at 3500 Lancaster Ave.

The Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania believes in the power of art and artists to inform and inspire. The ICA is free for all to engage and connect with the art of our time, on 36th Street at Sansom St.

Vix Emporium is a general store of artistic handmade gifts supporting local artists at 5009 Baltimore Ave.

Lacaster Avenue’s online directory, promoting the vibrant Philadelphia enclaves of Mantua, Powelton Village, Saunders Park and West Powelton along with the commercial corridor that unites them: Lancaster Avenue.

University City District’s website features a Directory of Arts and Culture in University City at and a calendar of events at