About the Project
In 2008, The New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) initiated the transformation of the Norris Street Corridor, a several block stretch between Front and Frankford, as a way to address the corridor’s high vacancy rate (over 70%) and under-utilization of the adjacent Berks Station, a stop on the Market Frankford Elevated line. NKCDC sought a partnership with us in order to use art as the primary intervention by which to animate and revitalize the space, and to create way-finding linkages between public transportation and the Frankford Avenue Arts corridor. Based on lesson the partners determined a master plan was required to assess the best approaches to the area. Additionally the site’s location in the Delaware River Flood plain created the opportunity for the art-making process to also increase awareness of water resources and conservation activities, and made it possible for us to partner with Sustainable 19125, a community-driven initiative led by NKCDC with support from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.
The urban planning firm Interface Studio was engaged to research and develop a strategy for artistic intervention across the multi-block site. With this strategy as a guide, artist Beverly Fisher worked with Interface Studio, NKCDC, Sustainable 19125, and youth in our Mural Corps program to conceptualize and design a series of murals, mosaics, and sidewalk inlays that prompt the pedestrian to discover interventions through-out the three block corridor. Thematically, the works explore the neighborhood’s relationship to the Delaware River and lead people through a subtle, multi-media, whimsical sequence of images. Fisher designed the elements to complement and interact with, rather that conceal, the unique post-industrial character of the architecture and streetscape.
At the time of the project, the School District was in the process of building a Gold LEED certified high school (the Kensington High School for the Creative and Performing Arts) on the adjacent property, which led to an interesting and somewhat unanticipated outcome. At the start of the project, area residents expressed discomfort and concern at having so many teens moving through the community. However, as community members worked with our youth to create the project, they transformed their negativity and concern into respect and positivity, setting the stage for a smoother launch of the school.
When I first came to Norris Street and saw the potential of this site I was excited and struck by the rich materiality and structures of this neighborhood. My goal has been to respect, enhance and refer to the colors, textures and general feel of the site—rough, transitory, historic, artistic and layered. The cobblestones, fragments of brick buildings, ivy, odd buildings, old softened paint colors, infrastructure and visible history hold so much information and interest to me. I did not want to alter the site, but add a layer of artwork that had an element of discovery- to create a space for reverie, to trigger a train of thought, to set a mood.
The theme of water was to speak to the proximity of the Delaware River, even though our neighborhood feels removed from it. It affects our daily lives, in the quality of light and the lay of the land. I love feeling the river’s presence on any given day. We move through the city like water. Twice a day children pass through the streets like schools of fish. I wanted to bring some awareness to all sorts of passages and fluidities.
By shifting the scale and colors of the mural and sidewalk river patterns, I hope that we have made a project that will shift and sink into the daily life of the residents and commuters, that it will bring a quiet vibrancy and sense of tranquility to this block.