Southwest Roots

Connecting neighbors, nature and the creative spirit of communities

Listening School. Photo by Steve Weinik.

About the Project 

In August 2015, the Mural Arts and Bartram’s Garden received a creative placemaking grant from ArtPlace America for a project named Southwest Roots, which connects the needs and interests of nearby residents to the cultural and natural assets of Bartram’s Garden, the oldest botanical garden in the US and historic homestead of John Bartram, and to a new river trail development. Situated on the Schuylkill River, both the park and the neighborhood have a complex and rich history of residential, agricultural, industrial, transportation, and commercial uses that present many opportunities to make  connections between the contemporary Garden, the river, and its neighbors.

Curated by Sarah Schultz, Mural Arts and Bartram’s are hosting a variety of projects and programs from spring 2016 through fall 2017 led by both artists and community members that look to extend the garden’s reach into the surrounding neighborhood and increase opportunities for neighbors to connect to nature.

Listening School 

Listening School is a mobile structure for learning and sharing ideas about healing and the meaning of the places we inhabit and make home. Since May 2016, artist Katie Bachler and a team of eight high school students from John Bartram’s High School have been moving throughout this Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood, listening and learning about what matters to people.

Read “Listening to Listening School” >>

Neighborhood Yes Fund 

Neighborhood Yes Fund provides support for existing projects and new collaborations initiated by residents in the nearby Bartram’s neighborhood. Guided by a community advisory board, Yes Fund participants receive a modest stipend to help them realize ideas that look to support creative expression, connections with nature, community well-being,  and/or youth expression. In return, recipients commit to sharing the experience of their projects with one another.

Included among the first of three phases of Yes Fund projects awarded stipends is an early childhood fair at Woodland Academy and Bartram’s Garden; a youth video mentoring program; Bartram’s Village’s basketball League Tournament; and West Philly Kickback Festival, a free concert to promote peace and unity in Southwest Philadelphia.

Read “Becoming Neighbors By Saying Yes” >>


BG Bed 

BG Bed is a pilot vegetable gardening project conceived, created, and implemented by 15 neighborhood youth working with the Community Farm and Food Resource Center, a Bartram’s Garden-based program to support food sovereignty and youth training efforts in the Southwest Philadelphia community. Since its founding in 2012, the farm has been a hub for learning, sharing, and growth—not to mention delicious food.

Responding to nearby residents’ requests for raised bed gardens at their homes, BG Bed currently provides home vegetable gardening kits to residents living within walking distance of Bartram’s Garden, as well as plant starts, follow-up visits, and advice.

Artist Aisha Cousins leading an Art@Bartram's event. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Six Seeds for Southwest 

Inspired by the story of Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch, Brooklyn-based artist Aisha Cousins created a plant-based art project to help black Philadelphians who live or work in Southwest Philadelphia initiate a series of philosophical conversations about their neighborhood. Nine neighbors worked with Aisha Cousins and Bartram’s Garden Land Manager Todd Greenberg to create sculptural planters meant to spark conversation. Living barbed plants, like roses or hawthorn trees, became a metaphor for how a community’s “thorns” sometimes create safe spaces for incredibly beautiful things to grow, and how removing too many of these metaphorical thorns can make local treasures vulnerable.

Read our interview with Aisha Cousins >>

Courtesy of BARETEETH.

Artist Catalyst 

The Artist Catalyst is an eight-month artist residency at Bartram’s Garden to test innovative approaches and public projects that use arts and culture to build connections between the garden and its neighborhood. The duration of the residency is designed to foster strong relationships that can help identify priorities for the neighborhood and the organizations working there, and generate authentic social, economic, and creative opportunities for residents.

BARETEETH has been chosen as the 2017 Southwest Roots Artist Catalyst. You can find out more about this performing arts collective here.

Southwest Roots is a companion project of Mural Arts’ Art@Bartram’s, a multi-year initiative begun in 2015 focused on the development and production of public art projects in and around Bartram’s Garden, Bartram’s Mile, and the surrounding neighborhood that look to connect the public to the Schuylkill River, raise awareness of water-related environmental concerns, and promote environmental stewardship. This related body of work is supported by the William Penn Foundation.


ArtPlace America