May 31

New Grant Helps Rec Crew Revitalize Rec Centers

by: Ilse GarcĂ­a Romero

As part of the Anti-Violence Community Expansion Grant from the City of Philadelphia, Mural Arts Philadelphia has partnered with the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation to create a Rec Crew of Guild alumni who can help to transform several recreation centers in zip codes heavily impacted by violence.

The Rec Crew uses paint to create a welcoming interior to Rec Centers that have an outdated look to freshen up and modernize them. Some will get murals restored, and others may get new murals altogether. Some may even get modular furniture like storage benches or places to hang coats and other items. The Rec Crew works with the Rec Leader and community to provide something they need or will use and enjoy. The goal is to restore ten sites throughout the city over the next six months, a goal they will undoubtedly surpass in the allotted time. Each renovation of the Anti-Violence CEG project will stand on its own.

Up first was the renovation of the East Poplar Rec Center on 8th and Poplar in North Philadelphia, which was overdue for a makeover.

Photo by Dawan Williams.

At East Poplar, Project Manager Brian Campbell and Rec Leader Tyrone Gross discussed restoring some artwork on the underpass pillars, which had been painted by artist Paul Santoleri a few years earlier. These pillars sustained a fair amount of graffiti during the first year of the pandemic when the Rec Center was closed completely. Santoleri agreed to oversee the work and work with a number of Guild alumni to restore and refresh the pillars. Tyrone and Brian also discussed painting the entire interior in colors that complimented the outside of the Rec Center, which had been painted by Parks & Rec at the end of last summer.

“One issue we ran into during one of our restorations was a COVID breakout, which shut us down for about a week or so, but as this is now a part of our lives, everyone self-isolated for the time being and then got back to work with a renewed vigor,” says Brian.

The work at East Poplar was completed in only three days and resulted in a clean, new space for the community to use.

Photo by Dawan Williams.

Established in April 2022, the Rec Crew comprises 22 men and women, most of whom are alumni of the Guild program and have training in painting, mural installation, construction, and cleaning detail. The Rec Crew seeks to reduce instances of gun violence and aid lower-income communities in Philadelphia by providing its members with employment opportunities and financial stability. Participants have received lift certifications and have been instructed in new methods of mural installation, which helps bolster their marketable skill sets.

“We were really lucky to get this grant, which enabled us to expand our Guild program, so now we can serve 65 participants each cohort and provide them with consistent work throughout the year,” says Director of Mural Arts’ Restorative Justice Department Kali Silverman. “This grant allowed us to take the Guild to the next level.”

Photo by Dawan Williams.

A graduate of a 2014 MAP initiative at Graterford Prison, Guild coordinator Dawan Williams has taken on an indispensable leadership role in this project.

“This work wouldn’t be possible without the relationships that Dawan has built with the members of the Rec Crew, Guild members, and alumni,” says Kali Silverman, “They know they can reach out to Dawan at any time if they are in need of work and see Dawan as a mentor.”

“The true intention of Mural Arts’ Restorative Justice Department is for something like the Rec Crew to equip participants with the resources so that they have job opportunities waiting for them upon graduation,” says Dawan.

The goal is for our city leaders and government officials to believe in this program and put the proper resources in place so we can continue to keep 25 people off the streets of Philadelphia.

- Dawan Williams

Photo by Dawan Williams.

When asked about his most valuable lesson learned throughout the East Poplar project, Brian Campbell replied, “it’s been important for me to be flexible and go with the flow.” Brian noted that the timeline that Kali Silverman and he had planned for the Rec Center was revised numerous times since its conception, which was a challenge.

“We are trying to be responsive to requests from Rec Centers and sites that fit the profile and serve violence-impacted communities, like helping to install a mural at Smith Rec Center in South Philadelphia or assisting with the installation of the mural at The Oval,” says Brian.

When we reclaim the site, the community wins!

- Brian Campbell

Brian believes Rec Centers are terrific resources for residents of each neighborhood, and when they fall into a state of disrepair or are vandalized, the graffiti can multiply and take over if not addressed in a timely manner.

“I think this project is a good model for an ongoing Response Team of artists who would be ‘on call’ to respond to graffiti issues and other needs at Rec Centers throughout the City, not just in neighborhoods with high incidents of violence,” he says.

Last updated: Jun 1, 2022

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