Oct 25

Nick Cassway gives the inside scoop on Tacony's cool solar parklet

by: Carly Rapaport-Stein

Nick Cassway is an artist-in-residence at the Tacony LAB, and he’s experimenting with some pretty neat stuff in the historic neighborhood. Read on to learn about Nick’s artistic philosophy and the exciting work happening in and around the LAB.

Carly: I’d love to start out by hearing about you as an artist: tell me about your style and your path.

Nick: I’ve always made stuff, and I come out of a creative background. My mom is a painter, my dad’s an architect, so all I ever wanted to do as a kid was to draw and to go to art school – which I did, and I graduated from Tyler School of Art in 1990 with a BFA in painting.  I studied abroad in Rome for a year, which was awesome, and since graduating from art school in 1990, I’ve lived in Philadelphia and have been steadily involved in the art scene in the city, making my work and showing my work.

I started an independent curating group called Dissentia, and we called it a “guerilla curating group” because we did all kinds of unusual projects – like stuff in a Uhaul truck, a show in a bathroom, and a show where you could steal all the artwork. I was involved as an artist and then, eventually, as the executive director at Nexus Foundation for Today’s Art, which no longer exists, but was Philadelphia’s oldest co-op artist group. I was a director for 6 years, we moved from Old City up to the Crane building then did some really fun programs, like a pirate radio station. I like doing projects like that, pushing boundaries.

My inclination as an artist is always to do something bigger and more involved, a lot more conceptual. Which takes me to the present, where I’m actively developing experimental surface design, like wallpaper and textiles.

I also teach design, graphic design, editorial design, and brand identity full-time at Drexel University’s Design and Merchandising program. My artwork is very heavily influenced by design, and I see myself as a painter and a designer. Part of my artistic vision and my artistic philosophy stems out of this need to communicate, which is kind of taken from the world of graphic design. With my students and the clients that I work with, I focus on who are you speaking to and what are you saying. When you’re working with clients it’s usually a little more straightforward, but when I’m working for myself it can be a lot more freeform, but my philosophy still is that it needs to resonate. There needs to be this acknowledgment that someone is going to look at it, even if it’s just one person. It needs to resonate on some level, and it needs to have some kind of meaning. Everyone goes “what does it mean, what does it mean?” but it needs to have meaning and that’s a component of my artistic philosophy.

Nick Cassway's solar park is installed in front of the LAB. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Carly: How did that philosophy influence the project you’re doing with Tacony?

Nick: The Tacony project is a little different. I wanted to find a project that meant something to the residents of the neighborhood in terms of some kind of civic improvement that had some artistic design value to it. I looked into the needs of the library and the needs of the space, thinking about what kind of activities take place there and what the needs of the community might be. We landed on trying to create a parklet.

The parklet takes over two parking spots in front of the library, and could be used by people having their lunch, by the library to do story time or activities, just for any kind of social gathering. It transforms the space. The other day, I was sitting in the parking space at a table, and it was a whole different perspective of the world from there.

Nick Cassway installs the solar park. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Carly: It’s neat that you’re looking into perspectives, and I understand that much of the project is based around a historical perspective of Tacony.

Nick: Exactly, we wanted to tie the project into Tacony history. That’s a huge thing in Tacony, and it’s really charming. It’s a neighborhood that’s had some highs and lows but there’s people who still are passionate about the history of the neighborhood. It had famous residents like the Disston family and industries like the Disston Saw Works. As we were doing initial investigation into the history of the neighborhood, I learned about Frank Shuman, who was a turn-of-the-century inventor who basically invented the photovoltaic solar energy, or the whole idea of solar energy. We wanted to pay homage to him, to acknowledge another famous resident of the neighborhood, and made the parklet solar powered. After talking with neighbors about the project, it’s great to see that everyone’s getting really excited to see this thing happen.

Carly: Thanks so much, Nick, and enjoy the Tacony LAB fest on Thursday!

Last updated: Oct 21, 2016

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Chris Labovitz says

Dedicated tonight. Great job. Thanks for helping Tacony in its revitalization. Your partnership is very welcomed and appreciated.

Betty Kirk says

Congratulations ! Wonderful article. by the way Frank Schumann has 32 patents. He invented safety glass and made his first mil!ion and he only went to 4th grade. Betty Kirk from Tacony