Jul 25

Showing Up for Community with A2O

by: Aislinn Pentecost-Farren

Over the last six years, Mural Arts has worked in partnership with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation on an Art Education program that brings artistic exploration to green spaces around the city. Arts & Artists Outdoors, or A2O, has held weekly classes and community events in connection with long-term artist residencies, guided by the voices and ideas of students. In helping youth make connections between sustainability and creativity, A2O has left an impact that will last long beyond this program. Here, Aislinn Pentecost-Farren, the A2O Program Manager, looks back on the last six years of this partnership.

If one purpose of community-based art practices is to strengthen group identity and pride in a place, it’s important to support an artist to be there for the long haul, through success and difficulty.  When an artist can model commitment, creativity, and care—like the artists we worked with for A2O—they set an example of what helps make a community strong.

A2O’s last season wrapped up a few weeks ago: a unique program at Mural Arts, employing local artists to work long-term at neighborhood recreation centers, each artist spent a year leading workshops and co-developing a public art project about the natural environment. As Mural Arts pursues more long-term place-based engagement projects like Southeast by Southeast, Tacony LAB, Restored Spaces, and Southwest Roots, A2O provided another model for creating a platform for creative meaning-making through long-term relationships between an artist and a community. A2O artists worked a minimum of nine months at the same recreation center, and several returned to the program for multiple years to work with the same group of youth and their community.

A2O did have its challenges, of course. Workshops were often not full, recreation center staff changes were disruptive, and artists new to muralism needed extra support to pull off their projects. But the intimacy of a small group allows for fast bonding and deep arts coaching, and the shifts in staffing made the artists’ consistent presence even more important. Over the last three years of the program, A2O trained 15 local artists in how to design, install, and manage a mural project, none of whom had done it before.

Now, after the program’s end, recreation centers from Kingsessing to Tacony are left with a visible marker of these relationships and adventures in strengthening social bonds through artistic practice. Here are a few of my favorites.

Grasshopper, Bee, Butterfly, Dragonfly 

  • A2O students working on a project at Dorsey Playground's recreation center. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • A2O students working on a project at Dorsey Playground's recreation center. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • A2O students working on a project at Dorsey Playground's recreation center. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • An A2O project at Dorsey Playground's recreation center. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • An A2O project at Dorsey Playground's recreation center. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • An A2O project at Dorsey Playground's recreation center. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • An A2O project at Dorsey Playground's recreation center. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Alana Bograd, assisted by Arthur Haywood 

Alana Bograd and the youth at Dorsey Playground used patterns and colors inspired by local insect species to design paintings on the four ceiling fans of the recreation center. The fans’ movement brings the paintings to life like the buzzing of insect wings, and brought the colors of the outdoors into the grey interior of the rec center.

Now Growing In Mantua 

  • Mural by A2O students at Wright Recreation Center, with artist Rebecca Schultz. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • A2O students working on a project at the Wright Recreation Center. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • A2O students working on a project at the Wright Recreation Center with artist Rebecca Schultz. Photo by Lisa Murch.

  • A2O students working on a project at the Wright Recreation Center. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Rebecca Schultz, assisted by Brian Bazemore 

Rebecca Schultz, an experienced artist and teacher who was new to Philadelphia, drew on her assistant Brian Bazemore’s years of relationships and knowledge as an artist and resident of Mantua to design a project for the neighborhood’s Wright Recreation Center. They explored the physical and political landscape of nature in the neighborhood with the youth, taking walks with local community garden advocates and visiting their gardens. The youth used printmaking, drawing, photography, and collage to interpret what they saw and learned, and Rebecca assembled these responses into a mural that captures the vibrance and complexity of urban ecosystems, both human and ecological.

Color (Cart)Wheels 

  • A2O students working on a project at the Francisville Playground. Photo by Charlyn Magdalene Griffith.

  • A2O students working on a project at the Francisville Playground. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • A2O mini-mural at the Francisville Playground. Photo by Charlyn Magdalene Griffith.

Charlyn Magdalene Griffith and Sam Spetner 

Charlyn Magdalene Griffith and Sam Spetner created this temporary mini-mural as a study for their final project, but it stands on its own.  The interconnected  composition reflects the rapport of their classroom, and the unpolished aesthetic of the improvised material (pen, pencil, marker and paint on cardboard) gives the piece an audacity that elevates the themes of their residency: nature, community, geometry, and power. Through visual arts, choreography, and song, the youth at Francisville Playground learned how geometry can be found in nature, how both are connected to community, and that power can be found in all three: the power of knowledge, the power of the natural world, and the inherent strength of the Francisville community.

Free Water, Free People 

  • A2O students working on a project at Mander Playground. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • A2O students working on a project at Mander Playground. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • A2O students working on a project at Mander Playground. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • A2O students with Monica Mathieu. showing off a project at Mander Playground. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Heidi Ratanavanich, assisted by Monica Mathieu 

Heidi Ratanavanich worked with the youth at Mander Playground to design and sew flags representing nearby sources of water and the plant species that live there. They based their flag designs on the Asafo flag tradition from Ghana, which uses flags as a form of communication to identify local culture and symbolize group membership.

Kingsessing’s Coat of Arms 

  • The Kingsessing coat of arms, created by A2O students with artist Lucy Pistilli. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • A2O students working on a project at the Kingsessing rec center. Photo by Lucy Pistilli.

Lucy Pistilli, assisted by Julia Owens 

Lucy Pistilli and the A2O students at Kingsessing spent their spring exploring local flora and fauna, and the symbolism of medieval European coats of arms. They cataloged their discoveries through drawing, specimen collecting, and photography. Drawing from their research, they created a coat of arms for Kingsessing that incorporates the iconic plants and animals of the neighborhood.

Last updated: Jul 25, 2017

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