Art Works Blog

The Arts at Work in Philadelphia

February 26, 2010
Washington, DC

What do gardens, Puerto Rican cuisine, and mask-making have in common? The Norris Square Neighborhood Project (NSNP) in lower North Philadelphia tapped into all three in imaginative ways to transform their formally derelict neighborhood into a place of beauty, joy, and safety.

I first learned about NSNP from an interesting report (truly) called Cultivating ?Natural? Cultural Districts, by Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert of the Social Impact of the Arts Project at the University of Pennsylvania. The report cited Norris Square as a ?natural? cultural district, one that evolved organically using its own cultural assets, in particular the skills of local residents passionate about the arts and gardening. The report notes that natural cultural districts are more successful at sustaining development than many big performing arts complexes that erupt from neglected downtowns.

Entrance to the Norris Square Neighborhood Project?s African Village in El Colobó garden. Photo courtesy of Norris Street Neighborhood Project

NSNP started in 1973 as a greening project for elementary school students. The Latino residents of Norris Square offered their stories, crafts, cuisine, and gardening know-how. In the late 1980s, the Philadelphia Green program joined NSNP to create community gardens, street-tree plantings, and blocks of colorful window boxes and plant containers. NSNP also hosts programs including a summer camp and after school daycare.

There are now six major gardens in Norris Square. One of those, the African Village in El Colobó has a small market stand in it, where children can sell the crafts they?ve made and the vegetables they?ve grown. But my favorite is El Batey with its spectacular butterfly mural. Learn more about this wonderful project on their website.

This is just one of many cool things happening in Philadelphia where the arts are at the heart of community revitalization. Rocco will visit Philadelphia on March 2 to see for himself how art works to re-imagine, reform, invigorate, and strength neighborhoods. Stay tuned.

Add new comment