Nick Cassway wanted to create a piece of art that people could “hang out on.”
Cassway, a 1990 painting alumnus, is one of two artists working at the Tacony Library and Arts Building, a collaboration between the office of Councilman Bobby Henon, the Free Library of Philadelphia and Mural Arts Philadelphia.
In March, Henon, who represents the city’s 6th councilmanic district, approved the conversion of a former hardware store on Torresdale Avenue near Longshore into the Tacony LAB. The lab was made to replace the Tacony Library during its 18-month renovation.
The Tacony Library has provided curriculum support to nearby schools, after-school homework help, enrichment programs, storytelling events and STEM activities for 110 years.
Susan Weber, the manager of the Tacony Library branch, said the lab is only one-tenth of the Tacony Library’s original space and has no reference books. Librarians decided the community would prefer access to fiction books, DVDs and comic books.
“All the other libraries that close for renovations just disappear for a couple of years and the public just has to go someplace else,” Weber said. “But Tacony is a strong, active community and when the leadership of the community went to the councilman’s office, he stepped up and he met the need.”
In order to pay homage to Tacony native Frank Shuman, who pioneered solar power in the neighborhood in the early 20th century, Cassway will create a parklet, a small community space built into parking spots along the street.
Cassway designed “The Frank Shuman Solar Art Parklet” in Tacony LAB’s studio, according to Mural Arts Philadelphia’s website.
The parklet will be set up in front of the Tacony LAB on Thursday, but will be taken down for the winter in November. Starting in April 2017, the parklet will be available for public use once again, serving as an overflow space for the library and a public space for pedestrians.
The design of the parklet includes a built-in bench, lattices for displaying art and solar-powered USB ports. Cassway said he wanted to incorporate the solar panels artistically, so he created a sun design to be placed on multiple circular panels decorating the outside of the parklet. These panels are also reflective in order to alert drivers at night of the parklets close proximity to the street.
“It’s not exactly my artistic forte and it’s not normally what I do professionally as an artist,” Cassway said. “But I thought it was a good challenge to design a 3-D structure. … Everyone was really into the idea, the councilman’s office loved it and the library loved it as well.”
“I would love if the library did more of these throughout Philadelphia,” he added. “It’s a really interesting model.”
Mariel Capanna, a painter and Cassway’s studio mate, created a mural on the wall of Marie Huff Hairdressing on Torresdale Avenue near Diston Street. The mural illustrates the working-class history of the Tacony neighborhood and will be the first fresco mural in Philadelphia.
“On one side, we are hitting the nail on the head of community history,” Capanna said of the mural’s design. “On the other side, we are representing the present and future of Tacony which emphasizes local recreation and families.”
Tacony resident Dianna Gavryleh works for LEAP, a free afterschool program that helps students with their homework. Gavryleh said resources like the Tacony LAB are the reason “people who want to be educated are educated.”
“With failing schools nowadays, you can access lots of resources here that schools might not have,” she added.
Cassway spent the summer in the studio working on the parklet and creating his own art. While Cassway worked in the studio, he said kids from Tacony would come in to draw and paint alongside him.
“There are some kids that come in and sit here for hours just making art,” he said. “The kids saw me drawing all summer long too alongside them, which I think is super important for them to see and know that this is something people can do at any age.”
Meghan Costa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.