Asian Arts Initiative to host first block party

Pearl Street Block Party celebrates culture Sept. 28.

Most people wouldn’t choose to host a party in a dark alley, but the Asian Arts Initiative is doing just that.

The first Pearl Street Block Party presented by PNC Arts Live and organized by the Asian Arts Initiative will take place on the 1200 block of Pearl Street on Sept. 28 from 2 to 5 p.m., with a communal feast at 5 p.m.

The Asian Arts Initiative aims to become a support system for the community and to be a place where creative energy can spark and flow back into the neighborhoods of Philadelphia.

The Asian Arts Initiative came together in 1993 as a way to respond to concerns about racial tensions. Asian Americans and immigrants, as well as non-Asians, could come together to celebrate art as a way to create social change and improvement.

At the northern end of Chinatown, the Asian Arts Initiative is still doing that today through the Pearl Street Block Party.

Its originality lies in its vendors and events, to its location, which spans from 10th to Broad streets.

“It’s a sketchy, underutilized block,” Nancy Chen, the public programs manager at the Asian Art Initiative, said. “Each block is different from the next. It can be sketchy, and people would usually avoid it. So we, kind of picking it as the least place you would have a block party, invite people into this space and see what we can create.”

The purpose of the block party is for the Chinatown North neighborhood to come together in a communal celebration with different projects that were done by artists during this experience. There are hopes that Pearl Street can someday become a better part of the neighborhood.

“It’s an unlikely candidate. Let’s come together and imagine what it could be,” Chen said.

To kick off the festivities, there will be a dim sum brunch at 1 p.m. Although there will be free events during the block party from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., buying a ticket for the brunch will give attendees many opportunities, such as a reserved seat at the meal after the party, a chance for meet and greets with artists in residence from the social practice lab and a chance to talk to Philadelphia artist Isaac Lin.

The block party will include a vast amount of different activities so everybody is likely find something they enjoy. Activities will include screen printing through the help of Ben Volta, who is an artist in residence, Chinese Chess lessons, tile-making and glazing, making corsages and more. The goal is to cultivate the most diversity possible for those who are interested in celebrating art that connects different communities.

A featured guest, architect Walter Hood, will lead a furniture building activity at the block party. Participants will learn to make tables and chairs.

Arts in Motion Dance, Philippine Folk Arts Society, Hip Hop Fundamentals and many more will be putting on performances all afternoon to keep guests entertained.

“This is supposed to be [a] celebratory [event]. This is for the people from the neighborhood who work, and those who play, and live there can celebrate and cultivate the experience,” Chen said.

Chen said the Asian Arts Initiative is very excited about upcoming projects, especially with Rick Lowe, who is based in Houston and best known for his work with the Row Houses. His ongoing art project circulating Pearl Street will be discussed heavily, since he’s a part of this social experiment and the utilization of Pearl Street.

Just like the Asian Arts Initiative, Lowe uses relationships and community as the medium for his work. Lowe, who is working with different social groups already, will be doing a multi-year residency with the Asian Arts Initiative in 2014, where he will be helping to lead the long-term Pearl Street Project.

At the meal following the block party, there will be a conversation with Hood about the future of Pearl Street. In fact, he will be sharing a design proposal based off of the feedback he gets about what the public wants for an ally. The meal is for people who specifically live and work in the area so they can converse about what their neighborhood means to them and the future of it.

“By invite only for the meal, we can curate who is part of the conversation, but it is a pretty wide audience. We really want as many people from Philadelphia for the block party for the celebration, though,” Chen said.

In the care of rain, the event would be moved to 1219 Vine St.

Chelsea Finn can be reached at

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