Filling in the spaces

The People’s Paper Co-op takes criminal records, tears them up and turns them into blank paper. With that blank paper, the individuals write about how having a record has impacted their lives, along with attaching a Polaroid photo of themselves to it. Brianna Spause | TTN
The People’s Paper Co-op takes criminal records, tears them up and turns them into blank paper. With that blank paper, the individuals write about how having a record has impacted their lives, along with attaching a Polaroid photo of themselves to it. Brianna Spause | TTN

Music rang out on Germantown Avenue, bouncing off the reflective mosaic sculptures in Meditation Park and drawing in the curious.

The Village of Arts and Humanities hosted an open house and block party on Oct. 12 to showcase the artist-in-resident projects of SPACES, where three renovated row homes on North Alder Street first opened their doors to young artists last summer with a social conscience.

“It was our chance to showcase all of the work people had done over the summer,” Lillian Dunn, the SPACES program manager, said. “We thought it would be fun to have all three residencies operating at once so people could get a sense of the crazy energy of it all.”

Through SPACES, community driven concepts have been executed in the Fairhill neighborhood. The Village Table, The Stoop and People’s Paper Co-op were born, and teamed with neighborhood artists to facilitate relationships and a true cultural immersion that could inspire social change.

“The mission of SPACES is to create belonging in the neighborhood,” Dunn said, emphasizing a sense of community power. “It’s really important to us that artists approach this as not only the ability to come in and fix something, but the opportunity to learn a great deal from the people they are working with. This isn’t just a neighborhood to be fixed, it’s a place with many gifts and insights.”

The idea of a residency was redefined by the SPACES program which, through creative place making grants from the Knight Foundation and Art Places America, offered not only a place to work, but also a living space to the artists.

“It’s a good look for the neighborhood,” local resident Dru Aiken said. “It’s good for the community and the kids to realize that being a part of something is always better than being a part of nothing. I like to see stuff like that in my neighborhood.”

The People’s Paper Co-op employs the art of papermaking to provide freedom. West Virginia based papermakers, artists and activists Mark Strandquist and Courtney Bowles work with Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity to provide expungement clinics at no cost to the participant.

“[Criminal records] create barriers in employment, housing, student loans,” Strandquist said. “Expungement regularly costs $1,500 per charge, so there’s a class barrier in who has access to clearing these records. We help people take their old record, tear it up and they turn it into a blank piece of paper.”

The newly clean paper is then used for the individual to write a story about how their record has affected their lives, and a Polaroid photo of themselves is attached to the bottom. When completed, the public art project will be 100 feet wide and serve as a paper quilt.

“We are taking the legal transformation, and turning it into a physical and personal transformation,” Strandquist said. “This will be a quilt of experiences and history.”

Four aspiring DJs involved with the residency called The Stoop practiced their weekly listening parties.

“The Stoop is a place where everybody comes to create our own music,” said Tamara Dill, a 16-year-old DJ. “We started by just creating beats, and then we started writing lyrics too so that we could start our own label.”

While their residency with The Village is coming to an end, the young artists will continue working with Brit on an internet radio broadcast, Laid Back Radio, and will continue to promote their album, Strong and Independent, that is being released on Oct. 25.

“It [has been] a tremendous opportunity for us to learn a new program, a new set of equipment and how to have an ear for the musical side of things as far as the beat making process goes,” Buck said. “I have been enjoying myself.”

Amber Art Collective dreamed up a creative response to the lack of fresh, healthy foods in North Philadelphia with its project, the Village Table. The project directly engages the community in the planning and execution stage of their monthly communal meal in Meditation Park.

Recipes are first collected from neighbors, then ran past a team of nutritionists from The Food Trust and health professionals at Jefferson Hospital to ensure a healthy experience.

“With those recipes, we look to create a catalog of the culinary culture of the area right now,” collective member, Keir Johnston said. “For a lot of people, their family recipes are like their history. It’s very intimate; it’s their experiences, how they were raised and who they are.”

The menus are then created and executed by two local chefs that were chosen for the meal. Produce is sourced locally from Common Market and the meal served out of their temporary home on Alder Street by a youthful staff of neighborhood kids, ages 12-16.

By turning in a recipe, helping to build a table from found wood in the neighborhood, or painting ceramic plates to be used in the event, is a means for entry.

“Through exchanges and means of alternative currency we have culminating meals where it’s really based on service to the community,” Johnston said. “Most of the people in this neighborhood are not used to situations where they are being served a four course, fine dining meal. It’s about creating a community over table and conversation over food.”

Brianna Spause can be reached at brianna.spause@temple.edu

CORRECTION: In a version of this article that appeared in print, the street in which homes for the program were renovated was North Adler Street. The street name is North Alder Street. Also, collective member Keir Johnston’s name was misspelled as Kier.

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