We’re so honored that the Village of Arts and Humanities in North Philly has received $500K in funding from ArtPlace America’s 2017 National Creative Placemaking Fund to create the Civic Power Studio: a center for studying and amplifying local civic power! Artplace received 987 applications in 2017, from which 70 finalists were selected and The Village is one of only 23 projects that will receive funding this year.

Here’s one of many stories that led to the creation of the Civic Power Studio:

Back in 2015, our SPACES residency project “People and Places of Power” (led by Mike Kuetemeyer and Anula Shetty) introduced us to three nontraditional civic leaders: Ms. Nandi and Mr. Khalid, the Penny Candy Store owners; Darlene Pope, block captain of Seltzer Street; and Ms. O, a healer. At the close of the project, Mike and Anula invited these seasoned leaders to come together, and to bring their own trusted friends and supporters, for a conversation.

We met at .O’s sanctuary space, Serenity House, on a sunny April afternoon. The guests ranged in age from 6 to 82. Many had seen but not spoken to one another before — although, as Ms. O said, “we already know each other.” Leaders told tough and joyful stories, honored one another’s experiences, and above all, expressed excitement about sitting with one another for the first time.

As the afternoon came to a close, Ms. Nandi named the energy in the room. She celebrated how positive and full it felt, and how much power we had as a collective. Her motto is “nothing is impossible,” and she said, “I can see it happening. It’s going to be easy. There are too many minds in one room, good communication, we’re able to complement one another. We’re going to build something the neighborhood never forgets.”

The group gave many hugs goodbye and headed out into the evening.

When we decided to apply to Artplace, we called on these same leaders, as well as many more essential partners, artists, and thinkers, to shape our proposal. We decided to apply to create the Civic Power Studio: a space that these leaders would co-design from the ground up to meet their needs. A place where these leaders and many more, young and old, could gather to share their unique safekeeping strategies and amplify them through art and partnerships with other powerful people around the city, the nation and the world.

The power we felt in the room that April day emanated from our neighbors’ love for our community and its people, and from the work of Lily Yeh, Big Man, JoJo Williams, Arthur Hall, and many other Village founders and ancestors. These founders taught us that art is an essential tool to demonstrate and enact power, in the service of creating a more just and equitable future for our neighborhood.

We are so proud and honored to be able to continue their legacy with this tremendous gift from the Artplace America 2017 National Creative Placemaking Fund.