ABOUT THE PROJECT
Widener University, in collaboration with Devon Walls of the Artist Warehouse, received a 2015 Catalyst Fund from the Barra Foundation to support a Boundaries and Bridges initiative, which aimed to strengthen and support arts collaboration in the city of Chester and realize the planned Culture and Arts Corridor from Widener University to Chester’s City Hall. The $211,000 grant allowed for a range of collaborative arts and creative place-making activities over the course of the project. Members from Widener and the greater Chester community worked with artists to identify boundaries that may be obstructions to deeper trust and stronger collaborations between the university and community. Workshops were offered to catalyze and encourage new collaborative possibilities, and funds were available for artistic interventions that strengthen or build new bridges.
The Boundaries and Bridges initiative comes on the heels of the Chester Made initiative, which was part of a collaborative effort led by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council to support the Historic Chester Arts and Culture District and the concept of a Chester Culture and Arts Corridor. A key goal of Chester Made was to frame the story of arts and culture and its place in the life of Chester through story gatherings.
There are three major steps in the Boundaries and Bridges project:
Utilize culture and arts methodologies to gather stories and data about boundaries between Widener University’s Main Campus and the Chester community. We call this step the “Boundary Project.”
Hold workshops for Chester community members along with Widener University Arts & Sciences faculty and students. These workshops will introduce immersive arts pedagogies and methodologies and also help foster possible new collaborative projects. Check out our workshops page for information.
Start to bridge the gap and break down the boundaries. We call this step “Bridge Projects, ” and it included specific events organized by the Core Team along with the collaborative projects between Chester and Widener community members. Our first bridge event was Poetic Bridges, a spoken word event that took place on the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge.
A simple diagram describes the overall process and steps of the project:
So, what is creative placemaking?
“Creative Placemaking is an evolving field of practice that intentionally leverages the power of the arts, culture and creativity to serve a community’s interest while driving a broader agenda for change, growth and transformation in a way that also builds character and quality of place.” –Artscape
Our workshops introduced Chester community members to additional successful creative place-making methodologies that we will adapt to community interest and need as well as resources. Walking tours combine storytelling and mapping, thus allowing us to fuse the Chester Made methodologies with arts-based interventions that focus on walking. We are creating new ways of experiencing and reflecting on boundaries between Widener University and the city of Chester and new ways of responding to those issues.
Want to learn more? Check out these resources below:
How are we related to Chester Made?
“Chester Made” is a name that brings a wide range of cultural and arts activity under a common banner so that we all better recognize the prominence, importance, and value of culture and the arts in Chester. As such, “Chester Made” is becoming the recognized brand name for Chester culture and arts activities. Cultural and creative events and projects are announced through the Chester Made FaceBook page. It is a brand that developed as a result of an arts-based urban planning process led by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) and funded by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, National Endowment for the Humanities, Widener University, and PECO. Partners included Chester Arts Alive, Artist Warehouse, PHC, Widener University, Just Act (formerly Gas and Electric Arts), Americans for Arts, and the City of Chester. The purpose of the project was, to recognize and promote creative activity in Chester and to harness its power to strengthen community and the economic vitality of the city. One important result of the planning process was the creation of a Chester cultural assets map; it can be found on the City of Chester’s website.
The Boundaries and Bridges project was influenced by the Chester Made process and continues to use some of its arts-based methodologies for the purposes of visioning and planning. But in this project, we were focused on strengthening trust and new collaborative relationships between Widener University and other Chester-based partners. Both the need and promise for doing so came out during some Chester Made storytelling circles in which people both noted important arts and cultural activities at Widener while also noting that there were still obstacles to full collaboration in the community. At the same time, we recognized the power of storytelling and other arts methods to empower people and create stronger community relations.
We have expanded upon the methodologies used in the initial Chester Made project and are also focused on sharing those methods with others in Chester to develop exciting new creative projects in the city. We continue to use the brand “Chester Made,” as a sign of our unity with other cultural and arts activities in Chester and in recognition to our debts of what we learned from the initial project. But the Boundaries and Bridges project is funded by the Barra Foundation and Widener University and it is co-managed by Widener University’s College of Arts & Sciences and the Artist Warehouse.
The Barra Foundation
Barra has been supporting innovation since 1963. The late Robert L. McNeil, Jr., the former Chairman of McNeil Laboratories, created the Foundation to support nonprofit organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia region. His tireless philanthropy perennially encouraged innovative ideas and concepts, which remain the main focus of the Foundation today. http://www.barrafoundation.org/
Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener is comprised of eight schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate’s, baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university’s campuses in Chester, Exton, and Harrisburg, Pa., and Wilmington, Del. are proud to be tobacco-free. Visit the university website, www.widener.edu.
City of Chester
Originally settled in 1644 by the Swedish as “Upland,” the name was changed to Chester in 1682 by William Penn who acquired the settlement as a safe haven for Quakers. It was incorporated on October 31, 1701 as a boro and as a city on February 14, 1866. Chester is the oldest city in Pennsylvania, located on the Delaware River between the cities of Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del. For the first 200 years of its history, Chester was a prosperous and wealthy manufacturing community with industries concentrating on machinery, metal manufacturing, locomotive, shipbuilding and textiles. These strong industries, paired with the city’s proximity to the Delaware River and major railways generated jobs and fueled a steady population growth. By 1950, Chester’s population peaked at more than 66,000; however, the post-war economy negatively impacted the city. By the mid-1950s, Chester began to experience economic difficulties as manufacturing and other industries moved out of the city. As a result, employment declined into the 1960s, and many people migrated out of Chester to surrounding towns and suburbs. Since 1996, Chester has received $1.36 billion in public and private investment. With these funds, the city has restored its parks system, improved and expanded housing, attracted new business, generated thousands of job opportunities and invested funds into future development projects. Learn more at www.chestercity.com.
The video below was created by two Widener University students for their senior capstone project.
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