Community Catalyst Residency

Organization and community: Fairmount Park Conservancy (Philadelphia, PA)

Ep. 2 - Community Catalyst Residency_Amber Art and Design from Fairmount Park Conservancy on Vimeo.

In 2018, artist collective Amber Art & Design completed a one-year Community Catalyst residency at the historic Hatfield House. Fairmount Park Conservancy partnered with the collective to embark on a long-term community initiative in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, which borders East Fairmount Park along the 33rd Street corridor.

As artist facilitators, the collective entered a robust coalition of organizations and leaders, including the East Park Coalition and a Community Advisory Committee convened by Fairmount Park Conservancy. Using the Hatfield House as a primary base of operations and for events, Amber Art & Design founders and artists Keir Johnston and Ernel Martinez led a multilayered process of cultural asset mapping, social engagement, and community building with residents and leaders of Strawberry Mansion. The community engagement process aimed to build relationships in Strawberry Mansion and create an enduring platform for neighbors’ interests and needs to be heard. They also hosted eight community events to showcase neighborhood arts, facilitate discussion, and gather ideas.

This residency and Community Advisory Committee served as a foundation for Fairmount Park Conservancy, working alongside residents, to identify potential investments and programs in the park and neighborhood, and helped shape the re-imagining of the Mander Recreation Center. The work accomplished and relationships formed during this residency serve as a foundation for the next phase of Hatfield House as a community-driven arts hub. Learn more in Amber Art & Design’s Photo Journal and Final Report.

Strawberry Mansion Deck of Cards

Amber Art & Design, in partnership with Beth Uzwiak of Ethnologica, conducted a community asset mapping project, which focused on the process of listening instead of predetermining what the ultimate product of asset mapping would be. The partners conducted 25 life history interviews; 40-50 informal interviews in people’s homes, on street corners, and at public events, including a barbershop on the porch of a historic house in Strawberry Mansion; and four roundtables (with additional support from a Hatch Lab grant, through the Alliance for Media in collaboration with New Community Partnership whose youth leaders ran the roundtables), recording input from more than 20 young people about their experiences living in the neighborhood. 

From this data, Beth Uzwiak drafted a document of local assets and histories, defined as what residents in Strawberry Mansion treasure and prize about living there. The data represents the words of neighbors who have lived through significant cultural, social, and economic change over the past 75 years. Residents shared a rich history of sports, art, music, community activism, and pride. They also spoke about economic decline and revitalization; the shift away from blue-collar work citywide which impacted employment opportunities; the impact of the Vietnam War on the community; and health and social epidemics related to drug use, among other concerns.

Residents’ stories and memories of the neighborhood were compiled into a deck of playing cards featuring current and historic figures and landmarks, such as jazz saxophonist John Coltrane and boxer Eugene “Cyclone” Hart. The cards were distributed to residents as an educational and culturally evocative way to continue a dialogue about how these people, places, and memories might fit into the future planning and development projects for the neighborhood.