Thanks to the Mural Arts Program
, one of the biggest arts and culture events this year isn’t happening inside one building, but all around the city, indoors and out, with public installations from artists across the region, country and world.
features 14 projects that, according to Mural Arts, transform the organization "into an open source platform, allowing artists to create projects that demand public involvement and inspire widespread participation."
One North Philly installation is a kick-off for a longer-term project examining the social and economic ties and tensions in a Philly neighborhood. Last year, with Corner Store (Take-Out Stories)
, Ernel Martinez and Keir Johnston of AMBER Art & Design
examined similar themes to those in their current project, La Frontera
. Corner Store spotlighted the primarily Chinese and Korean-owned take-out restaurants and bodegas of Chinatown North, whose customers are primarily black and Latino. The moveable Corner Store installation aimed to be a space to understand different cultural roots and the myriad similarities at heart.
La Frontera examines long-existing connections and tensions between the communities divided by North Philly’s 5th Street corridor: primarily African-American on one side, and immigrants from South and Central America on the other. Located in a 3000-square-foot warehouse at 2200 N. 8th Street, building 3A, that Mural Arts helped the artists to locate and rent, it’s half creatively-funded bodega, half arts/community center.
Martinez, a Belize native who grew up in Los Angeles and Detroit before settling in Philadelphia, calls La Frontera a "bridging of two worlds," featuring site-specific community-created artwork telling neighbors’ stories, as well as a unique "bodega" of goods and services, from homemade soaps and foods to services like hairdressing. Wares will be dispensed free to visitors via small grants from Amber Art & Design to participating providers.
"Philadelphia historically is a city built on immigrants," argues Martinez (who earned his MFA from the University of Pennsylvania before helping to found AMBER Art & Design in 2011), and these bodegas or corner stores are often instrumental to the immigrant families who run them, as well as their customers.
La Frontera is especially a nod to the parallel histories of African Americans (who swept north across the country in the Great Migration) and Latino immigrants.
"Within these American cities, these urban areas, you have people with different cultures, but they really do have a shared history," having left one place for another, he explains. "They’re the ones that are bringing life [and] creativity into these cities. They’re the formation of new communities."
But sharing space with limited resources leads to a lot of conflicts, too, and the artists hope diverse community members will find new understanding at La Frontera.
The project won’t end with Open Source in October. The artists hope to continue it for up to two years; the Open Source installation is "kind of a seed project," explains Martinez, "and we’re going to run with it from there."
In the meantime, locals are invited to a free North Philly Block Party outside the warehouse on October 18 (noon to 4 p.m.) featuring food, music and other entertainment.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Ernel Martinez, AMBER Art & Design