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Drexel aims to improve arts and cultural opportunities in Mantua and Powelton

Tapping into the creative community in West Philly

A Fragile Ecosystem

Drexel examines its neighboring communities

As Drexel research director and assistant professor Neville Vakharia points out, university-level faculty members always have their own research agendas, regardless of their fields of study. But in 2013, three faculty from Drexel's Westphal College of Media Arts & Design -- Vakharia included -- discovered a subject they could all agree on, and one they felt warranted immediate attention.
That was the arts-and-culture ecosystem of Mantua, Powelton Village and West Powelton -- three neighborhoods adjacent to the Drexel campus. Vakharia and his colleagues were intrigued by the reality that while their neighbor communities are home to large concentrations of artists, they've somehow failed to transform culturally.
In an effort to discover what might be holding back the growth of cultural opportunities in Mantua and Powelton, Drexel dispatched a nine-member research team to conduct six months of community focus groups, interviews with neighbors on the street, and brainstorming sessions with various arts-based organizations and cultural stakeholders in the area.  
The group has since compiled its findings into a 12-page public report, "A Fragile Ecosystem," which can be accessed here (PDF). And while much of the report explores the breadth of cultural opportunities that already exist in the neighborhoods, it also offers possible solutions that might better tie the local arts community together.
In late August, "A Fragile Ecosystem" was distributed throughout West Philadelphia, where it's now in the hands of many of the area's artists, arts organizations, and cultural and civic groups.
"There are a lot of strong [arts] players in the neighborhood," explains Vakharia. "What we're hoping is that this report will allow them to understand what the needs are when it comes to arts and culture, and to [help them] move forward on developing some solutions that can benefit the community."    
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Neville Vakharia, Drexel University
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