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A Fragile Ecosystem

September 22, 2014


A new report from Westphal Arts Administration Professors Julie Hawkins, Neville Vakharia and Dr. Andrew Zitcer show there is a high concentration of arts activity in three West Philadelphia communities that neighbor Drexel’s campus. Among a number of independent artists and local arts organizations are Spiral Q Puppet Theatre, Mighty Writers, Gwen Bye Dance Center and Lil’ Filmmakers. But the neighborhoods of Powelton and Mantua are not the cultural hot spots that exist in Northern Liberties and Old City, and the report speaks to the potential benefits of further developing their cultural assets.

The report, “A Fragile Ecosystem: The Role of Arts and Culture in Philadelphia’s Mantua, Powelton Village and West Powelton Neighborhoods,” examines not only the crucial role of arts and culture in the communities, but focuses on the challenges local organizations face in funding, capacity building and outreach. “We wanted to explore arts participation and arts access in the neighborhoods surrounding Drexel, with the goal of encouraging and supporting efforts to advance these neighborhoods through the further development and use of their cultural assets,” said Professor Julie Hawkins. “The arts have the potential to play a transformative role in building social, economic and community capital.”

The study draws on 450 interviews with neighborhood residents as well as surveys and focus groups conducted over a period of five months. Data collection was supported by a team four graduate students and two undergraduate students from Westphal College and Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences.

The team found that residents see arts and culture as a crucial part of their community’s ability to educate youth, build employment skills, bridge generations, and revitalize spaces. But low public investment is a hindrance, and local arts groups operate on small budgets. The report also outlines needs for a support network for collaborative efforts and long-term planning; increased communication among artists and organizations; and more connections between cultural assets and churches, civic organizations and schools.

The team offers a plan in the report to help navigate these challenges and support the development of cultural assets that will meet the neighborhood’s needs. Action steps include increased funding from public and private sources for key cultural clusters; strengthened relationships between local arts groups and the public school district; and the collaborative development of a localized communications system. The study ultimately looks toward bringing the communities together across geographic and socio-economic boundaries to address challenges and improve the lives of all residents.

Click here [PDF] to read the full report of how the arts can impact local communities, and click here to read the Philadelphia Inquirer’s coverage of the study.