The gathering served as a preview of the Chester Made Ensemble's July 22 presentation to Chester City Council.
Arts, Humanities and Daily Life
During the story gathering, participants described the creative and cultural life of their community. They talked about playing music, painting, dance, and visits to museums and theater. But they also expressed creativity in other contexts -- expressed in fashion choices and hair salons, community gardens, food and culinary arts, the Needle Works Club at the library, even in the way a player moves on the basketball court.
Individual stories revealed the value of arts and the humanities as a source of personal well being, a form of connection to the past and a force from bringing individuals together in the community. The story gathering also demonstrated that arts and the humanities open people up to new beginnings and provide a way of imagining new possibilities.
A Profound Impact
We learned that the impact of arts and humanities on Chester and its people was profound and multidimensional.
Arts and humanities connect people to a common heritage and cultural traditions that unite young and old. They are a common denominator that build respect among people across economic, racial, and social lines. They create social spaces where people feel part of a community. They also create a sense of belonging where differences are appreciated and common ground is felt.
Arts and humanities contribute vibrancy and vitality to life in the city. People in Chester value celebrations and the way arts and culture create social gathering spaces. This includes everything from events like festivals, the Mother’s Day parade, Riverfront Ramble, and the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration to performances at Widener to exhibitions at downtown galleries and cafes, to street culture.
Arts and culture are also thriving in a new community of young artists and cultural leaders like those at the Artist Warehouse in downtown Chester and at cultural neighborhood centers like J. Lewis Crozer Library.
Finally, the arts and humanities are a healing force in Chester. They provide a point of hope in times of trauma and contribute to community resilience.
From Loss to Hope: Changing the Narrative
The story of arts and humanities in Chester is one not only of pride and possibility but also, unfortunately of loss. Significant cultural resources, like Deshong Park and other venues that once defined the Chester community, are now deeply missed. Residents express both a sense of emptiness and a desire to revitalize neighborhoods that have suffered decline.
They recognize that arts are important to the growth and development of youth. They want to see arts education and the marching band at the high school return. They crave opportunities for their children beyond the playground. They seek artist mentors and cultural role models for their sons and daughters. Finally, they want ways to bridge gaps between generations and see the potential of arts and humanities as means to do so.
Chester’s residents are united in a sense of urgency. They are ready to tap the creativity and culture latent in the community -- and to move forward together.
These photos document our community engagement process at Open Mike’s Internet Cafe -- and the impact of the project on participants.
Laurie Zierer, PHC's Executive Director, and Michael Miller, owner and operator of Open Mike's Internet Cafe, welcome the crowd. Photo: Paola Nogueras
The crowd at Open Mike's. Photo: Paola Nogueras
The Chester Made Ensemble perform. Photo: Paola Nogueras
Sistah Mafalda engages the crowd on the mic. Photo: Paola Nogueras
Lisa Jo Epstein from Just Act, Laurie Zierer, and Paul Fritz from Chester City Planning show off the Chester cultural assets map. Photo: Paola Nogueras
Residents and partners shared their ideas about the map and presentation together. Photo: Paola Nogueras
The Chester Made Ensemble collected input about the findings. Photo: Paola Nogueras
Impact Words. Photo: Paola Nogueras
For more on findings of the project, see Animating Democracy’s executive summary.