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Meet the New Philly Block Project Taking Place in South Kensington

Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (PPAC) and renowned conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas, curator Kalia Brooks and other collaborating artists, including Lisa Fairstein, Wyatt Gallery, Hiroyuki Ito, and Will Steacy, have partnered to launch a socially-engaged collaboration called Philly Block Project.

The year-long Philly Block Project will provide a visual narrative of South Kensington’s past and present through photographs, while creating shared spaces for fostering interconnectivity as well as celebrating the history and preserving the heritage of the community.

We chatted with Lori Waselchuk, the project coordinator, to learn more about Philly Block Project as it gets underway:

GroundSwell: How did the Philly Block Project come to be?

Lori Waselchuk: The Philadelphia Photo Arts Center wanted to do an artist-based project that engaged our immediate community. We reached out to artist Hank Willis Thomas, who wanted to be part of it. Then he brought in curator Kalia Brooks and other artists to tell a photographic story of South Kensington’s past and present, and celebrate the heritage and experiences of its people.

What are some of the goals of the project?

One of Philly Block Project’s main goals is to build relationships between Philadelphia Photo Arts Center and residents of its surrounding neighborhood. But we also hope to tell the story of our neighborhood through original photography, community programs, a street fair and a crowd-sourced community archive.

How can people get involved?

There are many opportunities for Kensington residents, and even non-residents, to be a part of the group effort. Our current emphasis is to invite people to contribute their photographs to a South Kensington Community Archive.

We are hosting community events designed to bring people together, exchange stories and scan photos for the archive. The next event is “See South Kensington,” a luncheon and photo scanning event that we are hosting with the Women’s Revitalization Project (100 W. Oxford St.) on Saturday Feb. 6th, from 11am – 3pm.

On Feb. 13th we are hosting another photo scanning party at the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society (1501 N Germantown Ave) from noon to 4pm. All are welcome to attend, exchange stories about our neighborhood, and of course, have your photos scanned for our Community Archive Exhibition!

People can also submit photos to the Community Archive Exhibition digitally here, or have them scanned at PPAC (1400 N. American St.) each Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

We also want residents to be architects of the project. Each month the PPAC hosts our Community Planning Meetings. Open to the public, these gatherings are a chance to collaborate with our artists and community partners. Our meetings usually happen on the second Tuesday of each month. Our next meeting is Tuesday, February 9, 5:30-6:30pm in the PPAC gallery (1400 N. American St.).

Why is ongoing community engagement and dialogue a core part of the project?

Nobody knows South Kensington better than the people who live here, so we want to make sure the Philly Block Project reflects the way the residents define their neighborhood and home.

We also really believe that the arts is an essential element in the fabric of a neighborhood. Philly Block Project is about building community partnerships with businesses and organizations who have been around a long time. With our partners, we want to ensure that the neighborhood doesn’t lose its unique cultures and vibe, despite the rapid changes taking place here.

There are three dates for the Philly Block Project exhibitions:

1. Community Archive Exhibition

PPAC Gallery

June 9 – August 28, 2016

2. Block Project Exhibition

PPAC Gallery

September 8 – November 27, 2016

3. Street Carnival

1400 block of N. American Street

All Day

September 10th 2016

Learn more at or email Lori at


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