Artists working for public good in West Philly

A new program in West Philadelphia, Neighborhood Time Exchange gives resource to four artists — free studios, in return for time spent participating in community projects that enrich the neighborhood.

Fabric artist Betty Leacraft has prepared a wall hanging to be displayed during centennial celebrations for New Bethlehem Baptist Church — where she attended Sunday school growing up.

“It allowed me to do something in the area where I grew up,” Leacraft said of Time Exchange.

Funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, private foundations and The Mayor’s Fund, the new project launched in January. Four artists will get free studio space for three months while they work in the community around 41st and Lancaster Avenue.

Cartoonist Ian Sampson, 34, worked with a Belmont Avenue block captain to paint colorful designs over boarded-up houses that will reseal the homes.

“I can’t fix up the whole house, but I can make it look pretty in the meantime,” Sampson said.

Kandis Friesen, 36, an interdisciplinary artist from Montreal, made a film for Black History Month with students from Martha Washington Elementary School called “More than Martin.”

Some of the artists have never been to Philly before. While in the Exchange, filmmaker and photographer Philippe Leonard, 32, of Montreal said he has been documenting the demolition of the former schools at 38th Street and Lancaster Avenue.

“Hundreds of students were displaced,” he said. 

The program is operated by the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and the city Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, in partnership with the People’s Emergency Center, which is based near the Neighborhood Time Exchange’s storefront.

At an event Thursday to share the results of the first three months of Neighborhood Time Exchange with the public, Mural Arts Program executive director Jane Golden said the goal of the program was to uplift neighborhods by bringing artists into contact with residents and community organizations.

“Artists are the change agents in our society,” she said.

The Neighborhood Time Exchange will be open to the public and feature a performance during Second Friday events on Lancaster Avenue on Friday, March 13.

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