W. Philly facility will have art gallery, workshops
Backing up their desire to transform Drexel University into one of the most civically-engaged universities in the nation, officials with the West Philly-based school have completed the first steps in creating a center that will bring together community members and groups from the Mantua, Powelton Village and Mill Creek sections of west Philadelphia.
The Dana and David Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships, located at 35th and Spring Garden Street, will also provide meeting spaces for community groups, as well as providing art and performance spaces for them to operate. The center was realized through a $10 million gift from Dana and David Dornsife.
“We are hoping to create a physical center in the neighborhood that can be a place where the community and Drexel University come together to solve problems. We envision a place that will have academic programs, workshops, health screenings, basic adult education services as well as having [civil] engineers available to share what they know about energy-efficient windows,” said Drexel University Vice Provost for university and Community Partnerships Lucy Kerman, noting that the center borders both Mantua and Powelton Village. “Community groups will have offices to hold community meetings, and it will also have a community art gallery, as well as providing a place we can come together to figure out what is the right thing to do for the community, and a place where we can learn together.
“We see everything from line dancing, exercise programs and movie screenings to art exhibits, computer access labs and lecture spaces.”
One such group sure to make use of the new space is DB4, a group of young community leaders from Mantua. DB4, recently featured in the online magazine Flying Kite, is a “group that formed itself to fix the problems in Mantua,” Kerman said. “We took them through the center to show them where their offices would be, if they want to use them. We learned from them what kind of programs would be of better interest and would better benefit young people.
“All members of DB4 are committed leaders, and we think of how we could support the community as a university, it’s through supporting groups like this.”
While the plan is for the center to be fully operational by 2014, a portion of the 29,000-square-foot center is already open. The site itself consists of a mansion-styled house and a carriage house, which the center uses as a classroom. In another nod to its burgeoning allegiance to the community, Drexel University will also reach out to the community to take part in the ongoing renovation of the center.
“We will be hiring folks from the neighborhood to be a part of the operation,” Kerman said. “Right now, we’re doing a lot of community planning sessions with lots of groups, and we will be doing that over the course of several months.”
While Drexel has long supported initiatives throughout that swath of West Philly – it has several agreements with neighborhood K-4 Samuel Powel Elementary School and has established several other grassroots programs in West Philadelphia, Kerman stressed that this is a partnership with and for the community.
“We really are trying to send the message of partnership. We are at the table, but not trying to set the table,” Kerman said, mentioning that a huge civic and neighborhood revitalization project called “We Are Mantua” is on the drafting board. “We listened to the community’s vision, and it’s not going to be a [scattershot] scenario of one program here, another program there. We are committed to a neighborhood and set of communities, and we’re trying to bring to them our wealth of expertise – which is understanding how local businesses work and think, and working to improve local schools.
“We’re really trying to build a comprehensive partnership.”