Widener University has received a 2015 Catalyst Fund from the Barra Foundation to support a Boundaries and Bridges initiative, which aims to strengthen and support arts collaboration in the city of Chester and realize the planned Culture and Arts Corridor from Widener University to Chester’s City Hall.

The $211,000 grant will allow for a range of collaborative arts and creative place-making activities over the course of the next year.

Members from Widener and the greater Chester community will work with artists to identify boundaries that may be obstructions to deeper trust and stronger collaborations between the university and community.

Workshops will be offered to catalyze and encourage new collaborative possibilities, and funds will be available for artistic interventions that strengthen or build new bridges.

The Boundaries and Bridges initiative comes on the heels of the Chester Made initiative, which was part of a collaborative effort led by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council to support the Historic Chester Arts and Culture District and the concept of a Chester Culture and Arts Corridor.

A key goal of Chester Made was to frame the story of arts and culture and its place in the life of Chester through story gatherings.

“The Chester Made story gatherings overwhelmingly showed that Chester residents value the arts and have a strong interest in making the Chester Culture and Arts Corridor a reality, but that both residents and members of the university community often erect invisible walls that keep the other out and hamper collaborative possibilities,” said Widener University College of Arts and Sciences Dean Sharon Meagher, one of two primary investigators for the Barra grant.

Meagher is working closely on the Boundaries and Bridges initiative with co-primary investigator Devon Walls of the Chester-based Artist Warehouse.

Walls has also been named a Widener Artist in Residence for the duration of the grant.

Together, they have assembled a diverse core team made up of university and city leaders to help guide initiative-related activities, and they have begun holding information sessions with interested participants from the Widener and Chester communities to introduce the goals of Boundaries and Bridges and to gather ideas for ways to meet these goals.

An initial step involves the identification of boundaries — both physical and perceived — between the university and the city of Chester by both university constituents and Chester residents.

These are identified and discussed by literally having participants walk the boundaries that they believe separate Widener’s campus from the rest of the city.

The information gathered from these walking tours will then inform the artistic interventions/workshops aimed to bridge these boundaries.

Many of the workshops are still in development, but the core team anticipates sessions around photography, mural creation, spoken word/theater and writing.

“The series of workshops will bring Widener University faculty, staff and students together with artists from the Chester community to learn about civic arts methodologies and community-organizing strategies that can be used to better understand urban issues and also create a vision for new policies and programs, including what the Culture and Arts Corridor might look like,” Walls said.

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