A bench? A park? Chester gets grant to crowdsource ideas for beautifying downtown

    Art on Avenue of the States

    Art on Avenue of the States

    On Tuesday morning, many buildings on the 500 block of Avenue of the States in Chester, Pa. are shuttered, storefronts hidden behind gray security grates.

    This block of downtown is slated for a makeover — and a new name — thanks to a $45,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

    Starting in May 2016, the civic design group Public Workshop, the Artist Warehouse and area youth organizations will start crowdsourcing ideas for public art spaces on the commercial corridor, dubbed the “Creative Exploration Zone.” Lead partners the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and the City of Chester facilitated the grant paying for the block’s transformation.

    Owner of The Artist Warehouse, Devon Walls, said the project asks the community to put its heads together to make Avenue of the States a more inviting place.

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    NWLBdevonwallsx600Devon Walls, owner of The Artist Warehouse in Chester, Pennsylvania (Laura Benshoff/WHYY)

    “We’re going to work on some workshops and build things that will be placed out on the sidewalks that will give the block some identity,” said Walls.

    Depending on the needs of community members, that could mean anything from outdoor furniture, to a new community space, to a park the size of a few parking spaces.

    Chester youth groups will work on the design, construction and installation of the final product. The first structures will go up in in October 2016.

    The Creative Exploration Zone is one of several recent economic development projects which aim to turn this high-poverty Delaware County city into an arts hub. Past efforts include a project to map “cultural assets,” a part of the City’s “Chester Made” initiative, highlighting local artistic talent.

    Walls said artists already flock to Chester for the abundance of cheap gallery and construction spaces, but that their presence could be harnessed to make the downtown Chester more attractive.

    “We can develop a block that doesn’t have so much curb appeal and build it so that when you walk down the street it is a zone that is designated to the artist and is being built up by the artist,” he said.

    Correction: This article has been changed to correctly frame the involvement of the City of Chester and the Pennsylvania Humanities Council.

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