A block party launches Arts Recovery Week in Philly

Raheem Manning stands outside at a block party

Raheem Manning is part of the Arts and Culture Task Force and organizer of the block party on 33rd Street. (Peter Crimmins/WHYY)

Raheem Manning has done what nobody ever did before: he blocked off 33rd Street at Cecil B. Moore, right at the edge of East Fairmount Park, for a block party.

“33rd Street has never been blocked off for a block party,” he said. “I talked to a resident, she says she’s been here 25 years, and her mother had the house, so they’ve been here 70 years as a family and no one’s ever blocked off 33rd for a block party.”

A series of cultural and performance events is being staged this week, with events across the city scheduled each day through Saturday. Arts and Culture Recovery Week, part of City Councilmember Isaiah Thomas’ Illuminate the Arts initiative, is a way to highlight the importance of the arts in Philadelphia during a time when the city’s art sector has suffered from the pandemic.

A lineup of dancers, rappers, and poets from across the city performed Monday at 33rd and Cecil B. Moore, on the edge of East Fairmount Park.

“Basically this is just to kick off the summer,” said Manning, a member of Thomas’ Arts and Culture Task Force and the proprietor of the group vacation company The Weekender. “We’re coming in a post-pandemic world and we really wanted to start this Arts Recovery Week off with a bang, to really shine light on individual artists here in the city.”

There are 12 events planned as part of Arts and Culture Recovery Week, including a Vogue Ball at the Punchline club on Tuesday, a double dutch jump-roping workshop at Malcolm X Park on Thursday, and the fundamentals of hip hop presented in Triangle Park in Overbrook on Friday.

“We know the city of Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods,” said Thomas. “In the midst of our advocacy effort to illuminate the arts, we did want to strategically assure we were in neighborhoods and not just having a focus on business corridors or areas where people traditionally go to for activities like this.”

Illuminate the Arts was started by Thomas last year, first as a task force to investigate and make recommendations about how to help the ailing arts sector, which shut down most arts and performance venues during the pandemic, and effectively halted any community cultural gatherings.

“Since then, recognizing the importance of arts and culture to the city of Philadelphia — not just as it relates to our recovery, but as it relates to our future, as it relates to our children — this is something that I feel like it’s imperative that we do because it is part of the bloodline and the DNA of our city,” said Thomas.

Another part of Thomas’ Illuminate the Arts initiative is $1 million in arts grants, the recipients of which should be announced next week.

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