Artist seeks more community input for Chelten Avenue mural inspiration

A new community mural at 310 W. Chelten Ave., which is currently the site of a Christian bookstore, is one step closer to a design after two community art-making days this past week.

The meetups at 5534 Pulaski Ave., just around the corner from the future mural, yielded few visitors, though. Despite email blasts, flyers and even a new Facebook page, organizers say they’ve gotten little response. Lead artist Jon Laidacker said he is starving for visual inspiration from the community.

“I’m looking for anything people feel comfortable submitting that has a personal resonance with them, like their Philadelphia,” he said during a recent interview. “I’ve gotten verbal suggestions but I need images.”

One idea for the mural so far has been under the umbrella of “Gateway to Germantown” but the rest is yet to be decided. Some requests include documenting anti-slavery protests in 1688 to dreams of Martin Luther King High School students projected on the wall.

Laidacker said the low turnout may be due to the holiday season, but still encouraged all community members regardless of any special artistic talent can participate. Memorable photographs, old newspaper clippings, sketches or even prized possessions that people think symbolize an aspect of Germantown are welcome.

Laidacker will take all of the requests and community artwork into his studio and draft a mural and present it during future meetings for neighborhood input.

A few ideas are already out there

YahNe Ndgo Baker, a longtime Germantown resident, brought her daughter Ishara Serrette to the open studio. Baker, a jazz singer and writer, said she is less of visual artist. So, she painted some of her poetry instead.

Her daughter was more interested in abstract colors with a symbolic message. Red and blue paint is slathered on white poster board, meshing in the center signifying police-car lights, which she deemed a common scene in the neighborhood. She added that a purple eye will finish the painting, because that is how she sees herself in Germantown.

Serrette, now a freshman at a Chestnut Hill high school, said that her classmates are surprised to hear that she grew up on the southern end of the avenue.

“Germantown is known to be a bit of a hoodish, more-gangster place, and I’m not described as gangster,” she said. “Eye is also like “I,” the letter like me, and so I am different.”

Another attendee was Thomas Sharpless, who lives in Germantown.  More of a photographer than a painter, he brought photo panoramas of Laidacker’s existing mural on Sharpnack Street. But for the new mural, there is only one thing he doesn’t want to see.

“No more trolley cars. We’re saturated,” said Sharpless, adding that he would be interested to see famous historical characters who spent time in Germantown like Louisa May Alcott, author of “Little Women,” or Sun Ra, a jazz composer and poet who spent his last years on Morton Street.

Organizers plan to hold one more community art-making day in January, the exact date is yet to be announced. The community painting days at the Mount Airy Art Garage are planned for the spring.

The mural, courtesy of Ken Weinstein and Stan Smith of Philly Office Retail, is a partnership of local community organizations and the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

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Laidacker says interested residents can email him ideas, images and all of the above to jon.laidacker@gmail.com.

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