Mantua: Art installations aim to spur economic development

By Christine Fisher and Kara Savidge
For PlanPhilly 

The grand opening of “LOOK! On Lancaster Avenue” drew large crowds to the Mantua section of Lancaster Avenue on Friday night.

LOOK!, which features 16 visual and sound art installations by local artists, is an initiative to spur economic development and community engagement through art installations in vacant and underutilized storefronts. Those in charge hope LOOK! will attract pedestrians and businesses to the area.

Timothy L. Davis, right, stood in the doorway of New Angle Lounge as crowds gathered outside to view LOOK! On Lancaster Avenue exhibits.

“It’s not a new idea, but it’s a great idea,” said James Wright, the commercial corridor manager at People’s Emergency Center.

“You look at vacant storefront windows, or windows that are underutilized, … [to see] how to liven them up to make the corridor more attractive,” he said. “You’re slowing down traffic to create more interest and more buzz for the actual area itself.”

Drexel University spearheaded the initiative with the assistance of a $30,000 grant from the City of Philadelphia’s new ReStore Corridors Through Art program and partnerships with PEC and various University City community arts groups. The ReStore Corridors Through Art initiative, launched this September, is an attempt to use art to bring reinvestment to the city’s commercial corridors, the City of Philadelphia Commerce Department said in a press release.

“I think it’s a great thing,” said Alex Maziekie, a Drexel University student who lives in the neighborhood. “I wish people were always walking around because I’d feel much safer.”

Maziekie and the four friends she attended LOOK! with said that if it were not for LOOK! they would not be walking near Lancaster Avenue and 39th Street, especially not after 6 p.m. when the event started.

Crowds gathered infront of multiple art installations near the former location of Philadelphia’s punk rock music venue Killtime.

David Tilley, who lives in Mantua, also said he would not be walking along Lancaster Avenue at night if it were not for the exhibits.

“It’s great if it works,” Tilley said. “I don’t really think it can be sustained.”

Tilley said he believes the lack of foot traffic and density pose the biggest challenge to the program’s success.

“We’re not connected with University City, and as sad as it may be, Mantua is very poor,” he said. “There may come a day when the development may happen, but that hasn’t happened yet.”

The lack of foot traffic is one of the key issues that PEC is working to change. Wright said he hopes LOOK! will help draw visitors to Lancaster Avenue and help businesses see that the corridor is a vibrant space to do business, but without one it is hard to draw the other.

“It’s like the chicken and the egg thing because there isn’t a ton of foot traffic here yet, but we know the potential foot traffic is great,” he said. “Right now I guess the property owners, they’re not seeing the demand yet to have a commercial storefront.”

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