Maplewood Mall block party draws families, fire jugglers and awareness efforts

Locals came to the year’s second Reimagining Maplewood Mall block party on Saturday afternoon to, among other things, eat ice cream, juggle fire, paint pumpkins and share poetry.

With organizers including Germantown United CDC’s Garlen Capita committed to bring the event back, 2014 will also mean the return of food vendors, a moon bounce, crafting area, performance space and booths and tables showcasing art, jewelry and textiles.

A slow start

The cloudy, somewhat chilly October afternoon didn’t initially draw a large crowd, something Germantown photographer Gary Reed also attributed to several dueling events.

However, Reed noted that any event bringing families into Germantown for the afternoon helps keep the neighborhood on the map.

“There’s so much energy and so many families,” Capita said as the crowd grew in the latter hours of an event featuring more than 15 vendors and 10 performers which “really represented the diverse talents and treasures found in Germantown.”

Greene Street’s iMPeRFeCT Gallery co-owner Renny Molenaar noticed that more local vendors and business owners had gotten involved with the event this time around.

Eyes on art

“I think it’s more dynamic, but less crowds,” he said at the gallery where sand-casting bronze sculptor Gina Michaels’ latest show opened last week.

Michaels wasn’t the only one with art debuting on the Mall.

Artist Jill Saull just began putting up her new outdoor installation, “Seeing Being Seen: Eyes on the Community,” last week. The piece involves black-and-white photographs of local residents’ eyes, glued and sealed to stanchions, bricks and Belgian blocks throughout the space.

“It’s posing more questions than answers,” Saull said of the myriad disembodied eyes, which serve as a meditation on issues of privacy and surveillance. “What’s the difference between being watched and being seen?”

Not all fun and games

Representatives of the Maplewood Mall-based Crossroads Womens Center approached the crowd to raise awareness for some of their current initiatives, including a petition for North Philadelphia resident Carolyn Hill.

Hill has teamed with the Crossroads center and Every Mother is a Working Mother Network in an effort to regain custody of her two young nieces through a petition to the Philadelphia Department of Human Services.

Crossroads coordinator Phoebe Jones joined Hill to help gather signatures from the Maplewood crowd.

Hill told NewsWorks that DHS had placed her nieces within her care for a year, and then denied her the right to enter the adoption process on unsubstantiated claims of mental-health issues, and the lack of a GED. Without warning, her nieces were placed in foster care, and visits with their aunt have been cut to a few hours per month.

“Everybody who’s come by has been very supportive,” Jones said. “People don’t know that income is used as criteria for taking kids. The Women’s Center has been helping me keep my sanity.”

Other offerings

Also on hand was Dahlia Wigfall, program director of the East Falls-based Break Free Design Group, which is a non-profit organization which provides urban youths a place to design and create their own clothes and accessories and develop fashion-design business plans.

Wigfall was selling a variety of colorful cloth accessories and said her trip to the Mall had been worthwhile.

From behind her table of fabrics, Wigfall remembered that her mother, also an artist, used to spend a lot of time in Maplewood Mall, “so it’s like I’m completing the circle.”

The next Reimagining Maplewood Mall event is planned for June 2014, with an exact date to be determined.

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