New effort aims to bring cultural arts learning to eight low-income Philly neighborhoods

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Mayor Kenney observes children at a learning center at Mander Recreation Center

Mayor Kenney observes children at a learning center at Mander Recreation Center, (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

For years, arts and culture groups in Philadelphia have tried to make it easier for kids in poor neighborhoods to come and visit.

A new initiative is designed to bring that experience and learning opportunities directly to eight lower-income neighborhoods.

It’s called informal learning, using fresh, literacy-rich opportunities to educate young people and give them a taste of culture at the same time.

During an event Wednesday to announce the initiative, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said he remembers his first trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art when he entered high school.  He said it was an eye-opening experience.

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“That same freshman year, I had the opportunity to go to the Walnut Street Theater to see the great late Alvin Ailey and his dance troupe and to watch Judith Jamison dance solo,” he said. “Now, when you are a freshman in high school, going to a modern dance performance is not something you get excited about — until you see Judith Jamison dance.”

The William Penn Foundation is spending almost $2 million on the project.  Community groups will join with cultural institutions to experiment, said Janet Haas, foundation board chair.

“Eighteen nonprofits in eight neighborhoods across the city will create fresh, literacy-rich informal learning programs and programs which will reach 1,800 children — while simultaneously offering parents and caregivers tools and resources to be their children’s first teachers and to support language and literacy learning at home,” Haas said.

The Barnes Foundation, another participant,  is working on one way that helps young children learn English.

“Puentes de las artes is an arts-based enrichment program designed to serve more than 200 young English-language learners and their families from South Philadelphia’s rapidly growing Latino immigrant community,” said Thomas Collins, Barnes director.

Salahuddin Muhammad has five children who have been through programs at Mander Recreation Center in Strawberry Mansion, where the initiative was unveiled. For people who don’t have the means to travel into Center City or pay for admission to museums, he said, this will be a great opportunity.

“Coming to Mander was pretty much like a safe haven and a big help for the single parents in this neighborhood,” Muhammad said. “Some days, you may have mom or dad working late, and they can’t help with the homework at night. All they want to do is feed their children, get them in bed, get them ready for the next day.”

After two years, the program will be re-evaluated to determine if it should continue or expand.

Disclosure: The William Penn Foundation supports WHYY.

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