Philly history, art mesh in Hidden City Festival’s ‘creative placemaking’

After four years, Philadelphia’s Hidden City Festival is coming out from hiding.

The festival that places art and performances inside some of the city’s forgotten historical sites has changed its focus from the first one in 2009.

The events set at the sites lean heavily toward audience-engagement activities, such as making electronic music out of sounds derived from historical objects, knitting a cozy for a building facade, and re-creating a Freethinkers Society in Germantown.

To step up engagement, audiences are encouraged to donate money toward the events in advance. Hidden City has developed a crowdfunding engine on its website.

“Crowdsourcing funds the sites beyond the festival,” said Thaddeus Squire, founder of Hidden City. “Sites can post future challenges — a new roof, a pocket park — and use the team that’s built through the festival as a stakeholder group. So we’re really building social capital for all these locations.”

Since the last festival in 2009, Hidden City has gone through a lot of changes. It started a daily, online history/architecture/urban planning blog called Hidden City Daily, which Squire says attracts 32,000 readers, and a series of architectual walking tours that regularly sell out.

The next step was to bring back the festival, with significant changes.

It’s smaller, for one. And the program is geared more toward activating stewardship of the particular sites, rather than fostering artistry at the sites. Over the last four years, festival organizers shifted the goals of the event.

“The first time around, we weren’t sure; is it a history festival … an art festival?” said Squire. “We view it as a festival about creative placemaking. So it’s really much more focused on people-building and stakeholder-building than it is on the production of art. Although we are happy to support art as catalysts for that.”

The festival website is now live, with crowd-funding opportunities available for each location. Each program requires funds and materials that are not yet in place, but Squire says the festival has a reserve fund if some fall short.


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